Brooklyn Book Festival Goes Virtual for its 15th Anniversary

Brooklyn Book Festival Goes Virtual for its 15th Anniversary
Last years Brooklyn Book Festival. Photo by James Hyde.

The Covid-19 pandemic has a slew of canceled events in its wake. Graduations, concerts, birthday parties— all have fallen victim over the last few months. The Brooklyn Book Festival (BBF) was determined to be different. Was there ever a moment organizers thought it might join the parade of cancellations?

“No. It wasn’t a consideration,” Carolyn Greer, one of the co-founders said. The event is happening in full force this year, with a whole week of events, author talks, and parties. The only difference is that for its fifteenth anniversary year the festival will be entirely virtual.

Going virtual comes with challenges, but also allows the Brooklyn Book Festival to include international talent, spread its reach, and begin a video archive of the author talks for the first time in its history.

“[Before about] 90% of our audience would come from the tri-state area, but this really allows our festival to reach a global audience, and so we’re excited about that. It brings an audience to authors that may never have had the opportunity to have readers from India, or Europe, or from everywhere really who couldn’t travel to be at the book festival live,” Liz Koch, Greer’s co-founder said.

The events this year will include a reading from canoes on the Gowanus Canal, a recorded concert and discussion with performers, a graphic night at Carousel Comics, a whole day for YA, and many, many author talks. Authors like Amy Herzog, Marie Lu, and Calvin Reid are among the group.

“You could spend breakfast, lunch, and dinner with the Brooklyn Book Festival,” Koch laughed. All-day programming is another advantage the festival has embraced this year, as previously they had to work around traditional nine-to-five workday hours.

One of the few complaints that Koch and Greer have heard over their years planning the festival was that there was too much to do and not enough time to do it. Authors sometimes had talks at the same time, forcing people to choose. A virtual and recorded festival changes this. Another plus? No lines.

“Everybody will have a front-row seat,” Koch said.

This year, the illustrator draw-off will be held virtually. Courtesy of BBF.

Koch and Greer began planning the festival in January, long before things were shut down in New York City. They estimate that had over half of the plans set in stone when they learned that they would need to pivot online. Despite the changes, around 90% of the authors they had invited decided to stay on.

“There are some authors who are more embracing and enthusiastic about virtual and others really, really prefer to be live,” Greer said.

The Brooklyn Book Festival is still working out some kinks. Koch and Greer would love a way to replicate the experience of author signings, as well as find a way to make the feeling of their virtual bookstore more closely mirror the in-person iteration. Both women have also been increasing their Audio-Visual knowledge in order to help things run smoothly.

The pair wants to make sure to keep the diversity present as far as neighborhoods and groups, just as they do every year.

“There are these amazing literary partners and bookstores all around the city. The Book Festival gave us a chance to use our audience to find these nooks, these literary places, and events all over the city and shine a light on them. There’s no reason not to do that this year either. If somebody tunes in from London or India, they might as well know that the BBF has these partnerships and that there’s these great cultural programs in other Boroughs,” Greer said.

Both Koch and Greer agree that doing the festival virtually will likely change the way they do future versions of the BBF.

“I can’t imagine not having some kind of hybrid child come out of this where you have the ability to in some way record and subsequently watch it,” Greer said. “Even in a live festival if we learn to start doing things like this and bring [in international authors] it opens up a global literary community and broadens us.”

The festival will be held virtually from September 28th-October 5th, and is free to attend. The BBF is accepting donations, which can be given here.