Annual Iowa City Book Festival returns with new hybrid format

This year’s Iowa City Book Festival will return to the literature community with a new hybrid format to provide ultimate accommodation for its attendees and participants.


Abigail Wisecup

A volunteer reader speaks during a public reading of War and Peace on the Ped Mall on Monday Sept. 30, 2019. As part of the Iowa City Book Festival, readings will continue on the Ped Mall for three days.

Parker Jones, Arts Reporter

For 13 years, the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature has hosted the Iowa City Book Festival to celebrate the local literary community, especially its pool of talented authors. 

This year’s festival will do the same, but with a new hybrid after last year’s festival transitioned to an entirely virtual set of events. The 2021 Iowa City Book Festival will run from Oct. 17 to Oct. 24, with some virtual and some in-person events. 

John Kenyon, the executive director of the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature organization, wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan that — in addition to the usual readings from authors tied to Iowa City — this year’s festival will heavily feature events about Fyodor Dostoevsky, to celebrate the Russian novelist’s 200th birthday, centered on the University of Iowa Main Library exhibit dedicated to the author.

The programming includes a film series at FilmScene and a special one-man play performance of The Grand Inquisitor, adapted from Dostoevsky’s work, produced by Riverside Theatre in the UI Main Library’s gallery space.

“Every year brings something different depending on the partnerships we form,” Kenyon wrote. 

A total of 17 authors will partake in the festival, reading from their own work and participating in literature-based discussions. 

One of these authors is University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop alum Julie Hanson, who will read at the first official festival event on Oct. 19, alongside fellow poet Marc Rahe. 

Hanson will read from her poetry book Unbeknownst, which won the Iowa Poetry Prize. 

Hanson said the festival is one event that makes Iowa City feel like a true City of Literature. She is interested in attending several of its events, she said, including Riverside’s performance. 

“During the festival, the sense of being in the midst of a writing university town, feels intensified — feels sort of italicized,” Hanson said. “As an audience member and listener, I’m interested in participating in a lot of the programming.”

Kenyon wrote that the hybrid format is designed to increase participation across all the festival events. All events will be streamed online for those who do not feel safe to attend in person, he wrote.

“We know some people are eager to get back to in-person events but realize there are many who aren’t comfortable doing so or who are unable to get out,” Kenyon wrote. “Accommodating both should make the festival more accessible.”

Participating author Chuy Renteria is a graduate of the UI Dance Department. Renteria will discuss his debut book, We Heard It When We Were Young.

Renteria said he is most excited about presenting a festival that feels safe to all participants through the hybrid format. 

He added that he is grateful for the chance to be a part of a gathering of authors. 

“It’s a very human thing to be together and listen to stories, to discuss them in a group setting, but we don’t want people to miss out because they are not yet comfortable for that level of interaction,” Renteria said. “Any chance that our literary community has to come together is meaningful.”