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Bookmarks Festival is back Sept. 22-26, with a sprinkling of magic

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Festival goers browse vendor tents during the 2018 Bookmarks Festival of Books and Authors.

It’s not just a Harry Potter thing; magic happens whenever readers, writers and books come together.

And at the Bookmarks Festival of Books and Authors, you can experience the alchemy for yourself.

North Carolina’s largest free book festival will convene for the 17th year in downtown Winston-Salem Sept. 22-26. The main Festival is Sept. 24, with a keynote address on Sept. 22, several pre-Festival events on Sept. 23, and a Closing Conversation on Sept. 26.

After attracting 20,000 attendees in 2019, the festival, like most everything else in the world, was forced to shut down in 2020. In 2021, it returned with 5,000 festivalgoers partly in-person and partly virtual.

This year, it’s back in full force, and organizers are hoping for a modest return to pre-pandemic numbers, between 12,000 and 15,000, says Jamie Rogers Southern, the festival’s executive director.

The festival will open Sept. 22, with a keynote address by Taylor Jenkins Reid in conversation with novelist Tia Williams.

Though Reid’s keynote is sold out, there are plenty of other things to do, such as food events, a special story time, free midday keynotes and 51 other authors, including thriller writer Sandra Brown, popular romance novelist Tessa Bailey and playwright and nonfiction author Marc Palmieri, who has special ties to Winston-Salem.

Palmieri came to Wake Forest University in the 1980s on a baseball scholarship and left here an actor after a life-changing encounter with the late Harold Tedford, a popular theater professor at the school. Palmieri went on to write plays and books, the latest of which is “She Danced With Lightening.” It’s described as “part family memoir, part medical mystery involving severe epilepsy” that culminates in “a courageous performance and an 11th hour, life-saving brain surgery.”

“I am most looking forward to our overall theme for the year, which is ‘better together,’”Southern says. “We've all seen the world change and struggle over the past couple of years, and to be able to gather together to celebrate the love of books is something I hope we never take for granted. I hope people will come out and celebrate with us because we have a truly awesome line-up of authors this year.”

Beth Seufer Buss, Bookmarks’ program and festival director, talked about some of the other authors coming to this year’s Festival

TJ Klune, a Winston-Salem book club favorite, will be here with his latest book, “Under the Whispering Door,” an uplifting story about a life spent at the office and a death spent building a home.

Klune is the New York Times bestselling author of “The House in the Cerulean Sea” and the young adult The Extraordinaries series.

“I think every book club in town has read his books,” Buss says. “They are just charming.”

New author Sidik Fofana is touring is support of his debut novel “Stories from the Tenants Downstairs.” Set in a Harlem high rise, the book is about a tight-knit cast of characters grappling with personal challenges while gentrification threatens to upend life as they know it.

At this festival, Bookmarks is kicking off an annual series of Southern literature lunches hosted by author Wiley Cash, author of “When Ghosts Come Home.”/ This year, on Sept. 23, Cash will be in conversation with Sarah Addison Allen, an N.C. author presenting her first book in seven years, “Other Birds,” a novel.

“She’s the perfect author to kick off this series,” Buss says. Allen’s previous books are “Garden Spells” and “The Sugar Queen.” “She always has just a touch of magic in her books.”

Author Grady Hendrix will host a late-night event on Sept. 24 called “Paperbacks From Hell … Live” at Footnote Coffee and Cocktails next door to Bookmarks independent bookstore, 634 W. Fourth St.

Here’s a description: “In the early 1970s, three books changed horror forever: ‘Rosemary’s Baby’,’The Exorcist’ and ‘The Other.’ … they opened the floodgates for an avalanche of horror paperbacks to pour onto supermarket shelves throughout the ’70s and the ’80s, until ‘Silence of the Lambs’ slit the genre's throat in the early ’90s. … Hendrix, delivers a mind-melting oral history of this now forgotten world of Nazi leprechauns, skeleton doctors, killer crabs, killer jellyfish, killer babies, pretty much killer everything.”

The opening story time at noon on Sept. 24 will feature Idina Menzel -- the Broadway legend who starred in “Rent” and “Wicked” -- in conversation with her sister, Cara Mentzel, in a free event in Winston Square Park. The two have co-authored a children’s picture book called “Loud Mouth.”

On Sept. 26, the finale event of the festival will be a Closing Conversation with Neil deGrasse Tyson whose latest book is “Starry Messenger: Cosmic Perspectives on Civilization.” Tyson, noted astrophysicist, author and personality, will talk with Matt and Shari Brady, local STEM educators who passionately pursue relevant and fun approaches to teaching science and technology.

“As we come out of the pandemic, coming together again to celebrate books and celebrate authors and our differences, we are really ‘better together,’” Buss says. “I want everybody to feel welcome at festival, and I think we are going to have great conversations that really do show us that we are ‘better together’.”

This is just a sprinkling of the magic that awaits at the 2022 Bookmarks Festival of Books and Authors. For a complete schedule and any changes, visit www.bookmarksnc.org/festival .

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