Virtual Palm Beach Book festival returns in 2021

Jamaicans to participate in Palm Beach Book Festival 2021

On March 19 and 20, 2021 the Palm Beach Book Festival will take place as a virtual festival. The Jamaican diaspora is welcomed and expected to participate in high numbers. The greater Palm Beach county ,Florida has a large immigrant population of which Jamaicans are represented. Founder and Creative Director Lois Cahall recently gave us an overview of what we may expect from the staging of the festival.

You have tickets on sale , autographed books on sale, what has the response been to the festival by the local Palm Beach community and immigrant citizens?
In general the response has always been well received. Back in 2014 when I was myself on tour for my first novel, I had many requests to begin a festival. I had no desire to do so, but finally – and to quiet the masses – I succumbed. Picking up my phone, I contacted a handful of author friends and asked if they’d fly down for a dinner party in Palm Beach. “Oh, and by the way,” I added. “You’ll be on stage the next day.” They flew in, we had the dinner, and the next day at the Norton museum, lines were out the door. The event was sold out. The rest was history. I’m forever grateful to the Norton Museum who hosted our first couple of festivals.

This year it’s hard to gauge it. I get fan mail from beloved patrons just grateful to know we’re running our festival even if virtually. We don’t have much choice. We hope to be back LIVE next year. But in the meantime, there is a need for quality ‘thinking’ events not always gown and pearl events in Palm Beach. I can’t tell you how many people thank me who want to hear authors without having to fly to Manhattan.

During your first panel discussion on Friday March 19, 4-5 pm. What is the public expected to hear from the authors, Larry Loftis, “the spy princess” in conversation with Kristin Harmel, “The book of last name”?
That’s a question that I have to, I never know what the authors will say or do… only that we bring in writers who are experienced in audiences of all sizes. On zoom, anything could happen. But unlike some years I doubt there will be any singing or dancing. I would hope Larry and Kristin discuss what their books are about – female spies and covert operations. And maybe enlighten the patrons as to why they chose those book subjects.
What I do know is that it’s always a highly entertaining experience – in person – which gives off an energy I suspect can’t be captured on a virtual event when we’re not all-together.

The Oprah book club panel discussion is on Saturday 20 10-11 am. Moderated by Leigh Haber of O magazine, the book of the year by George Saunders. What can fans expect to get in sharing in this excellent work?
George has been astounding in his recent interviews and podcasts. I can only imagine we’ll get incredibly challenging and well thought out questions as only Leigh Haber is capable of asking. She always heads our most anticipated panel. Couple that with the matched pedigree and the cultural knowledge of Saunders, and wow, what a panel!
Panel three Saturday March 20th 4-5 pm with Q/A author/ movie director Barry Sonnenfeld in conversation with Patricia Marx takes us down a memoir of the year. Barry Sonnenfeld , “Call your mother” What is your expectation from this panel?

A lot of comedy and laughs. Patty is hilarious. Barry is hilarious. But he’s heartfelt, too, and his book is a true can’t-put-it-down memoir. For any person who’s ever wanted to be in the movie business what more could you ask for then to listen to this iconic director who’s seen and done it all. But with a Jewish mother twist. The book truly turns out to be a tribute to his mother.

The Florida Atlantic University is a sponsor of the event, what directly is the role of this institution in the festival?
When I chose to partner with FAU I couldn’t have asked for a kinder group. Really. And this year they’ve been incredible as we put our heads together to figure out how to keep the synergy of the festival together with FAU during COVID. Last summer in lock down, we came up with monthly one-offs which we ran through the autumn. But we definitely look forward to running this in person in 2022. Michael Horswell is the Dean while Polly Burkes helps with festival logistics. People are astounded when I say the NEXT festival begins the day after the last festival ended. There are many logistics that go into curating a show with this level of celebrity. That’s what I work on. Then a few weeks before the festival, Polly kicks in with the university. I’ve always said we’re the Oscars of Books and boy do I mean it. I remember the Oscar events. They have to begin months and months ahead to pull off a show with music, lights, moderating, and all the logistics of planes, trains, and automobiles, meals and all else for the authors.

On Saturday March 20th 1:30 to 2:30 pm Q/A “ Four Hundred Souls”A community history of African American. FAU Dean Micheal Horswell as he hosts Keisha Blain (Moderated by FAU professor Candace Cunningham. How do you think the book has been received by the African American community?
I think it’s been so well received that it hit #1 on the NYT best-seller list this week! it’s a beautiful and necessary book. Poetic. Not to dissimilar to George Saunders book in the sense that it’s the type of reading we need now in the world. It was very difficult running a festival when every book was Trump related. I’m so relieved to put that behind us. I hope we can focus on environment, science, history and Hollywood. As a matter of fact I’m hoping for next year’s theme to be “History & Hollywood” for a academia meets household name stars. But a lot will depend on the shooting schedules of celebrities with books. They too have been in quarantine and all the movie business is backed up on shooting schedules.

The Palm Beach Book Festival made its debut on April 11, 2015. How much has the event grown with each year?
It’s a daunting question. I think word of mouth, press, social media, all of it has helped to make us grow. And diligence. Not giving up. Determined to see it be something bigger each year. We started at 200 people. Year one. Now it’s upward of 500 per panel and sometimes more.
Florida has the highest readership in America. Palm Beach Book Festival continues the tradition of learning through readership. The Jamaican community of Palm Beach embraces the opportunity to learn.

What’s your final note on the 2021 Palm Beach Book Festival?
Well we embrace that the Jamaican community embraces the opportunity to learn, too. One of my best experiences came from when I had to fly to Cuba two decades ago to the Havana film festival. Castro sent the invite to my [then] boyfriend and I was in tow. En route from the north, I had to stay overnight (a mechanical plane issue) in Jamaica. But it was very late and hotels were minimal. The man sitting next to me on the plane invited me into his home. I was so taken by the hospitality, his family, all of it. I always said I adore Jamaicans! And I do. Even moreso now that I know that they’re readers! And love the festival!

Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash

About the author

Phil Dinham