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Boston Book Festival broadens horizons as it returns to Copley Square

Psychotherapist and relationship podcast host Esther Perel and "Here & Now" host Robin Young at the 10th anniversary of Boston Book Festival in 2018.Mike Ritter

Bibliophiles, behold: After two years of virtual programming, the Boston Book Festival is returning to Back Bay Oct. 28-29, with talks by leading literary figures, and an array of readings, lectures, and workshops, all in person. The festival, which enters its 14th year this fall, will feature more than 70 sessions with around 200 authors and speakers, and bring back a wide variety of programming from the event’s pre-COVID days. It encompasses a kickoff event Friday night, with sessions all day on Saturday. Events take place in and around Copley Square— at the Central branch of the Boston Public Library, the Old South Church, Church of the Covenant, the Goethe-Institut Boston, and Boston Architectural College.

The sessions offered this year “run a real gamut of topics and themes,” said the festival’s founder and executive director, Deborah Z Porter. “There’s really hardcore political things, but there’s a lot that’s really focused on finding joy and contentment and celebration of life.”


The organizers of this year’s festival also sought to include a wider range of subjects and genres for the panels and sessions, to appeal to a broad audience.

“We have more genre fiction than we have in the past,” Porter said. “We have some romance panels and a mystery session, and some horror, comic book sessions, graphic novels, so there’s really a wide variety.”

Dorchester-born author and journalist Patrick Radden Keefewill deliver a nonfiction keynote Friday night at 7:30 p.m. at Old South Church. His fifth book, “Rogues: True Stories of Grifters, Killers, Rebels and Crooks,” is a compilation of a dozen of his New Yorker articles, all featuring nuanced and intricate portraits of complicated individuals. Keefe, whose other works include “Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland” and “Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty,” will be in conversation with Meghna Chakrabarti, host of WBUR’s “On Point.”


Fiction panelists include keynote speakers Yiyun Li (“The Book of Goose”) and Gish Jen (“Thank You, Mr. Nixon: Stories”), who will discuss their work and their careers with moderator Claire Messud on Saturday at 4 p.m. at the Boston Public Library’s Rabb Hall. Mystery authors B.A. Shapiro (“Metropolis”), Jane Pek (“The Verifiers”), and Ben Mezrich (“The Midnight Ride”) will discuss their work in a panel sponsored by Mystery Writers of America Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at Old South Church’s Mary Norton Hall. At 3:30 p.m., horror authors Elizabeth Hand (”Hokuloa Road”) and Paul Tremblay (”The Pallbearers Club”) will cohost the annual Shirley Jackson Awards ceremony at Boston Architectural College’s Cascieri Hall.

In a nonfiction highlight on Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Boston Public Library’s Rabb Hall, former White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx (“Silent Invasion: The Untold Story of the Trump Administration, Covid-19, and Preventing the Next Pandemic Before It’s Too Late”) will talk with Boston Public Library president David Leonard about her experience navigating politics and public health while working with the Trump administration to address the pandemic.

Ever wondered how publications like the Globe choose which books to review? At 11:15 a.m. Saturday at the Old South Church, Boston Globe contributing editor Kate Tuttle, who runs the Globe’s weekly Books section, leads a panel on book reviewing. Seasoned reviewers Joshunda Sanders, Sebastian Stockman, and Anri Wheeler will discuss their process.


Festival-goers can check out BBF Unbound, a collection of sessions organized by community members, at the Boston Public Library. Highlights include a panel discussion with middle-grade and young adult authors Federico Erebia (”Pedro & Daniel”), Nora Lester Murad (”Ida in the Middle”), Lisa Stringfellow (”A Comb of Wishes”), and Betty G. Yee (”Gold Mountain”) about how to promote books about marginalized communities in the current political climate. Another BBF Unbound session features local writers reading the winning entries of this year’s “Boston in 100 Words” contest.

Sessions dedicated to young adult literature this year span genres like fantasy, romance, and contemporary fiction. Malinda Lo (“A Scatter of Light”) will make an appearance as the YA keynote speaker on Saturday at 4:45 p.m. at the Church of the Covenant. She will be in conversation with Marie Myung-Ok Lee (“The Evening Hero”). A variety of story hours, workshops, and readings offer entertainment for the festival’s youngest attendees. Highlights include Roxbury-based artist Ekua Holmes, who will be reading from her new picture book, “Hope Is an Arrow: The Story of Lebanese-American Poet Khalil Gibran” at the Boston Public Library’s Children’s Library at 10:45 a.m. on Saturday.

A street fair in Copley Square on Saturday will include booths from more than 50 exhibitors, including the Brattle Book Shop and the MIT Press Bookstore, Mass Poetry and the New England Science Fiction Association, and publishing companies including She Writes Press and McPherson & Company. The Chicken & Rice Guys and Zinneken’s Waffles will have food trucks on hand to keep hungry bookworms fueled for the festivities.


The festival is free and open to the public, with no tickets or registration required. The full schedule is available at bostonbookfest.org.

Maya Homan can be reached at maya.homan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @MayaHoman.