Iowa City’s One Book Two Book festival fully back in person

Iowa City’s One Book Two Book festival on Feb. 25-26 is back in person this year. Many participants are excited for a fun day filled with events, booksellers, speakers, and student writing held in FilmScene at the Chauncey Hotel.


Matt Sindt

Film Scene is seen in downtown Iowa City on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022.

Grace Westergaard, Arts Reporter

Iowa City’s One Book Two Book festival is notorious for celebrating student writing. This year’s festival is back after two years of cancellations and accommodations because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Beginning in the fall, children from first to eighth grade in Linn or Johnson County can submit a page of any kind of written work. A team of ACT volunteers will evaluate these pages and pick grade-level winners and honorable mentions. The festival is coordinated by the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature organization.

John Kenyon, Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature executive director, said the festival’s main components are celebrating student writing and providing general entertainment.

The festival will begin Feb. 25 at FilmScene at the Chauncey Hotel in Iowa City. This is a big day for the festival because many organizations and schools will hold tables with activities for the kids. At 10 a.m., FilmScene will play free family-friendly short films while author readings take place. There will also be costume character appearances, meet and greets, storytimes, and booksellers.

On Feb. 26, the 16 selected winners will read their pieces and receive prizes to celebrate their victory. The event will be held in the auditorium of the University of Iowa’s MacBride Hall.

Rachael Carlson, director of operations for Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature, said the festival relies heavily on the North Liberty, Coralville, and Iowa City public libraries for contributors.

“We can’t thank the librarians and teachers enough just for getting kids excited about writing and submitting,” Carlson said, emphasizing the importance of the festival’s volunteers. “That’s Iowa City, though. People show up to help.”

The last One Book Two Book festival before the pandemic was held in late February 2020, Kenyon said.

He added that the festival may have been one of the final public events in town before the pandemic.

In 2021, the festival consisted of entirely virtual programming. There was the writing component where kids submitted videos of themselves reading their pieces in place of the normal in-person ceremony. In 2022, the event was outside — a compromise due to the pandemic’s presence.

Suzanne Barloon from PaperPie Books, a resident of Iowa City, has been bringing books to One Book Two Book since the festival’s first year.

Barloon is one of several exhibitors who shares books with the families with the intent of inspiring excitement about books for years to come. Barloon said it will be nice to have the book fair and festival in one place again because it will be easier for families to be able to bop from one activity to the other.

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The work that goes into the event to make it something special for Iowa City does not go unnoticed, Barloon said. She mentioned her gratitude toward the coordinators and the festival for “making books come alive” for everybody in the community.

“The energy that the Iowa City families bring to this is so invigorating,” Barloon said. “It’s just wonderful to see so many people excited about reading.”