Awash in sunlight and under new leadership, this year’s Brooklyn Book Festival came roaring back to life on October 1 after inclement weather derailed New York City’s largest free literary festival in 2022. “Unlike last year, we had the most beautiful autumn day for our Festival Day,” said festival president and producer Liz Koch. But Koch was prepared for anything: “With last year’s experience of hurricane winds and rain, we redesigned the outdoor festival to include tents that could withstand strong wind and rain.”
Now in its 18th year, this year’s festival, which took place in and around Brooklyn Borough Hall, drew 30,000 attendees. Nearly 200 authors participated in programming across eight stages, and 215 publishers, booksellers, literary organizations, and other vendors filled out the bustling outdoor literary marketplace, which Koch described as “a sea of books of all genres, representing the best in publishing today.” This year’s literary marketplace was “back to its pre-pandemic size,” Koch noted, with many vendors reporting to her that it was “a great sales day.”
In-person festival attendance was the largest it’s been since the pandemic. In 2020, the Brooklyn Book Festival went entirely virtual, and in the years since, it has embraced remote programming by adding a Virtual Festival Day, which takes place the week before the in-person Festival Day.
“Presenting a Virtual Festival Day is one of the silver linings of recent years,” Koch said. “First, we learned how to do virtual programs really well, but even more importantly, we realized how many authors and audiences previously wanted to be part of the Festival but were unable.”
This year also marked the start of a new era in festival leadership, following the departure of Koch’s cofounder and coproducer, Carolyn Greer, in 2022. In previous years, the festival was run fulltime by Koch and Greer, who launched it together in 2006, with the year-round help of a part-time administrative assistant, summer interns, and a contracted production crew during the month before and through the festival. Greer’s exit necessitated staffing changes.
“We thought quite a bit about the best trajectory for the Festival going forward—bringing in someone new or promoting our existing staff who already love and care about the festival,” Koch said. “We opted for the love and care scenario.”
For this year’s festival, part-time administrative assistant Anna Hotard was promoted to a full-time employee. From Greer, Hotard took over putting together the festival’s two international debut author panels (one in-person and one virtual) and coordinating all hotel and travel arrangements for participants. (Koch noted that due to flooding in New York City a couple days before the festival, some out-of-state authors and publishers had their flights canceled and were unable to attend.) In addition, Stephan Herrera, previously a seasonal employee, was promoted to a year-round employee managing the festival’s nearly 60 citywide Bookend events and helping with grant-writing and marketing.
“Carolyn had discussed stepping down for a couple of years, so we had plenty of time to prepare and think through who could best do her roles,” said Koch. “I took over some and the staff took over others.” Koch stressed, however, that Greer “will always be part of the festival’s DNA” in her role as cofounder and as a member of the festival’s nonfiction committee. “We miss her, though, because she is a great spirit.”
This year’s festival also happened to coincide with the first day of Banned Books Week, which took place October 1–7. Book banning was a frequent topic of discussion across this year’s programming, with three panels devoted to the issue ("Free the Books," presented by PEN America; "Reading Wars," presented by the New York Review of Books; and "Books Unbanned," presented by the African American Policy Forum). Koch sees the festival itself as a way to combat censorship: “The Brooklyn Book Festival is committed to offering wide access to books and authors—that is why we are a free festival.”
As school districts clamp down on what students can read, Koch believes alternative channels for books, such as literary festivals, are more important than ever. “We live in a large and diverse world that everyone should have a choice to learn about,” she said. “Blocking kids from having a choice of what they can read and punishing teachers for encouraging reading traps people into a very small world.”