The Louisiana Book Festival is a free, world-class celebration of readers, writers and their books held annually in downtown Baton Rouge. The festival highlights the latest work of exceptional writers and scholars with an emphasis on Louisiana-related topics. Although it is the only literary event of its size in the state, attracting more than 21,500 attendees in 2012, the festival maintains a unique degree of intimacy between authors and readers.
Held annually since 2002, the Louisiana Book Festival presents a diverse assortment of book-related activities and programs. The festival offers unique opportunities for booklovers of all ages to interact with exceptional writers, poets and storytellers and to enjoy an inspiring variety of literary activities, exhibitions and demonstrations. This celebration of readers, writers and books is free and designed to appeal to everyone, from the novice or reluctant reader, to parents and their children, to booklovers in general.
The Louisiana Book Festival is held in downtown Baton Rouge in the State Library, the Capitol Park Museum, the Capitol Park Welcome Center, the State Capitol and tents on neighboring streets. The history and grandeur of the facilities offer beautiful venues for participants as well as a comfortable and convenient layout for attendees. The festival is co-sponsored by the Office of the Lieutenant Governor; the Louisiana Center for the Book; the State Library of Louisiana; the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism; and the Louisiana Library Foundation. It is funded through federal grants as well as private sponsors such as the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities and Barnes & Noble Booksellers.
The festival features author presentations on their latest works, literary panel discussions, storytelling, exhibitions, reading- and writing-related activities for children, a book sales and signings tent, live music and food. In 2012, more than 125 writers participated by giving presentations and serving on panel discussions, representing a wide range of literature and scholarship. The Louisiana Book Festival seeks to attract the widest range of reading interests by presenting a wealth of exceptional programs featuring writers of all categories of fiction and nonfiction, grounded in disciplines ranging from literature and history to cultural studies and political science.
The festival features the very latest of Louisiana literature — featured works are generally limited to those that have been published within the last 12 to 18 months. This allows the festival to highlight the latest generation of a vibrant literary culture that continues to grow.
Writers from throughout the country are considered with special consideration given to Louisiana authors — that is, authors who have spent some amount of time in the state, whether born and raised, attended school or relocated here. Previous festivals have hosted authors who have won prestigious awards and penned bestselling books. In 2009, The Southern Review of Books ranked the Louisiana Book Festival as the second-best festival in the world for authors to attend.
The night before the festival, the Louisiana Center for the Book hosts an Authors Party at the State Library that all festival guests are invited to attend. The party offers a chance for writers to meet and interact with other writers, allowing them to expand their networks with others who are part of the literary heritage the festival celebrates. Admission to the party also serves as a fundraiser for the nonprofit Louisiana Library Foundation.
The festival also places a strong focus on youth. While the festival itself is a fun, family-friendly event, many program offerings are geared specifically toward young readers. The festival features presentations by children’s and young adult authors as well as the Children’s Pavilion, where young festivalgoers can make book-related crafts. Storytellers and costumed literary characters are also on hand throughout festival day. Festival organizers believe that exciting people to read at a younger age can improve their lives in many different ways that ultimately benefit our communities.
Numerous studies cite a major decline in reading among all age groups. In some instances it is simply a lack of interest; in others it is due to the lack of ability. Therein is one of the overriding goals of the Louisiana Book Festival: capturing the attention and imagination of those not yet fully awakened to the riches of books and the power of the printed word. On one level, being able to read simply offers entertainment, but more importantly, improving literacy rates can lead to better social skills, better health and better employment opportunities. The festival’s ability to help make these improvements lies in the fact that everything starts with people being interested enough to pick up a book, no matter what their age. There is also value in literature as a tool to teach children about Louisiana’s history and cultural heritage.
The festival’s worth is felt in dollars spent by travelers coming into Baton Rouge to attend the festival. Surveys collected at the 2012 festival reveal more than 11,000 visitors from outside the Baton Rouge area spent an average of about $122 per person, which suggests nearly $1.4 million was injected into the local economy. Additionally, the promotion and sale of featured books that deal with so many artistic elements of Louisiana life — music, art, food, poetry, folk life, etc. — adds further value to and informs festivalgoers of all aspects of Louisiana’s cultural economy. The book festival also serves as a vehicle of promotion for tourism throughout Louisiana and the South, as many featured books encourage exploration of this region’s unique offerings.
The centrally located, government-endorsed setting combined with free admission, an assortment of quality programs for every aptitude and inclination and a festive atmosphere created by tents, food and music is the winning formula for continuing to attract the greatest number of attendees.
In 2004, the American Library Association named the Louisiana Center for the Book recipient of a John Cotton Dana Library Public Relations Award; it was recognized for its community partnerships and high-quality program offerings at the 2003 Louisiana Book Festival. The center’s festival efforts were also recognized in 2007 when it received the Boorstin Center for the Book Award, which is presented annually by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress to five state affiliate centers.