Playwright J.T. Rogers (a.k.a. home-grown talent)

Unbound is, technically, a book festival, but really we just love words, however they come at us. Last year Carol Birch dazzled audiences with her powerful storytelling and playwright Willy Conley spoke about his award-winning plays. Willy's visit was so well received that this year we wanted to invite another playwright to discuss their work. (We're also putting on a workshop about how oral storytelling can help writers with dialogue... more on that in another post.)

We're delighted to announce that internationally acclaimed playwright J.T. Rogers will be coming to Unbound to talk about his craft and career. Last year, among may other awards, his play Oslo won the Tony Award for Best Play, and it's been a smash hit on Broadway and in London.

Photo credit: Rebecca Ashley

Photo credit: Rebecca Ashley

J.T. Rogers’s plays include Oslo (Lincoln Center Theater, then Broadway; National Theatre, London, then West End); Blood and Gifts (Lincoln Center Theater; National Theatre); The Overwhelming (National Theatre, then UK tour with Out of Joint; Roundabout Theatre); White People (Off Broadway with Starry Night Productions); and Madagascar (Theatre 503, London; Melbourne Theatre Company). For Oslo he won the Tony, New York Critics, Outer Critics, Drama Desk, Drama League, Lortel, and Obie awards. As one of the playwrights for the Tricycle Theatre of London’s The Great Game: Afghanistan he was nominated for an Olivier Award. His works have been staged throughout the United States and in Germany, Canada, Australia, and Israel. Rogers’s essays have been published in the New York Times, Guardian, and The New Statesman. He is a Guggenheim fellow and has received three NYFA fellowships in playwriting. Rogers is a member of the Dramatist Guild, where he is a founding board member of the Dramatists Legal Defense Fund. He is an alum of New Dramatists and holds an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

He is also an alumnus of Rock Bridge High School in Columbia, MO, and we're thrilled that on the Friday before the festival he'll be speaking to high school performing arts students from across the Columbia Public School district as part of the Authors in the Schools program.


Posted on January 22, 2018 .

Recommended Reading

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Anyone who has been following the festival over the past few years knows that there is also a stunning wealth of literary talent right here on our doorstep. The myth that interesting work only gets published on the coasts persists, but it simply isn't true.

We present, as Exhibit A, the latest edition of The New Territory.  The brainchild of human dynamo and all-round inspiring person, publisher and editor Tina Casagrand, the quarterly magazine's mission is to "is to cultivate connections among the land, people and possibilities of the Lower Midwest."  The magazine was created out of a deep love of, and pride in, this place where we live. It tells stories from these lands, dispatches and disquisitions that celebrate the Midwest and those who live here. There are poems, essays, reviews, and news, and every word carries an indelible sense of place. It's gorgeous to look at, too - exquisitely designed, with scores of stunning photographs.

Unbound is proud to partner with The New Territory, and we encourage you to pick up a copy and discover this jewel for yourselves. They will be at the festival again this year with a table in the ballroom, and you can find out more there, too.

Posted on January 21, 2018 .

State of Independence


Yes, we have nearly fifty acclaimed and best-selling authors and poets coming to Unbound this year. But there are also many wonderful local authors who will also be participating, and this post is all about them.  

Last year we celebrated our community of wonderful Columbia writers by putting on the Independent Author Fair in the Stephens College ballroom. During the course of the day, sixteen local self-published authors were able to present, discuss, and sell their books to the festival-going public. The event was a great success, and so we've decided to do it again this year.

If you're a self-published author who would like to be part of the Independent Author Fair between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. during the festival, please email us at to reserve your spot. The cost of a table for the entire day is $75. Please note that we have limited space available and tables will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis. We anticipate that demand will be greater this year due to the success of last year's event. So get your application in early!

But that's not all.

