July 26, 2021

Your Weekend is Booked with Salem Lit Fest 2021

by joeyphoenix

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The North Shore’s premier Literary Festival is returning this September for a weekend of virtual and in-person events to bring out the region’s bookish side. From September 9-12, Salem Lit Fest, presented by the Salem Athenaeum, will highlight some of the best and most noteworthy authors and creative voices from the North Shore, across the country, and around the world. 

Now in its twelfth year, Salem Lit Fest has prided itself on primarily featuring local and noteworthy authors of recently published work, some of whom have an international audience. 

From Page to Screen and Back Again: A Hybrid Literary Festival 

Held in historic venues in and around Salem, and as of last year, on the world wide web, Salem Lit Fest has garnered an international following for uniting published authors and book lovers, and encouraging aspiring writers of all ages, backgrounds, and identities. 

Last year, due to restrictions surrounding COVID-19, Salem Lit Fest was held entirely online. The event was a resounding success, bringing in more attendees and funding than ever before measured by the festival’s organizers. 

“We had a lot of trepidation last year about doing this virtually, and then we had the biggest attendance as ever measured,” said festival organizer Joyce Maroney (she/her/hers), former Executive Director of the Workforce Institute at UKG and the Author of Being Present: A Practical Guide for Transforming the Employee Experience of Your Frontline Workforce

In 2019, the festival counted 400 people registered for sessions and for last year’s virtual fest, that number jumped to over 600 with attendees from across North America and from many other English speaking countries around the world. 

One of the highlights for many attendees in the past has been the opportunity to meet and interact in-person with other authors, so while this year will host a handful of in-person events to accommodate those wishes, the bulk of the panels and seminars will be online. 

“It’s opened up so many possibilities for us to highlight authors from all over the world, “said Diane Stern, festival organizer and former WBZ Radio News Anchor, “but there’s a new challenge we’re facing in regards to time when we have authors from Australia, the UK, and California on the same virtual panel.” 

Another major opportunity in regards to this hybrid framing is in terms of accessibility and inclusivity. What used to be impossible for some hopeful attendees and author panelists – due to parking, work timing, and geographic limitations – has become possible through the magic of the internet. 

“If we find an author that we love, who’s talking about something or covering something that we think we want to be covering, we don’t have to worry about how to get them here,” said festival organizer and committee member Susanna Baird (she/her/hers), who also runs the journal Five Minutes and local nonprofit The Clothing Connection

“I love seeing someone from somewhere like Vancouver respond on Twitter to a featured author saying ‘I can’t wait to hear this author,’” she added. “That’s never been able to happen before. 

2021 Salem Literary Festival Highlights

Stay tuned, the 2021 Salem Lit Fest schedule will be announced soon at salemlitfest.org! 

The festival will officially begin this year on Thursday night, 9/9 with an opening conversation about horror, hope and the apocalypse with Bram Stoker winner Paul Tremblay discussing his pandemic novel, Survivor Song with New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Chuck Wendig, author of Wanderers and The Book of Accidents.

Last year’s festival saw the introduction of the Virtual Red Carpet, hosted by New York Times bestselling author Jenna Blum (she/her/hers), the co-founder of A Mighty Blaze, a social media community and organization founded to help quarantined writers introduce new books to readers. 

The red carpet will return again this year on Friday, September 10th, followed by Rumaan Alam (he/him/his), author of Leave the World Behind, as keynote speaker. 

Author Rumaan Alam (right) with his family. | Image by David A. Land from “The Kids Stay In The Picture”

Some of the in-person events which will be happening include an interactive children’s event at the Peabody Essex Museum on Saturday morning, as well as a Saturday afternoon conversation between WBZ radio news anchor Carl Stevens (he/him/his) and Virginia Buckingham (she/her/hers), former head of Boston Logan’s international airport during the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 and author of the memoir about her experiences On My Watch. 

“Her story is really fascinating. This is before TSA when the airlines were responsible for security. So while the blame was misplaced it’s also understandable how it came to be this way,” said Stern, commenting on the blame placed on Buckingham following the attacks on the World Trade Centers. “And with this being the 20th anniversary of 9/11, it was important for us to have a conversation like this with an author.”

In addition to being intentional about remembering 9/11, the festival organizers also recognized a different responsibility in who they chose to invite to be festival panelists. 

“We’re committed to being more inclusive and better representing the community in which we operate,” said Maroney. “We’ve expanded the diversity of our festival by being intentional in our outreach to authors who represent a broader array of communities and points of view.”

This year, the festival organizers are excited to present Sadeqa Johnson (she/her/hers), author of Yellow Wife, as part of the Mother and Daughters Panel. Also on that panel is Alena Dillon (she/her/hers), author of Happiest Girl in the World, Laurette Folk (she/her/hers), author of The End of Aphrodite, and Katrin Schumann (she/her/hers), author of This Terrible Beauty

“We’re also excited for Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket),” added Baird, excitedly. “We do our best to have a blend of indie and large publishers as well as local, regional, and internationally recognized names.” 

When asked about whether this hybrid model will continue post-pandemic: 

“It’s going to be a really interesting phenomenon, not just for us, but for anybody who’s looking to pull off a hybrid model moving forward, because for the last year and a half or so we’ve all been in exactly the same place with no other option, and we’ve had to master the platform and live with its shortcomings,“ said Maroney. 

“But people have gotten comfy being able to attend concerts and events from their cars and their homes, and while many people are looking for those in-person interactions, not everyone is going to be rushing back to these physical spaces,” added Baird. “And we’re really looking to craft a festival where we can meet people where they’re at.” 

The 2021 Salem Literary Festival will run from Thursday, September 9th to Sunday, September 12th. You can learn more about the festival by visiting https://salemlitfest.org/ or by following them on facebook and Instagram. The schedule of events will be released soon. 

Joey Phoenix (they/them) is an interdisciplinary artist and the Director of Brand Strategy and Innovation at Creative Collective. As the resident storyteller and town crier, they encourage you to send story ideas, inspiration, or pictures of adorable critters to joeyphoenix@creativecollectivema.com.