We take words seriously here. From Henry David Thoreau and Louisa May Alcott to Elizabeth Bishop and Dennis Lehane, the Boston area has long been a hotbed of literature. So it’s little surprise that in its fifth year, the Boston Book Festival, presented in partnership with WBUR from Thursday, Oct. 17, to Saturday, Oct. 19, around Boston’s Copley Square, has become a mammoth showcase of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, kids' books and all sorts of other writing. And nearly all the events are free.
The festival offers live music; an open mic reading of “very, very short stories”; and a street fair showcasing independent publishers and literary magazines. (The festival lists all events on its website, and WBUR staff appearances are detailed here.) But what’s most impressive are the talks by more than 170 authors, including stars like Salman Rushdie, Chuck Klosterman, Tom Perrotta, Eve LaPlante, Robert Pinsky, Claire Messud and Andre Dubus III. Below is our guide to the best talks of the festival.
The British novelist’s latest book, a 2012 memoir titled “Joseph Anton,” recounts how on Valentine’s Day in 1989 he was phoned by a reporter who told him that the supreme leader of Iran, offended by his magic realist novel “The Satanic Verses,” had issued a death threat against him. Rushdie famously spent the next decade in hiding, and in the process came to personally symbolize the costs and values of free speech.
7:30 p.m. Friday, Old South Church sanctuary, 645 Boylston St., Boston, $10.
The prolific New Hampshire children’s book author and illustrator won the 1976 Caldecott Honor for his tale “Strega Nona,” about the funny doings of a grandma witch and her magic pasta pot. In his new book, she’s back, dealing with a bossy house guest in “Strega Nona Does It Again.”
10:15 a.m. Saturday, Old South Church sanctuary, 645 Boylston St., Boston.
Synthetic Biology: Designing Life: Craig Venter with Emily Anthes and Juan Enriquez
Biologist and entrepreneur Craig Ventner led one of the first successful efforts to sequence the human genome. Now he’s behind a project that’s credited with creating the first synthetic life form — and “he’s digitizing it so it can be transmitted over the Internet and reproduced at the other end with a 3D printer.” He describes his efforts in his new book, “Life at the Speed of Light: From the Double Helix to the Dawn of Digital Life.” In a panel moderated by Sacha Pfeiffer, WBUR's host of All Things Considered, he’s joined by “Homo Evolutis” author Enriquez and “Frankenstein’s Cat” author Anthes. 11 a.m. Saturday, Back Bay Events Center, 180 Berkeley St., Boston.
Heroes and Antiheroes: Chuck Klosterman, Claire Messud, Gregory Nagy
A meditation on heroes with Klosterman, the popular pop culture critic and author of “I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling With Villains (Real and Imagined)”; Messud, creator of the “female Dostoevskian antihero” at the center of her novel “The Woman Upstairs”; and Harvard professor Nagy, who authored “The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours.” 1:15 p.m. Saturday, Old South Church sanctuary, 645 Boylston St., Boston.
Poetry: Spoken Word: Regie Gibson and Jose Olivarez
Two celebrated Massachusetts poets — Gibson, winner of the 1998 National Poetry Slam, and Olivarez, author of the forthcoming poetry collection “Home Court” — perform their texts alongside their students.1:15 p.m. Saturday, Loews Boston Hotel Cuffs Bar, 350 Stuart St., Boston.
Art and Technology: Abelardo Morell and Clifford Ross
Featured in the current touring museum retrospective “The Universe Next Door,” Brookline artist Morell has astonished with his photos that turn rooms into pinhole cameras — or camera obscuras — projecting the outside world across the inside walls. Ross’s 2013 book, “Through the Looking Glass,” documents his use of digital imaging combined with traditional craftsmanship to create a monumental stained glass wall for the US Federal Courthouse in Austin, Texas.
2:15 p.m. Saturday, Boston Public Library Rabb Lecture Hall, 700 Boylston St., Boston.
Fiction: Domestic Disturbances: George Harrar, Ann Leary, Tom Perrotta, J. Courtney Sullivan
Boston-area novelist and screenwriter Tom Perrotta is best known for novels like his biting high school comedy “Election” or his 2011 book “The Leftovers” about those left behind after the Rapture. His new short story collection, “Nine Inches,” returns him to the world of suburban dysfunction. He’s joined on this panel, moderated by Here & Now co-host Robin Young, by other authors of domestic dramas: Sullivan, who wrote about marriage in “The Engagements”; Leary, who mulled drinking in a small North Shore town in “The Good House”; and Harrar, who turned the repercussions of a long-ago crisis into his thriller “Reunion at Red Paint Bay.”2:30 p.m. Saturday, Trinity Church sanctuary, Copley Square, Boston.
