As a landscape honored for its cultural roots and social progress, Oakland has an inherent knack for generating discussion around the evolving tides of society. On Sunday, May 31st, City Hall is hosting a free, all-day celebration of our incredible community with the Oakland Book Festival.

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This isn’t a homage to the great writers who have ever known and loved Oakland — though we definitely raise our glasses to them. The tagline of OBF is “read, debate, celebrate,” which transcends the fascinating though sometimes niche literary scene by structuring itself around panels, conversations and ideas.

“OBF is about celebrating Oakland’s incredibly rich history and its contemporary possibilities and potential,” says Timothy Don, art editor for Lapham’s Quarterly. He and his wife, Kira Brunner Don, are cofounders of the festival.

Brunner Don, editor at large for Lapham’s Quarterly, was born and raised in Oakland. When I asked why she and her husband decided to make the trek back from New York, she said, “We have been coming back to Oakland every year to visit family and friends, and every year we think to ourselves, ‘Why do we have to leave?’” Their daughter, Lucy, attends the same public school Brunner Don attended when she was a child.

Rebekah Otto, chair of the Literary Council, is also collaborating on the festival, which has been two years in the making. “We’ve been working with a number of organizations throughout the Bay Area such as Litquake about what it’s been like to build the literary community here within the last century,” she says. “We want to provide a venue for these conversations.”

Among the 90 visiting writers are interviews with Ben Fong-Torres and other Oakland-born authors, along with nationally renowned authors such as Edwidge Danticat.

POSTEROaklandBookFest2015OBF aims to foster an inclusive dialogue among the community about our shared experiences and differing opinions of this place we all call home. Don elaborates: “Some [panels] will address national and international issues that touch Oakland, and some will be open-ended historical, literary or philosophical investigations.”

Panel topics include food literacy, gentrification and the future of American literature. Got kids? Bring them! The Museum of Children’s Arts will be hosting a bookmaking workshop for kids, and librarians for Oakland’s public libraries will be reading all-time favorites.

If you’d like a break from the literary majesty (too much awesomeness can get overwhelming), live music from groups like HipHopForChange and the Oakland Youth Chorus will be reveling throughout the day in the amphitheater. On the plaza you’ll find booths from Bay Area literary organizations, magazine and book publishers. Lunch will be available for purchase via food trucks, also parked near the plaza.

What’s the takeaway from such a festival, besides newfound knowledge and appreciation of the human condition?

“We’d like everyone to leave at the end of the day thinking, ‘Wow! that was crazy cool fun. Let’s get out and get some things done!'” Don says.

If you can’t contain your enthusiasm until Sunday, join us the preceding Saturday night for an opening plenary at City Hall with Lewis Lapham, founder of Lapham’s Quarterly.

Don’t miss the Oakland Book Festival on Sunday, May 31st from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at City Hall. Click here for more details on the festival program and the participating authors. Stick around for the afterparty, too!

About The Author

Simone writes about the currents circulating beneath mainstream, with a focus on non-profit developments and at-risk youth enrichment. Outside of freelancing for Oakland Local, she works in the foster care system of Contra Costa County and nerds out on literary magazines. Simone also spearheads the Community Voices section of OL. Contact her at simonelarson@oaklandlocal.com

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