All over but the reading – Book Festival is near

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt August 26, 2014
The Mascot for the Decatur Book Festival. Source:

The Mascot for the Decatur Book Festival. Source:

The AJC Decatur Book Festival returns this weekend, and Executive Director Darren Wang says he’s not losing any sleep this week.

That wasn’t always the case. A few years ago, the days leading up to the Book Festival were hectic. But Wang says things have gone a lot smoother since Programming Director Philip Rafshoon stepped in two years ago.

“Has really pushed at the beginning of the year to start planning to get stuff nailed down and done much earlier,” Wang said. “I’m working the festival essentially full time on Jan. 2. That’s Phil’s doing.”

He added, “I got eight hours of sleep last night.”

Rafshoon said most of the complicated work putting together what’s billed as “the country’s Largest Independent Book Festival” is done.

“The goal is to work ahead so the only thing we have to do this week is put out any small fires that might come up,” he said.

So far, there haven’t really been any fires of note, which leaves more time to talk about what’s new this year. Wang said last year’s attendance was 80,000 to 85,000 people and its expected to grow this year. The event is free to attend. The keynote speaker this year is Joyce Carol Oates, a prolific and widely-praised writer who will be speaking on the first day of the festival, Aug. 29, at the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts at Emory University.

There are also some other highlights this year:

– Rafshoon said the outdoor Cooking Stage will be held on North McDonough at the site of the Decatur Farmers Market this year, which will allow for more seating than previous book festivals. He said the new set up will be able to seat about 250 people.

– Wang said there will be Maker’s Tent this year with presentations on iOS app development and do-it-yourself fix-it tips.

– He also noted the Georgia Romance Writers Pavilion, sponsored by the Georgia Romance Writers, which will provide two days of author readings and book signings.

Of course, there’s a lot of things going on in Atlanta this weekend, including Dragon Con, the Chick-fil-A kickoff games and Atlanta Black Pride Weekend. Wang said there’s usually crossover attendance between the Dragon Con and Book Festival events. It’ll be an interesting weekend to be in Atlanta, no matter where you are.

“I have always said that if I were a documentary film maker I would do a documentary on MARTA on Labor Day weekend,” Wang said.

Rafshoon said the hodgepodge of events has made Labor Day in Atlanta something special. He said that a decade ago, “Nobody even thought about going to Atlanta or Decatur for Labor Day. Now it’s almost impossible to find a hotel room.”

Sherry Jackman, manager of the Decatur Visitors Center, said she needs to find some more volunteers to work some key positions at this year’s Book Festival event. She said there’s about 100 volunteer spots left.

They need some people to dress up like characters, such as Pete the Cat and Waldo from the “Where’s Waldo Book Series.” The person who normally plays Waldo had an emergency and couldn’t participate for the entire weekend.

“We can always use as many people as we can get,” she said.  “It’s going to be a great festival.”

Interested in volunteering? 

Volunteer Decatur says, “Plans changed for the weekend? Got a couple hours to spare? There are still a few openings left to volunteer at the festival. The mid- and late-afternoon shifts at the author venues (Marriott, Rec Center, etc.) have the most space. There are also openings on Sunday for close-down (6 to 9pm), and working at the author venues from 12 to 3 or 3 to 6. Call the Visitor Center at 678-615-0915 and ask for Megan or Sherry to sign up or get more information.”

Heads up: There will be street closings this weekend

Here’s a list of dates and times for street closings in Decatur during the Book Festival, provided by the Decatur Minute blog:

*N. McDonough Street will be closed at 3 am on Friday morning, Aug. 29  until Sunday, Aug. 30 at midnight.

*East Court Square will be closed on Friday, Aug. 29 from 3 am until Sunday, Aug. 31 at midnight.

*Ponce de Leon will be closed from Church Street to Commerce on Friday, Aug. 30 from 3pm until Sunday, Aug. 31 at midnight.

*Clairemont Avenue will be closed from Commerce Drive to Ponce de Leon on Friday, Aug. 30 from 3 pm until Sunday, Aug. 31 at midnight.

The Decatur Minute says, “We encourage patrons to walk, bike, or ride Marta to the Square. If you drive, please consider parking at the DeKalb County parking deck, which is free on nights and weekends. Other parking deck information can be found here.”

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of

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