Self-publishing is becoming increasingly important in the publishing industry. More authors are turning to it as a means of distributing and sharing their work, sometimes with stunning success. In view of this, we are putting on a panel all about self-publishing - what it is, how to do it, and (equally important) how NOT to do it. We'll be featuring some local authors who have had success with the format - and we're also proud to welcome Josh Floyd, key account sales manager of IngramSpark, one of the leading (and best) players in the self-publishing industry. Josh will be on hand to answer questions from the publisher's perspective and offer a unique insight into what makes a successful self-published book. If you've ever contemplated writing a book of your own, this panel will be unmissable. 

Posted on January 18, 2018 .

Accidental Activists - David Collins

When we sit down to plan the programming of each year's festival, we try and capture a little of what's going on in the world around us. One of the things that was difficult to miss in 2017 was a blossoming of renewed political engagement for a lot of people. The Women's March that took place the day after Donald Trump's inauguration saw what has widely been acknowledged as the largest political protest in history, and that was a trend that continued throughout the year, as people continued to campaign, canvas, and protest against - well, you know. There was a lot. Politicians' telephones have been ringing off their hooks with citizens taking the time to let their elected representatives know exactly what they think. It's democracy at work, people.

On the day that we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it seems like a good idea to tell you that on April 21, we'll be convening a panel of writers to speak about the act of protest - what it looks like, what it means, and how we read and write about it.

One of our speakers on that panel is David Collins, whose award-winning book, Accidental Activists, tells the story of the marriage equality legal battle that took place in the Texas Supreme Court.

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After earning a Ph. D. in English at the University of Wisconsin—Madison, David Collins taught English for forty years at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri (1973-2013). In his years at Westminster he published more than fifteen scholarly essays, most on Shakespeare or other medieval/Renaissance writers, but including several on Ernest Hemingway, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and Langston Hughes. His creative nonfiction essays have appeared in The New Laurel Review, The Hawaii Review, The Chariton Review, Pleiades, and Well Versed, Interpretations, and Uncertain Promise. Interviews with two Paris-based American writers, Diane Johnson and Jake Lamar, were published in The AWP Chronicle and Belles Lettres. He has written as well for St. Louis Magazine and Leadership Magazine (including one of his all-time favorites, a reflection on the night Maya Angelou spoke at Westminster College) and for fourteen months authored a column on life in Rwanda for the Fulton Sun.

We're so looking forward to our Protest! panel. It's going to be one of the unmissable events of the festival.

Posted on January 15, 2018 .

[Your Idea Here]

If you've attended Unbound before, you'll know that we do like our T-shirts.

For our first two years, legendary local artist Mike Sleadd has kindly designed unique and beautiful T-shirts for our amazing volunteers to wear - these are never for sale, and can only be earned by volunteering at the fest.

Last year's awesome T-shirt.

Last year's awesome T-shirt.

This year we wanted to give Mike a rest, and so we thought it would be fun if we held a competition instead to find our new T-shirt design. We're actually looking for TWO designs - one that we'll produce and sell at the festival for the general public, and one that we'll use for the volunteers.

So... if you're handy with a pen, or whatever it is that people design T-shirts with these days, why not play along at home? Send us your T-shirt design by March 1, 2018, and we'll feature our favorites at the festival.

Now, it ain't really a competition without a bunch of rules and regulations, so please note the following:

  • All designs and all elements of all designs must be original, i.e. they must be yours. We really don't want angry letters from irate attorneys, or indeed anyone else, thanks very much.
  • You can use color if you like, but bear in mind that simpler is often better.
  • Far be it from us to limit your inspiration or give anyone an unfair advantage in this thing, but a book-themed design is probably not a bad idea (see above photo.) 
  • By submitting your design to this competition you irrevocably consent to our utilization of the design on our T-shirts and that we may do so without paying you a cent. Literally, nada. You're just in it for the glory, cupcake.
  • Send your entry as a jpeg file by 5.00 p.m. on March 1, 2018 to this address: Any entries received after this deadline will not be considered.
  • The judges' decision is final, regardless of how capricious, irrational, or otherwise dumb it may seem to you. There's no accounting for taste, people. 

