Las Vegas Book Festival celebrates 20 years with a fascinating mix of in-person and online events

For its 20th anniversary, the Las Vegas Book Festival is back in force. Following a fully virtual event in 2020 due to COVID, this iteration will encompass the best of both worlds, with a main event at Fifth Street School and a variety of online offerings.

2021 guest speaker Fran Lebowitz

“We were proud of what we were able to achieve last year,” said festival director Ally Haynes-Hamblen, director of the Las Vegas cultural affairs office. “But I think we’re all very excited to regain the energy to be in person this year.”

Over its two decades, the book festival has undergone many changes, sometimes focusing on children’s offerings and other times highlighting literature, says Haynes-Hamblen. The festival struck a balance by offering something for everyone: a kids’ area with songwriters, dance and kids, solid programming for adults, and even YA offerings.

Guest speaker 2021 Dr. Oriel María Siu

Guest speaker 2021 Dr. Oriel María Siu

“Now that we’re 20 years old, I feel like it is reaching cruising speed and becoming a book festival that can really stand up to the other book festivals going on in the country,” says Haynes-Hamblen.

Looking ahead to the next 20 years, Haynes-Hamblen hopes to continue to develop the festival so that it becomes a tourist attraction in its own right. She envisions face-to-face panels, book sales and vendor exhibitions for a full week.

For now, the festival is making the most of what it has. The main event on October 23 is packed with so many freebies that it might be difficult to decide who to attend. With at least nine distinct areas at a time, this will truly be a buffet of bookish fun.

The Fifth Street School auditorium will host the greats, such as author and commentator Fran Lebowitz (4:00 pm) and children’s speech Dr. Oriel María Siu (9:00 am). The Discovery Tent hosts music, spoken word, dance and storytelling. The Pavillon de la Poésie will host the Spark! Youth poetry competition (1 p.m.) and much more.

The Empowered Tent is where you’ll find the most targeted literary panels, such as “New Ways to Write About Vegas” (9:30 am), “Musings on the Mojave” (12:15 pm), “The Art of Contemporary Bookmaking” (3:15 pm ) and a discussion on art critic Dave Hickey (10:45 a.m.)

The 2019 Las Vegas Book Festival

The 2019 Las Vegas Book Festival

Another fun element: the wine garden, inaugurated two years ago. “It was a huge success, as parents can sit in a wine garden and have a great view of the children’s area,” says Haynes-Hamblen. The organizers added a “juice bar” for the young participants, “so that parents and children can have a moment to sit down and enjoy the book festival.”

Other culinary flavors include food trucks and engaged tent cooking demonstrations. “We really pay attention to the fact that the chefs who write the recipes are also involved in the writing,” says Haynes-Hamblen. “Cookbooks are a huge segment of any bookstore. “

The visual arts have long played a supporting role at the Book Festival, and 2021 will be no exception. Graphic artist Geovany Uranda designed this year’s poster. Justin Favela’s art will be on display in the Mayor’s Gallery. And, as part of the festival’s ongoing lineup, Nevada Humanities’ “PS I Love You Postcard Project” will feature postcard kits at the main event, and then host a discussion of the exhibit via Zoom on the 4th. November at 6 p.m.

“The Fruits of Our Labor” by Justin Favela

So how do you choose? Haynes-Hamblen suggests looking at the calendar (, blocking a few priority sessions and then leaving time for exploration and discovery. “Maybe spend some time strolling among our vendors, in the book sales area or even in the wine garden,” says Haynes-Hamblen. “There should be plenty of opportunities to hang out and enjoy the good weather, as well as some great sailing and window shopping.”

Las Vegas Book Festival Virtual events start October 18; main event October 23, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., free. Fifth Street Historic School, 401 S. 4th Street,

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