Bookmarks returns downtown for 17th annual book festival

By Christa Dutton

Andrea Greene, 58, arrived downtown Winston-Salem early on Saturday, Sept. 24 to wait in
line for the first event of the Bookmarks Festival of Books & Authors, a reading by Broadway
singer and actress Idina Menzel.

Dozens of others stood in line with Greene, many of them children who were ecstatic to see
Menzel read her new children’s book, “Loud Mouse” — a story about a mouse named Dee who
finds her voice with the help of her sister.

Idina Menzel speaking to the crowd before she performed a reading of her new book.

Adults fans were in line as well, and Greene chatted with them about which events excited them
most. As a lifelong reader, Greene was in her element.

“A grown-up book fair,” she called it.

This book fair wasn’t just for grown ups though. Book lovers of all ages — 20,000 in all —
filled Poplar and Spruce Streets for the 17th annual festival to buy books, attend author talks and
book signings, shop at vendor tents and enjoy the company of people who love books as much as
they do.

Bookmarks is a literary arts non-profit and independent bookstore that strives to improve access
to books for people in Winston-Salem and to foster community around reading. This year’s
Festival of Books & Author was the first in-person festival since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year’s festival had a significant online portion, but this year all of the Festival’s 50 featured
authors showed up in person. Tia Williams is the author of “Seven Days in June,” a romance
story about two writers who reconnect with each other after years of secretly writing to each
other through their books. She shared her excitement for being around the literary community

“It was my honor to be asked to participate,” Williams said. “After being at home during the
pandemic for so long, it’s so exciting to be able to interact with readers and writers again. As an
author, there’s an energy and a passion that you feel at festivals that’s so infectious.”

The featured authors come from a variety of genres, ranging from romance to historical fiction to
children’s books.

Jamie Ford is a New York Times best-selling historical fiction writer who spoke on a panel about
generational ties. His most recent book is “The Many Daughters of Afong Moy,” a story of a
woman who connects with her ancestors in an effort to mitigate her daughter’s inherited trauma.

He described some books as “gateway drug” books, referring to books that captivate a person’s
attention and make them fall in love with reading. To some readers he’s met, that’s exactly what
his book was.

“There’s books that you stumble upon, and it feels like that book was written just for you just
when you needed it,” Ford said. “And it changes you. Occasionally, my book means something
more than just a book to somebody, and it is something that was unintentionally transformative.”

Jamie Ford’s most recent novel, “The Many Daughters of Afong Moy”, for sale at the festival.

This year’s lineup of authors are not only diverse in genre but also in race, ethnicity and
background. Juliana Reyes, Communications Coordinator at Bookmarks, said that having many
different writers at the Festival is an important value to Bookmarks.

“It’s important to us because reading can open the world for so many readers,” Reyes said. “It
can open the world to where they can finally see themselves in the story [and give them] a
chance to learn about other perspectives and other stories, especially in various parts of the

“Opening the world”, as Reyes mentioned, is one of the Festival’s core purposes.

“Not everyone has the capability to come in and spend money on books, and we understand that
it’s a privilege to do,” Reyes said.

Reyes said that many people who come to the Festival see a book they’re interested in or an
author they admire and then go check out the book at the public library. Since Bookmarks is a
non-profit, the Festival is not primarily about promoting the bookstore or its authors but
increasing accessibility to reading in Winston-Salem.

Greene described herself as a life-long reader and echoed Reye’s sentiments about books
opening up the world.

“You can travel without going anywhere,” Greene said. “You can learn about people you
wouldn’t have a chance to learn about otherwise. It gives you a real opportunity to be in someone
else’s shoes and to develop empathy and understanding. And it’s a fabulous escape.”

Eight-year-old Annabelle is a lifelong reader in the making. She was excited to see Menzel —
“Elsa” to her — as well as Tui Southerland, a children’s fantasy author she admires. Annabelle
said she loves reading because “it stimulates the brain.”

Barbara Marson, 70, had been to the festival several times before and returned this year because
of the accomplished authors like Menzel that the festival invites.

“[The festival] is a good chance to see different authors, and, of course, they bring in big names
like Idina Menzel,” Marson said. “It’s just a fantastic community event.”

The 2023 Festival of Books & Authors will be Sept. 21-24. More information about Bookmarks
can be found on their website.

Author: Christa Dutton