The MJCCA Book Festival is one of the cultural highlights of the year. Last spring, the festival went virtual with the Book Festival of the MJCCA in Your Living Room on Zoom to adapt to the pandemic. This year, the 30th “edition” of the festival brings audiences a mix of virtual and in-person events, from renowned Israeli author David Grossman to novelist Nicole Krauss and journalist Mark Oppenheimer — author of a new book about Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh’s historic Jewish neighborhood and the site of the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in American history — to name just a few. They’ll be joined by an equally impressive lineup of moderators, from former U.S. ambassador Stuart Eizenstat to New York Times reporter Kevin Sack and Atlanta Braves legend (and Georgia Baseball Hall of Famer) Dale Murphy.
With over 85 authors on deck, live performances, and more, the AJT wondered how the festival was adapting to the latest round of pandemic conditions. How did the MJCCA decide on the current mix of in-person and virtual events? To echo the famous question of Passover: How were this year’s preparations different from all other years?
Festival Director Pamela Morton said, “Our event planning has been somewhat of a moving target — much different than last year, when in-person wasn’t an option. When we made the decision to start programming in-person again this fall, it was late spring and there was a feeling of optimism and hope that the worst of the pandemic was behind us. Then comes the Delta variant sending people back indoors and being extra cautious about their level of exposure to others. For the health and safety of our community, the decision was made to offer hybrid programming: the option to watch on Zoom or attend in-person. This way, people may choose what they feel most comfortable with. In most cases, it was the author’s decision about whether to attend in-person or to do the program virtually. We are also requiring masks at all public events, offering hands-free e-tickets, and social distancing the audience.”
It’s still too early to celebrate, but so far, the reaction has been positive. The festival organizers are keeping a close eye on the fluctuating attendance and planning accordingly. “The first three programs in October were scheduled to be in-person,” Morton said. “However, we pivoted back to virtual because the authors became reluctant to travel due to rising COVID numbers in the South. As ticket sales recently opened for our November festival programs, we are just beginning to see which tickets guests are choosing: virtual or in-person. We monitor and make decisions daily as to whether to continue in-person or to go fully virtual. Our hope is that the community will be excited to return to the MJCCA to enjoy one of our most popular programs – author events! My tagline has been, ‘We’re in-person until we’re not!’”
So how do they choose which books and authors to feature out of such an enormous pool of new material? That’s where Deena Profis and Artie Gumer enter the story. The Arts & Authors Co-Chairs pick the events, Morton says, “with the assistance of an author selection committee from the National JCC Literary Consortium.” Often, publishers reach out directly to the festival organizers with authors who are promoting new books. “We are adding to our schedule weekly,” she said.
Another exciting feature of this year’s festival will be the many live arts performances and concerts, from Nashville duo Swearingen & Kelli (October 17), who will be presenting the music of Simon & Garfunkel, to Nickelodeon and Family Choice award-winning band Hot Peas ‘n Butter, who will be entertaining families with a holiday show on December 5.
“Moving into 2022,” Morton told the AJT, “we are thrilled to be welcoming back Atlanta fan-fave Joe Alterman in February and one of the most exciting announcements of all, the return of our beloved Jerry’s Habima Theatre in March, reprising ‘Mamma Mia!’”
Here are a few of highlights of the books showcased in this year’s festival. Click on each one to read an AJT preview.
- MJCCA Book Festival
- MJCCA’s Book Festival
- MJCCA Virtual Book Festival in Your Living Room LIVE
- Daniel Elkind
- Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta
- MJCCA Virtual Book Festival in Your Living Room LIVE Book Festival
- Pamela Morton
- Deena Profis
- Artie Gumer
- Jon Goldmark
- Sherie Gumer
- Mark Oppenheimer Squirrel Hill
- historic Jewish neighborhood
- anti-Semitic attack
- American history
- Atlanta Braves
- Dale Murphy
- David Grossman
- Nicole Krauss
- Stuart Eizenstat
- New York Times
- Kevin Sack
- Georgia Baseball Hall of Famer
- Delta variant
- Hybrid Programming
- public events
- hands-free e-tickets
- social distancing the audience
- Arts & Authors
- National JCC Literary Consortium
- Nashville duo Swearingen & Kelli
- Simon & Garfunkel
- Family Choice award-winning band
- Hot Peas ‘n Butter
- holiday show
- Joe Alterman
- Jerry's Habima Theatre
- Mamma Mia!
- live arts
- Book Festival Preview