DUNWOODY, Ga. – One of Dunwoody’s most revered annual events, the Marcus Jewish Community Center’s Book Festival, not only survived 2020’s world pandemic, it found a way to help other struggling centers around the country.
Going into its 29th year, festival organizers had high expectations for another successful event. In past years, the festival had hosted prominent authors like Hilary Clinton, humorist Dave Berry, former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon. This year, the lineup included actor Michael J. Fox, journalist Joan Lunden, best-selling author David Baldacci and John Grisham.
“Little did we know that this year’s festival would be an event unlike any other,” Book Festival Director Pam Morton said. “Once it became clear that an in-person event was not possible, we made some very quick adjustments that turned the festival into an online event.”
The event, chaired by Deena Profis and Dr. Artie Gumer, which ended Nov. 22, was rebranded as “JCC Book Fest in Your Living Room.” Instead of flying authors to Atlanta, they were scheduled to appear virtually in hour-long sessions, which included 40 minutes of moderated discussion and a 20-minute Q&A. The price of some tickets included the author’s latest book, which was shipped directly to the purchaser by longtime partner A Capella Books. In addition, the sessions were recorded, and ticket holders were given the option to download the event and watch at their leisure.
Morton said the unintended benefits of doing the festival online were surprising and philanthropic.
“Since the authors didn’t have to travel, it opened a whole new opportunity for us with a greater pool from which to choose,” she said. “While we will open up the festival in person when it’s safe to do so, I see us doing hybrid programming in the future.”
Morton said going virtual has provided the Atlanta location the opportunity to help other Jewish community centers around the United States and Canada.
“There are many smaller community centers around the country that are struggling, and some have even shut down,” she said. “Our way of giving back to these smaller centers was offering them access to our festival and splitting the revenues. As of today, we have 95 JCCs in the United States and Canada in the partnership.”
And although attendance is running about 40 percent from previous years, the reach of the festival has expanded globally, Morton said.
“We had people joining the sessions from Germany, Canada and the Philippines during the 29 events we had this year.”
While the traditional festival has ended, there are several other author events of interest, including a Zoom appearance by beloved author and chef Ina Garten on Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m., which will be moderated by actor and author Michael Ian Black. The $44 ticket includes a copy of her latest book, “Modern Comfort Food.”
On Dec. 6, Phillipa Gregory, author of “Dark Tides: A Novel,” will be appear on Zoom at 1 p.m., and on Dec. 13, Peter Frampton will discuss his memoir, “Do You Feel Like I Do,” at 2 p.m.
Tickets to these events can be purchased by visiting www.atlantajcc.org. Morton said technical support is available to assist those who are new to the Zoom experience.