The Best Way To Navigate a Virtual Book Festival

Written by Steph Opitz, founding director of The Loft’s Wordplay
Wordplay: A virtual book festival reconnecting readers, writers, and great books! Presented by St. Catherine University and StarTribune.

Courtesy of The Loft Literary Center.

The Loft Literary Center is a place for writers and readers located in Minneapolis. In 2019, we launched the Wordplay book festival to over 10,000 attendees and hundreds of authors (such as Stephen King, Amy Tan, and Marlon James!) in our inaugural year. From the beginning, St. Catherine University has been a lead sponsor and huge supporter of the festival, so we wanted to make sure all Katies know how to get the most out of their Wordplay experience.

When people ask me what a book festival is, I typically describe it as a cross between a music and art festival. There are booths with vendors and activities, food trucks, and stages with authors speaking. The speaking part of a festival description gives people a pause, too. Are the authors just reading from their books? Not really. Some will read a short snippet to give you a taste of their work. But, mostly it’s authors in conversation who share similar themes in their work. They’ll discuss their latest books and give the audience a peek behind the curtain of their process, and talk about ways they approached the book’s topic. It’s also a fun opportunity for audience members to ask questions about inspiration and craft, and, whatever else comes to mind. 

Of course, during a pandemic this is all achieved virtually. We miss gathering together in-person and celebrating great books we’ve loved or are excited to read, but the silver lining for a virtual festival is that you can catch all the events on the couch in your PJs if you want. What you’re tuning into is a stellar line-up of household names, emerging writers, and everyone in between. 

The best way to maximize your Wordplay experience is, and I’m serious, register for every single event. It’s free and most events will be up for viewing until June 1, so if you miss the live event, you can watch it at another time  like Hulu for your book festival needs. However, if you want to ask authors questions or engage with other fans of the topic/genre/author, being there live is best. There will be audience Q&As at the end of each session and a robust chat going throughout. 

If you want to go a step further, you can sign up for a chance to win one of 25 enhanced tickets here by April 29, 2021. Enhanced tickets will automatically pre-register you for all the events, and you’ll gain access to some special features. For example, only enhanced ticket holders get to virtually attend (and ask questions during) a once-in-a-lifetime conversation between two of the best-selling authors in the world, James Lee Burke and Dean Koontz on April 30 at 7 p.m. The recording of the event will be released on May 2. You’ll also be able to attend small breakout sessions after the evening programs to delve deeper into topics discussed during the public event, moderated by an expert in the topic. Additionally, you’ll get a selection of signed bookplates from various Wordplay authors, and more perks.

For strategy’s sake, I always suggest planning to see an author you’re excited about—like former First Daughter Chelsea Clinton who will be interviewed by President Becky Roloff '76 with other children’s book authors for a session called "She Persisted" on May 6 at 9 a.m., and fantasy phenom Rivers Solomon joining us from London to discuss Sorrowland with Tarshia Stanley, PhD, dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Sciences, on May 6 at 12 p.m., or May 4 at 7 p.m. for our cross-genre conversation “Talking Back, Looking Forward: Native Women's Resistance & Reimagination with Heid Erdrich, Elissa Washuta, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson”—and from there, be curious! Attend events with folks you’ve never heard of before; if you don’t like it, sign off and join us for the next one!  You may just find your new favorite writer at the beginning of their career and you get to brag about knowing them from the beginning.

I hope you have fun at this year’s festival and I look forward to seeing you there!

Learn more about how St. Catherine University will be an active part of the 2021 Wordplay festival here

See the 2021 Full Lineup.

Find the full Wordplay schedule here, and more information about Wordplay here.