2020 YIR: Book Festival Goes Big, Virtual
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2020 YIR: Book Festival Goes Big, Virtual

The AJT covered the 2020 Book Festival of the MJCCA this year, which made numerous creative changes due to COVID-19.

The Book Festival of the MJCCA gained a larger online audience during the pandemic.
The Book Festival of the MJCCA gained a larger online audience during the pandemic.

October 15, 2020

Within weeks after the Marcus JCC closed in mid-March due to the pandemic, what is believed to be the nation’s largest Jewish book festival already had a game plan for virtual programming. What emerged was the Book Festival of the MJCCA in Your Living Room on Zoom. Book Fest events began virtually in April and will continue through the new year.

Among those scheduled to appear in 2021 are billionaire Bill Gates, media entrepreneur Lisa Lillien, lawyer Scott Turow, and actress Tovah Feldshuh, to name a few.

Through its online events, the book festival expanded its relationship with Jewish community centers throughout North America. So while the events weren’t in person, “the reach was global without geographic boundaries; we had audiences that didn’t know we existed,” said festival director Pam Morton. Viewers watched from Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, the Philippines and Israel, she added.

“It’s been exciting to work with all the JCCs and talk to our colleagues in other cities. We combined their programming with ours. It would have been more difficult to be successful if we were on our own.”

For the MJCCA, the relationship created an “opportunity to create and share content with our community when people were staying home.” And for the partner JCCs, the collaboration offered a way to generate revenue during a tough time, which included layoffs and furloughs, she said.

The partnership with The National JCC Literary Consortium will remain as long as the events are virtual, Morton said. And even when in-person events resume, Morton expects some hybrid of online programming will continue for authors or supporters who can’t make it in person.

“I kind of think it opened new doors for us. … for people who cannot get out of their houses.”

The Book Fest in Your Living Room events were free during the summer and started to change in September with paid events, she said. The traditional book festival ran for two weeks from Nov. 7 to Nov. 22 with about 24 authors, including Michael J. Fox, Joan Lunden, John Grisham, Cameron Douglas, Dale Berra and Natan Sharansky, among others.

What was gratifying to Morton about this year’s festival was that despite COVID, the altered format, and a lack of VIP benefits typically offered – including seating, parking and signed books – most of the festival’s sponsors, pacesetters and patrons continued their commitment, she said. “We would not have a festival without their support.”

To view the 2021 lineup and buy tickets, visit www.atlantajcc.org/bookfestival.

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