More than 9,000 attendees descended on Telfair and Wright Squares, and the Trustees Theatre, for the 7th annual Savannah Book Festival this past weekend in Savannah, Ga. Thirty-nine authors, including Alice Hoffman (The Museum of Extraordinary Things, Scribner), Wally Lamb (We Are Water, Harper), Wiley Cash (This Dark Road to Mercy, William Morrow), John McMillian (Beatles vs Stones, Simon & Schuster), Lily Koppel (The Astronaut Wives Club, Grand Central), Anton DiScalfani (The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, Riverhead), and Hugh Howey (Sand, CreateSpace), braved the inclement weather for the three-day event. While only three authors were forced to cancel appearances, many attendees were kept away by the elements. “We are certain that the winter storms affected our attendance negatively,” said executive director Robin Gold. “We got hundreds of emails and phone calls from disappointed people who had planned to come to the Festival from out of town and had cancelled trips because of the snow storms.”
While the weather affected turnout, it did little to dampen spirits of those at the event. “The Savannah Book Festival is both intimate and special," Anton DiSclafani told PW. "The setting is hard to beat--gorgeous, hundred-year old oaks laden with Spanish moss, beautiful Victorian houses, and a lot of Southern charm.” Savannah's lure, Oprah, and ice cream, were central themes of the festival, with multiple authors from Oprah’s Book Club taking stage, and Leopold’s Ice Cream once again naming flavors in honor of attending authors and their books. Ex Libris, Savannah College of Art and Design’s bookstore, set up its tent in Telfair Square on Saturday. “Our sales were as good if not better than last year,” said Gold. “Obviously good news in spite of the weather and losing three authors.” Over 250 volunteers and board members kept the festival running smoothly and on time, handing out updated materials and keeping attendees appraised of schedule changes. All three ticketed events at Trustees Theatre sold out.
Mitchel Albom (The First Phone Call from Heaven, Harper) delivered the keynote on Friday night, sharing how his surprise bestseller Tuesdays with Morrie started out as a “small book behaving oddly.” While Morrie didn’t get the chance to read the book or meet readers of his story, his voice didn’t fade. As Albom pointed out, Tuesdays with Morrie is now taught in schools and in countries across the world. Albom went into detail in recalling his time with Morrie, and his overarching message on Valentine’s Day was one from his former professor and friend. “Give your voice away,” he told the packed house at Trustees theater. “Every one of you has the power to affect one life and affect the world. Follow your heart. It will never lead you astray.”
On Saturday, authors like Alice Hoffman and Hugh Howey recounted how they followed their passions to become writers. “It’s a very small step from reader to writer,” Hoffman said, noting of her process. “Every time I write a novel, I have to relearn how.” Hoffman said she “leaves the characters on the page for other people” once the story is complete. When asked during the Q&A for advice to aspiring authors, she encouraged writers to seek writing programs and workshops. “It’s a good idea to be with other writers, and it’s important to be in process and write everyday.”
Howey, whose process typically involves his writing the last chapter of his novel early on, agreed writing daily was key, though he was quick to note that everyone’s process is unique. “Every brain is different and works differently for every writer, but you have to write every day,” he said during his extensive Q&A session. One of the few self-published authors at the festival, Howey answered questions on everything from writing to why his dad was sad Oprah never called to why he chose self publishing. On being a part of the festival, where he appeared to befriend almost every person at his event, Howey said, “This was my first visit to Savannah for the book festival, but it won't be my last. A gorgeous and welcoming southern town and a huge turnout of bibliophiles made it a weekend I won't forget.”
John McMillian also forged connections at the festival, bonding with one of Savannah’s bibliophiles in an unexpected way. “There was a really poignant moment after my talk, during the Q&A, when someone in the audience spoke very movingly about how much the Beatles have meant to him to and to his friends, many of whom are from the special needs community. He was so enthusiastic, and for reasons that are kind of hard to explain, the whole room was a bit mesmerized. Then he came up and gave me a hug! I'll remember that for a long time.”
While most authors and attendees came to Savannah happy to escape the winter vortex in favor of the city’s sixty-degree weather and sunshine, it was the connections formed between author that make this year's festival so memorable. Perhaps Wiley Cash summed up the festival best when he said, "I've always known that Savannah is a beautiful city, but I didn't know it was so full of such passionate readers. Add to that the amazing venues, the stellar list of authors, and the Southern hospitality shown by hosts and festival crew alike, and this may be just about the best weekend you can have."