The State of Cities: Vishaan Chakrabarti, Leigh Gallagher, Moses Gates, and Anthony Townsend
Suburbs are dying and the cities are the future, according to the authors on this panel, moderated by co-host Jeremy Hobson of Here & Now. High-density living is the solution to our environmental, economic and public health problems, Chakrabarti writes in his manifesto “A Country of Cities.” Gallagher explores Americans’ re-embrace of urban living in “The End of the Suburbs.” In “Hidden Cities,” Gates recounts his urban exploration/trespassing in closed subway stops, sewer tunnels and underground crypts. And Townsend argues that digital links can foster new urban utopias in “Smart Cities.”3 p.m. Saturday, Back Bay Events Center, 180 Berkeley St., Boston.
Herstory: Women in History: Cara Kaplan, Eve LaPlante, Megan Marshall
Much credit is often given to abolitionist, feminist and teacher Amos Bronson Alcott for the success of his daughter Louisa May Alcott, author of “Little Women.” In the dual biography “Marmee and Louisa,” Eve LaPlante (who is an Alcott descendant) rebalances that version of events by recovering the efforts of Louisa’s mom, Abigail. On this panel, moderated by WBUR host and reporter Deborah Becker, LaPlante is joined by Marshall, whose biography “Margaret Fuller” remembers the crusading 19th-century feminist, Transcendentalist, newspaper columnist and foreign correspondent, and Kaplan, whose book “Miss Anne in Harlem” looks at white women who challenged the racism of the 1920s by embracing the Harlem Renaissance. 3:15 p.m. Saturday, Boston Public Library Abbey Room, Dartmouth Street entrance, Boston.
BBF Unbound: The Boston Marathon — Telling Tragedy’s Story: Carlos Arredondo, Kristen Daly, Sean Flynn, Scott Helman, Charles Krupa, Jenna Russell
The Boston Marathon bombing as told by people who were there — veteran reporters and photographers as well as Arredondo, the iconic “man in the cowboy hat” photographed helping rescue victims of the attack (above).
3:30 p.m. Saturday, Boston Common Hancock, 40 Trinity Place, Boston.
True Crime: Kevin Cullen, Charles Graeber, Mirta Ojito, Nancy Jo Sales
Haven’t had your fill of convicted Boston mobster "Whitey" Bulger? Boston Globe columnist Cullen, co-author of “Whitey Bulger: America’s Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt that Brought Him to Justice,” is part of this panel of crime reporting, moderated by WBUR senior reporter David Boeri. Graeber writes about a serial killer. Sales recounts Los Angeles robbers. And Ojito investigates the murder of an immigrant on New York’s Long Island.3:45 p.m. Saturday, Boston Public Library Rabb Lecture Hall, 700 Boylston St., Boston.
Poetry: Headliners: Frank Bidart, Robert Pinsky, Mary Jo Salter
Three-time United States Poet Laureate Pinsky is joined by poets Bidart, whose most recent collection is called “Watching the Spring Festival,” and Salter, author of “Nothing by Design” and editor of “The Norton Anthology of Poetry.”3:45 p.m. Saturday, Loews Boston Hotel Cuffs Bar, 350 Stuart St., Boston.
Fiction: Dirty, Crazy, Endless Love: Nicholson Baker, Andre Dubus III, Jamie Quatro
A long-married man discovers his wife’s infidelity. A bartender cheats on his pregnant wife. A teenager’s life is shattered when a dirty photo of her is posted online. These are some of the subjects of Boston-area writer Dubus’s new hard, heartbreaking collection of novellas, “Dirty Love.” He’s joined by Maine’s Baker, whose latest novel “Traveling Sprinkler” tells the tale of a rambling loser poet, and Quatro, whose debut book, “I Want to Show You More,” is a collection of tales about “God, illicit sex, raising children —and running.”4:30 p.m. Saturday, Trinity Church sanctuary, Copley Square, Boston.
This program aired on October 16, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.