Arts & culture, Literature

The Bay Area (mini) Book Festival is back -- with a virtual twist

By Anne Brice

Watch a trailer for the 2020 annual Bay Area Book Festival, a virtual mini-fest that will take place on Oct. 3 and 4.

When the Bay Area Book Festival came to a halt in March, after the city of Berkeley was required to shelter in place from COVID-19, founder and executive director Cherilyn Parsons knew she had to find a new way to bring to the community the hundreds of literary conversations held at the annual event among influential thinkers, authors, activists and changemakers.

This weekend, the solution — a virtual mini-fest, Berkeley #UNBOUND — will take place. On Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 3 and 4, 22 speakers, many of them scholars from UC Berkeley, will take a deep look at issues of today: democracy and the Supreme Court, racial justice, climate change and food policy, the polarization of politics and imagining a better future through literature.

Judith Butler

Berkeley professor Judith Butler will discuss the radical necessity of nonviolence. (UC Berkeley photo)

“We are really at this dire point in our democracy and our planet,” said Parsons. “There’s so much clatter in the media, it’s hard to make sense of it all. So, we gathered together some serious thinkers on these issues to have them discuss them in a thoughtful, intelligent way. It’s really designed to bring us hope.”

Now in its sixth year, the book festival has strong ties with UC Berkeley. For its first three years, the campus offered key support for the event, one reason that Parsons chose the city of Berkeley as the festival’s location.

The UC Berkeley festival speakers will include Judith Butler, a professor in the departments of rhetoric and comparative literature, discussing the radical necessity of nonviolence with English professor Stephen Best; Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, in conversation with U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee about the Supreme Court, constitutional crises and a progressive reading of the Constitution; sociology professor Arlie Hochschild talking with john powell, director of the Institute for Othering and Belonging, about embracing the “other”; and Aya de León, director of Poetry for the People, a program in the Department of African American Studies, with Annalee Newitz, a lecturer in American studies, and former long-time Berkeley professor Ishmael Reed, in a panel about how literature and imagination can lead us onto a path of progress.

portrait of aya de leon

Aya de León is the director of Poetry for the People in UC Berkeley’s Department of African American Studies. (UC Berkeley photo)

Chancellor Carol Christ will give a brief talk in between the main events about how the coronavirus pandemic has amplified inequality and the ways that campus researchers and students are working to change that.

Berkeley #UNBOUND opens Saturday at 7 p.m. with a discussion, “Politics, Race and the State of Play,” that includes the insights of Dacher Keltner, a Berkeley psychology professor and founder of the Greater Good Science Center, stand-up comic and television host W. Kamau Bell and Steve Kerr, head coach of the Golden State Warriors. Tickets for this event are $10. On Sunday, there will be two tracks — five programs for adults that run from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and two programs for youth from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. All Sunday events are free.

For more information and to register, visit the Bay Area Book Festival’s website.

16 headshots of speakers at bay area book festival