Due to concerns regarding the new coronavirus, The Loft literary center in Minneapolis announced on Friday that it will be changing its second annual Wordplay book festival from a one-day celebration in and around the Mill City’s Open Book literary complex on May 9 into a virtual celebration of books and authors held throughout April and May. This year’s line-up of 100 authors will remain essentially the same, a mix of national and regional names, plus emerging voices, including Kate DiCamillo, Emma Straub, Michael Ian Black, Charles Yu, John Freeman, Alison Roman, Danez Smith, and C. Pam Zhang.
Last May's inaugural festival attracted more than 10,000 people for a two-day event that kicked off with an evening concert by the Rock Bottom Remainders at iconic First Avenue in downtown Minneapolis, followed the next morning by a conversation between Benjamin Percy and Stephen King.
This year's virtual celebration won’t only be about Wordplay either: the two-month virtual event will involve to varying degrees a number of other book festivals across the country, including the Wisconsin Book Festival, Boston Book Festival, South Dakota Festival of Books, Southern Festival of Books (Nashville), Charleston to Charleston Literary Festival, Decatur (Ga.) Book Festival, the Bronx Book Festival, Portland (Ore.) Book Festival, Virginia Festival of the Book and Bay Area Book Festival. Some of these festivals have been canceled already, while others, like the Wisconsin Book Festival, held in the fall, are still planning to take place as a live event.
While some of these organizations will spotlight their own roster of authors and programming, as well as promote each other’s efforts, a few will simply promote the virtual festival through their channels.
“This was a Loft creation,” noted Steph Opitz, Wordplay’s founding director, explaining that Loft programming director Chris Jones advocated for a virtual event in light of the threats to public health posed by large gatherings.
“We decided to go virtual, but reached out to all the other book festivals, because we’re all community-minded,” she said, “We’re all people who want to support authors, especially those coming out with books this spring who are having their tours canceled.”
Opitz said while many details are still being worked out she promised that there would be “live video conversations, podcasts, visual arts, author Q&As, playlists, social media takeovers and other creative content. We’re going to make our online festival robust.”
She added, “People can expect the same engaging conversations, learning opportunities, and connections with writers that they experienced at Wordplay last year, but this year, people can join us from wherever they are. After all, reading and writing are perfect activities to do while social distancing!”
There will be no cost to participate in Wordplay 2020’s virtual celebration, though The Loft is encouraging donations. There will be links to indie Twin Cities bookstores on The Loft’s website for sales of books by the featured authors.