If you have any questions, drop us a line at Thanks! We're looking forward to seeing what you've got!

Posted on January 14, 2018 .

Authors in the Schools: Clare Vanderpool

This year we are really looking forward to expanding the Authors in the Schools program. On the Friday before the festival, April 20, we'll be bringing a team of wonderful writers into the Columbia Public Schools to speak to students. It's our hope that children in every grade from K through 12 will get to meet and listen to an author. Part of our mission is to encourage a love of reading in all ages, and giving kids such an opportunity is one of the best ways of achieving this.

One of the writers we're most excited about welcoming to Columbia is Clare Vanderpool. A resident of Wichita, Kansas, Clare is the award-winning author of two novels: Moon Over Manifest and Navigating Early

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Moon Over Manifest, Clare's debut novel, was awarded the prestigious 2011 John Newbery Award which is awarded annually by the American Library Association to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. Clare is the first debut author in thirty years to win the Newbery Medal. Her books have both hit the New York Times best seller list as well as the Book Sense best seller list. The recipient of much critical-acclaim, including seven starred reviews, a top ten Historical Fiction Kid’s Book by Instructor Magazine, a Junior Library Guild selection, and a Golden Spur award, Clare’s writing has connected with readers young and old.  Interviews with Clare have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, and almost all of the media outlets across the nation have covered her writing career.  Most recently, Clare’s second novel Navigating Early was named a Printz Honor Book for Young Adult Fiction by the American Library Association.

In her early years of writing, Clare set out to write a historical novel set in the fictional town of Manifest, Kansas, which is based on the real southeastern Kansas town of Frontenac where her maternal grandparents lived. Drawing on stories she heard as a child, along with research in town newspapers, yearbooks, and graveyards, Clare found a rich and colorful history for her unforgettable novel, Moon Over Manifest. She says “having lived most of my life in the same neighborhood, place is very important and for me true places are rooted in the familiar—the neighborhood pool, the sledding hill, the shortcuts, all the places where memories abound. But I wondered, what would a ‘true place’ be for someone who has never lived anywhere for more than a few weeks or months at a time? Someone like a young girl on the road during the Depression. Someone like Abilene Tucker.”

Clare has been making appearances at schools, libraries, and conferences around the country and abroad.  She enjoys meeting children, educators, librarians, and parents who have embraced her and her writing.  She lives in Wichita, Kansas with her husband and four children. 

Posted on January 8, 2018 .

Local Writer. National Prestige.

We have so many extraordinary writers living right here in mid-Missouri, and it's always a pleasure to welcome them to participate in Unbound along with authors from further afield. One of Columbia's most prestigious authors is MU History Professor Steven Watts.  The author of many acclaimed biographies, Steven will be discussing the art of biography and his latest work, JFK and the Masculine Mystique: Sex and Power on the New Frontier.

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Steven has won several prizes at MU, including the Kemper Teaching Award, the Faculty-Alumni Award, and the system-wide Thomas Jefferson Award for research, teaching, and creativity.  He also served two terms as chair of the Department of History. 

He has published seven books:  The Republic Reborn: War and the Making of Liberal America, 1790-1820 (1987); The Romance of Real Life: Charles Brockden Brown and the Origins of American Culture (1994); The Magic Kingdom: Walt Disney and the American Way of Life (1997); The People’s Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century (2005); Mr. Playboy: Hugh Hefner and the American Dream (2008); Self-Help Messiah: Dale Carnegie and Success in Modern America (2013); and JFK and the Masculine Mystique: Sex and Power on the New Frontier (2016).  He has published many articles and essays in venues such as The Journal of American History, American Quarterly, Chronicle of Higher Education, Newsweek, The Nation, National Review, and Salon.           

