Why I'm Looking Forward to the Unbound Book Festival

Marlene Lee is the author of several novels, the most recent of which, NO CERTAIN HOME, will be published in April. She is a member of the Unbound Board of Directors. Here is an essay she wrote about our forthcoming inaugural festival.


The Unbound Book Festival, to be held on Shakespeare’s birthday, April 23rd, in Columbia, Missouri, will be one of five book festivals I’ve attended in my life.  I expect to enjoy this one more than any other because Columbia is home and because, with Alex George and many local writers and volunteers, I’m helping to bring it about.

In the ’80s I strolled through the Seattle Bumbershoot Festival, browsing, drinking coffee, hearing authors read, and watching locals hawk their self-published novels.  Years later I was thrilled to see some of them publishing big-time (i.e., J.A. Jance, mystery writer).

In the ’90s I strolled through the San Francisco Book Festival, timidly hoping to interest publishers in my first (and unfinished) manuscript. Instead, I ended up having stimulating conversation and buying their books.

In the early 2000’s I spent an entire day on West 47th Street in New York City strolling through the polished wooden interior of a historic building, climbing up and down creaking stairs that curved from level to level.  In that lovely setting I bought a terrible biography of Humphrey Bogart, a cynical and pornographic book.  Thus I learned that writers can reflect more of themselves than the subjects of their books.  Reader, beware.

But the most important book festival I ever attended was in the first grade at General Pershing School in Arkansas City, Kansas.  One day a children’s textbook publisher lined our school hallway with long tables full of books.  I was stunned to see so many in one place; to smell their fresh glue, paper, ink.  I don’t think I strolled.  I probably hopped and skipped among the tables.  Forgetting the playground, I was as happy as our neighbors’ son home from the war.  If tables full of books can shape a life, then that book festival worked its magic from 1946 to the present day.

The children’s books and book events at our Unbound Book Festival in Columbia may have a similarly profound effect on the lives of children who attend the festival.   Developing writers may receive the inspiration they need from meeting and hearing professional writers.  Confirmed readers may have their understanding of literature and writing deepened.  And people who come just for fun or because they’re curious may find their interest piqued by a book they pick up from the bookstore or a remark they hear from a writer talking about the writing life. 

Entertainment, quiet pleasure, provocative thought are all available April 23rd on the Stephens College campus.  I, for one, can’t wait for the Unbound Book Festival, April 23rd, the day that Shakespeare turns 452.