From 1994 to 2004, Northwest Bookfest was a centerpiece of Seattle’s literary year. Held in various locations throughout the city — from a pier on the waterfront to Washington State Convention Center to Magnuson Park — the general-interest literary festival brought as many as 20,000 Seattleites together over a weekend to meet a wide array of nationally published authors.
Northwest Bookfest eventually failed for a number of reasons, but ultimately those reasons all boiled down to money: Seattleites balked at a cover charge, sponsors including the Seattle Times backed out, publishers stopped sending as many authors on nationwide tours. In the years since, an ill-conceived attempt to relaunch the festival fell apart under its own weight.
Eventually, the hole left by Northwest Bookfest was filled by a number of smaller, more specific festivals including Short Run and the APRIL Festival, which itself reached the end of its life cycle earlier this year. These more local festivals — paired with genre-fests like NorWesCon and Emerald City Comicon — seemed to represent the new status quo of book festivals in Seattle.
But the Seattle literary scene of 2017 isn’t the Seattle literary scene of 2014, or 2011, or 2008. Maybe there’s space for a larger, more general-interest book festival in the calendar year again?
We’re about to find out.
On Saturday, September 9th, a new nonprofit organization will host a book festival called Readerfest at Magnuson Park. If you look at the lineup on the festival’s website at readerfest.com, you’ll see that the list of events and readers isn’t nearly as wide-reaching as Northwest Bookfest when it was in the height of its powers. Currently the slate of readers is heavy on the science fiction: novelist (and beloved Seattle Review of Books columnist) Nisi Shawl, children's book author Salina Yoon, and former Seattle author Cherie Priest, whose steampunk Clockwork Century series centered around a zombie-ridden Seattle, are among the headliners. But that list is still evolving, and more participating authors and publishers will be announced over the next few weeks.
Readerfest will be free and family-friendly. In addition to the authors, there will be panels discussing the publishing industry, how to get published, and the future of fiction. The show will also include food trucks, a play from Last Leaf Productions, and music from Jim Valley, a former member of Paul Revere and the Raiders.
If this all sounds good-but-a-little-random to you, there’s probably a reason for that: Readerfest is all coming together very, very quickly. The founder, a Seattle-area event organizer and author named Karen Junker, says it’s all been put together over a span of about five weeks, and support has been snowballing ever since. What you’ll find at Magnuson Park on September 9th will likely be more low-key and haphazard than the Northwest Bookfests you may remember. But Junker has a long history of organizing book festivals and literary events, and if there’s enough interest in Readerfest, she intends to start planning an expanded festival for 2018 on the morning of September 10th.
You can learn more about Readerfest at the festival’s website. Find my interview with Junker, where she discusses her history with books, what she expects Readerfest to be, and how you can be included in this year’s festival, right here.