COLUMBIA — The Unbound Book Festival on Saturday will be abounding with guests, authors and good reads.

The event, to be held at Stephens College, will feature national authors such as Michael Ondaatje, William Trowbridge and U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill. Alex George, a local author and lawyer who organized the festival, said he wants Unbound to spark genuine conversations. 

"We aren't going into a lot of details about the topics of conversation because we want them to be spontaneous," he said.

The festival will be the first-ever book festival of its size in Columbia, George said. He said he was inspired by book festivals in other states and thought Columbia would be a perfect fit to host one.

"We have a community that has very engaged and committed readers, and I thought this is something that would work beautifully here," George said.  

The festival begins Friday evening with a conversation between Michael Ondaatje, author of "The English Patient," and Mark Doty, a popular poet, at Missouri Theatre. Both are well-known in the world of literature, George said, and tickets to the free event have been sold out for weeks.

"There is probably not going to be a more high-powered event anywhere in the country that night," he said.

Most of the festival action will happen Saturday, when 27 locally- and nationally-recognized authors will speak about their work, perform and discuss literary topics.

Local authors include:

  • Eric Praschan, the author of several best-selling suspense novels, including "The Burden of Silence" and "The Blind Eye." The Columbia author won Unbound Book Festival's 2016 Open Book Contest.
  • William Least Heat-Moon, best known for his book "Blue Highways." It was a New York Times bestseller.
  • Walter Bargen has published more than 18 books of poetry and his stories, poems and essays have appeared in more than 200 magazines.
  • Nina Furstenau wrote the memoir "Biting Through the Skin: An Indian Kitchen in America’s Heartland," which won the Grand Prize as well as the 2014 MFK Fisher Book Award from Les Dames d’Esscoffier International. Furstenau is an adjunct professor at the Missouri School of Journalism. 
  • Laura McHugh wrote "The Weight of Blood," which won the International Thriller Writers Award for best first novel. It was also named a best book of the year by BookPage.

A full list of authors can be found on the festival's website.

Some authors will also lead panels to discuss topics including how an author's identity affects their writing, food writing and present civil rights issues.

The civil rights panel will feature two authors who wrote about Lloyd Gaines, who in the 1930s applied to the University of Missouri School of Law and was rejected because he was black. The authors will discuss their writing experience and how the lawsuit relates to current social injustice and inequality at MU. Interim UM System President Mike Middleton and Interim Vice Chancellor of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Chuck Henson will be in attendance.

"It will be an incredibly high powered panel, especially after the protests that have been happening at MU," George said. "It will look at racial issues and how we have or have not progressed since the case of Lloyd Gaines."

The other lectures and panels will take place Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. No tickets are required, but seating is unassigned and on a first-come, first-serve basis. The festival's schedule can be found on the Unbound Book Festival website.

Supervising editors are Elise Schmelzer and Daniela Sirtori-Cortina.

  • I'm an advanced reporter on the Public Safety/Health Beat. You can reach me by email at or by phone at 816-878-7050 Twitter: Jackwaddell7

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