Brookings hosts 20th annual SD Festival of Books



Gracie Terrall, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Crowds of about 5,000 literature lovers are expected to gather in Brookings this Thursday through Sunday for the first in-person South Dakota Festival of Books in two years. The South Dakota Humanities Council hosts the festival.

Now celebrating its 20th year, the festival will feature 70 local and nationally-known authors, including some South Dakota State University faculty members. Brookings switches off with Deadwood every year as the festival’s host city, and this year, events will be located both on and off campus in Brookings.

“It’s big enough that there’s variety, and there are people from all over, and you can get new points of view, but it’s small enough that it feels a little bit intimate,” Jennifer Widman, director of the festival, said. “You can really talk to the people who are presenting afterward or you can have them sign your books, and we kind of try to keep that personal feel to it.”

Event locations on campus include the Oscar Larson Performing Arts Center, Alumni Center, Briggs Library, McCrory Gardens Visitor Center, SD Agriculture Museum and SD Art Museum. Off-campus locations are the Brookings Arts Council, Public Library, Children’s Museum, Mosaic Wine Bar and Wilbert Square Event Center.

Attendees will have three different opportunities to get their books signed by all presenting authors this weekend at the Performing Arts Center. The first signing will be 3:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23, followed by two more Saturday at 12 and 4 p.m.

Local presenters include professors from the School of English and Interdisciplinary Studies like Steven Wingate, Jodi Andrews and Amber Jensen, Sioux Falls graphic novelist Hector Curriel, Native American activist Craig Howe from Pine Ridge and Carter Johnson, a professor emeritus in SDSU’s Department of Natural Resources. 

The national authors in attendance usually have a connection to the state, whether that’s writing about South Dakota or being from South Dakota. 

“The festival is a way of supporting the community of readers and writers in South Dakota and also bringing in nationally known authors who might not otherwise come to this stage or might not otherwise meet South Dakota readers,” Widman said. 

For Ann Volin, the South Dakota Humanities Council director, some notable authors include Julia Lyon, author of the children’s book “A Dinosaur Named Ruth,” which tells the true story of Ruth Mason, a young pioneer girl who finds dinosaur bones in her backyard in Faith, South Dakota, and Helen Frost, a native of Brookings.

Although the festival is mainly centered around the humanities, Volin said multiple authors might interest students with various SDSU majors.

“If you’re in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences, you might be interested in the book by Carter Johnson, which looks at the landscape, or ‘The Farmer’s Lawyer’ by Sarah Vogel, which talks about the farm crisis, or ‘How to Fix Farming’ by Beth Hoffman,” she said. “We also worked with the engineering department to bring in an author who is going to speak about artificial intelligence.” 

All sessions and book signings are free to the public; however, the author reception at the Alumni Center on Thursday night requires a $50 ticket as well as a $20 fee for the two-hour writing workshops held throughout the weekend. 

“Books center the way we can share culture,” Volin said. “Being able to not only share those books but to hear people talking about them and discussing them, adds another layer and opens it up even further and makes it more available and more useful for people as they’re enjoying something.”