Hundreds gather for first annual Unbound Book Festival

Hundreds of guests arrive at the opening of the first Unbound Book Festival on April 22, 2016, featuring a Q&A with world-renowned writer Michael Ondaatje and acclaimed poet and memoirist Mark Doty speaking at the Missouri Theatre. The 2018 festival will be held from April 19-21.

For lovers of literature, three days full of conversation and events with 65 renowned writers — including award-winning authors, seasoned journalists and celebrated poets — might seem like a dream.

Except the Unbound Book Festival is a reality, and it’s returning to Columbia for its third year, this time with two new experiences for festivalgoers. And what makes the festival even better is that almost all the events are free.

Author and Columbia resident Alex George launched the Unbound Book Festival in 2016 as a one-day event. He was inspired by the various book festivals he attended while on tour for his novel, “A Good American.”

“I thought this would be great for Columbia because it’s a very literary community,” George said. “It has super smart readers, and a lot of writers live here, too. And it just made a lot of sense for a town that loves its festivals — True/False, Citizen Jane and Roots N Blues. So it seemed like a no-brainer for me that the festival would work and so far, so good.”

This year’s keynote speaker will be author and essayist Zadie Smith. Her award-winning first novel “White Teeth,” which has been translated into over 20 languages, portrays a contemporary multicultural London through the stories of three ethnically diverse families, according to the festival’s website. Smith will be interviewed by author and American Book Award winner Camille Dungy at 7:30 p.m. April 20 at the Missouri Theatre. Seats to the event are first come, first served.

Other featured authors speaking at the festival include:

  • Amy Dickinson, who writes a popular advice column “Ask Amy” and is the author of two New York Times best-selling memoirs
  • Therese Anne Fowler, whose book “Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald” has been turned into an original television series by Amazon Studios
  • John Kessel, author of “The Moon and the Other” and “Pride and Prometheus”
  • Christina Baker Kline, author of the New York Times best-selling novel “Orphan Train,” which has been featured as the “One Book, One Read” selection for over 100 communities and colleges
  • Gabby Rivera, a young adult author who was asked by Marvel Comics to develop a Latina comic book character, according to George

All author conversations are free and are scheduled for April 21 on the Stephens College campus at 1200 E. Broadway. Venues will range in size from a 330-seat theater to smaller 75-seat venues, and there will be opportunities for festivalgoers to have their books signed by the authors, according to a press release from the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The festival has added two new events this year. The first event, “Pie & Whiskey” night, will be held the evening of April 19. The event is based on a reading series launched by authors Sam Ligon and Kate Lebo in Washington where writers gather to eat pie, drink whiskey and write like no children are watching.

The event will feature 12 of the festival’s authors, who will write and read impromptu work involving whiskey and pie.

They are “people we know and we know are good writers,” Ligon said. “But it’s not enough to be a good writer; you also have to be a good reader. At this event, you have to able to perform for the audience, and the people we pick are people we know can read well.”

Tickets to the free event have already sold out, but sometimes participants are able to receive a ticket at the door because not all ticket holders show up, George said. Those in attendance will be served homemade pie and local whiskey from DogMaster Distillery, he said. The event begins at 8:15 p.m. at Orr Street Studios at 106 Orr St., and you must be over the age of 21 to participate.

Ligon and Lebo have hosted over a dozen “Pie & Whiskey” events from coast to coast, but Ligon said he enjoys the excitement small communities can generate over the unusual event. Ligon said he’s looking forward to the Unbound Book Festival’s lineup of authors, and he and Lebo are excited to come back to the Midwest.

“There’s a lot of writers in Missouri, and the state has a deep history,” Ligon said. “If you look at the writers that come out of Missouri, it’s astonishing.”

This festival’s second new event combines the Unbound Book Festival’s celebrated literature with jazz.

On April 21, festivalgoers can buy tickets to hear drummer Matt Wilson in collaboration with Columbia’s We Always Swing Jazz Series. Wilson will perform his album “Honey and Salt,” a jazz score set to and inspired by the work of American poet Carl Sandburg, according to the release. The performance will begin at 7 p.m. at the Broadway Baptist Church directly across Broadway from Stephens College. Tickets are available at the We Always Swing website.

“April is jazz and poetry appreciation month, so having the opportunity to encompass both of those things was something we didn’t want to pass up,” George said.

More details about the 2018 Unbound Book Festival, including a schedule of events, complete lineup of participating authors, events and festival venues can be found on the festival’s website.

Supervising editor is Tynan Stewart:, 882-7884.

  • Noah is a business reporter from Kansas City, Missouri. He is a junior studying business and economics journalism. Twitter: @higgins_dunn Email:

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