Watts has made numerous media appearances on NPR, C-SPAN, NBC, CBS, MSNBC, CNBC, Fox, Bloomberg News, Telemundo, the BBC, and dozens of radio stations around the United States and in western Europe.  He has contributed to documentary films made in the United States, Germany, and Brazil on the subjects of his biographies.  Most recently, he has been a consultant and on-screen commentator for the History Channel’s “The Men Who Built America” (2012) and two PBS films: “American Experience: Henry Ford” (2013) and “American Experience: Walt Disney” (2015).           

Posted on January 2, 2018 .

Happy New Year! (And Maybe Volunteer?)

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Happy 2018! We always look forward to January 1 as it means we can start talking about the festival as happening THIS year as opposed to NEXT year. This is, in some ways, mildly terrifying as there is SO MUCH TO DO, but at the same time it's also very exciting. All those wonderful writers and poets... it's getting closer!

This year, January 1 also marks the start of our volunteer sign-up. We absolutely love our volunteers - you will not find a more brilliant, charming, and devoted bunch of book-lovers anywhere. It takes many, many willing hands to make Unbound run smoothly, and we simply would not be able to put the festival on without their help. So, if you have volunteered in the past: THANK YOU. And if you're thinking about it for this April: PLEASE DO.  It's great fun, and you'll be rewarded with an exclusive, never-to-be-sold-anywhere T-shirt, an invitation to the awesome volunteer/author party at Orr Street Studios on Saturday night - and, of course, our eternal thanks. Oh, and doughnuts.

If you would like to join our happy ship, please follow this link and fill out the questionnaire. We're trying out a slightly different process this year, which means that even if you have volunteered for us before, you will need to re-register. And if you know of other people who might enjoy the experience, please encourage them to sign up, too.

If you have any questions, email our Empress of Volunteers, Susan, at:

Thanks a million! We can't wait to see you in April!!

Posted on January 1, 2018 .

Just a Few Days Left to Show your Support!


Somehow we're already nearing the end of this year's CoMoGives campaign. We have been thrilled, as always, at people's generosity, and are so very grateful to everyone who has already contributed to this year's online giving campaign. But, with four days left, we are still some way behind our target amount. 

As you probably know by now, every Unbound event is free, and that means we really do rely on your donations to fund some of the costs of bringing these award-winning writers and poets to Columbia. So, as the year reaches its close, may we ask you one more time to consider making a tax-deductible gift to Unbound by clicking this link

Thousands of hours of volunteers' time and effort are devoted to putting on this festival every year. We do it with joy, and we do it because we believe that our community deserves a world-class literary festival on its doorstep. We do it, in other words, for you.

So, if you've attended an Unbound event in the past or plan to do so next April, please support our efforts. Every little bit helps. 

Thanks a million!

Posted on December 28, 2017 .

Poets on the Radio... Tess Taylor

If you're an NPR listener, then this year's festival should have you purring with pleasure. In addition to the wonderful Amy Dickinson, who regularly appears on Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me...!, we're also delighted to announce that Tess Taylor, who is the on-air poetry reviewer for All Things Considered, will be coming to Columbia to read and discuss her work. 

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Tess's chapbook, The Misremembered World, was selected by Eavan Boland for the Poetry Society of America’s inaugural chapbook fellowship. The San Francisco Chronicle called her first book, The Forage House“stunning” and it was a finalist for the Believer Poetry Award. Her second book, Work & Days, was called “our moment’s Georgic” by critic Stephen Burt and was named one of the 10 best books of poetry of 2016 by the New York Times. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, Boston ReviewHarvard Review, The Times Literary Supplement, and other places. Tess has received awards and fellowships from MacDowell, Headlands Center for the Arts, and The International Center for Jefferson Studies. She currently chairs the poetry committee of the National Book Critics Circle and was most recently a Distinguished Fulbright US Scholar at the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

We can't wait to welcome Tess to Unbound!

Posted on December 26, 2017 .