Festival of Books encourages author, reader interaction

20th annual event brings in local, national authors for panel discussions, writing workshops and book signings


Gracie Terrall

Children’s author Mike Artell signs a copy of his book for Prairie Learning Academy third grader, Weston Clark.

Gracie Terrall, Co-Editor-in-Chief (She/Her)

Last weekend’s 20th annual South Dakota Festival of Books allowed readers and authors to share their love for the written word. This year’s festival was the first in-person event in two years and the first time utilizing the Oscar Larson Performing Arts Center (PAC).

“We’ve felt how happy people were to be back together. I think there was a lot of enthusiasm for meeting authors face to face again,” Jennifer Widman, director of the festival, said. “We really appreciate that many parts of the university and the city of Brookings and local businesses really stepped up and supported us in making sure that we could bring it back in person this year.”

The festival is hosted every year by the South Dakota Humanities Council (SDHC), and this year, over $5,500 was received in donations. Widman said that money goes toward planning next year’s event.

Sixty-seven local and nationally known authors lined the halls of the PAC, selling their books and interacting with fans. Most non-local authors wrote about South Dakota or had previous ties with the state. 

Over 50 presenters held sessions over the three-day event where authors, illustrators, and graphic novelists spoke in detail about their novels and the writing process. They also answered questions from the audience and held writing workshops.

“I think it’s nice to be around like-minded people, but also I feel like writers and authors have so much to say, whether it’s about their works itself or about the writing craft, but you can learn so much,” Elsie Nelson, an English student, said.

There were also numerous author signing sessions where authors could meet and talk more personally with fans of their books.  

Among the presenters in the PAC was the University of Nebraska Press, which prints and publishes mostly academic-focused books and journals. They also publish novels for the general audience. Steven Wingate, an SDSU English professor, has published two books, “Of Fathers and Fire” and “The Leave-Takers” through the UN Press. 

“Especially in places like Brookings and South Dakota– it’s such a center of scholarship and center of learned interest, that going to things like this [Festival of Books], you connect to a lot of people who can all kind of converge in one spot and it’s nice to be able to reach a large audience who are excited and engaged and locally invested,” Jackson Adams, a publicist for UN Press, said. 

Kristi Tornquist, treasurer for the SDHC executive board and dean of Hilton M. Briggs Library, believes events like this help highlight the importance of literature in all genres.

“The Festival of Books provides an opportunity for authors and their readers to interact, and this festival, in particular, brings in a wide range of authors,” Tornquist said. “Students had the opportunity to interact with nationally known authors and typically they wouldn’t have that experience. The variety is, I think, really pretty spectacular.”