The book festival of the Marcus Jewish Community Center has made Atlanta a great place to learn, grow, and reflect for 25 years

In this column, members of Georgia Humanities and their colleagues take turns discussing Georgia’s history and culture, and other topics that matter. Through different voices, we hear different stories.

This week, ALLISON HUTTON, of Georgia Humanities, reflects on the impact of the book festival of the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta. 

By Allison Hutton

Allison Hutton

Allison Hutton

From the Civil War to the boll weevil to the civil rights movement, the Atlanta we know today was anything but inevitable. In the late 19th century, New South boosters like newspaper editor Henry W. Grady believed that industry and education could help Atlanta grow and prosper. Buy-in from other Atlantans wasn’t enough, though. The city’s boosters knew they needed to share its potential with investors from the North. This initially happened through events like fairs and expositions. In the 20th century, it happened through marketing campaigns, notably Forward Atlanta, and investments in the city’s cultural life.

To date, Forward Atlanta has had three iterations. In the late 1920s, Ivan Allen Sr. led the campaign. In the 1960s, Ivan Allen Jr. took the helm. Today, the Metro Atlanta Chamber heads up the effort. Forward Atlanta’s message has always been that Atlanta is a great place to do business (thanks to its workforce and distribution channels), but also that it’s a great place to live and visit. To this end, Georgia’s tourism division falls under the umbrella of the Department of Economic Development.

What makes a place great? At Georgia Humanities, we believe that an appreciation of history and culture, as well as opportunities for lifelong learning, dialogue, and civic engagement — along with a healthy dose of humanities programming — help make a place great. For 25 years, the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta (MJCCA) has offered our region all of those things through its annual book festival.

MJCCA Book Festival banner

With books ranging from foodways to humor to history, the book festival offers something for everyone.

In the spirit of Forward Atlanta, and indeed, the “spirit of Atlanta” (that is, the truth held self-evident throughout the city that what’s good for business is good for Atlanta and vice versa), let’s take a look at the 25th Edition of the Book Festival of the MJCCA by the numbers.

What began in 1991 as a festival intended to bring the entire community — Jews, non-Jews, MJCCA members and non-members — together to listen, meet, and interact with their favorite authors has grown tremendously. In 1991, the festival lasted three days and featured a handful of authors. When the festival opens for the 25th time this Saturday, with Kenny Loggins discussing his four-decade-long career as a musician and as the author of a children’s book based on his hit song “Footloose,” it will run for 16 days (November 5th through 20th) and will include 39 authors.

Four of those authors — Brian Curtis (Fields of Battle: Pearl Harbor, the Rose Bowl, and the Boys Who Went to War), Zoe Fishman (Inheriting Edith), Jonathan Rabb (Among the Living), Jesse Itzler (Living with a Seal: 31 Days Training with the Toughest Man on the Planet) — are local.

CNN commentator Jeffrey Toobin will discuss his new book about Patty Hearst.

CNN commentator Jeffrey Toobin will discuss his new book about Patty Hearst.

You’ve seen two of the featured authors on CNN. Peter Bergen, author of The United States of Jihad, is CNN’s national security analyst. Jeffrey Toobin, author of American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes, and Trial of Patty Hearst, serves as the network’s legal analyst.

Two more of the authors featured this year have previously written books so popular they were made into movies. Jonathan Safran Foer, whose novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005) became a movie starring Tom Hanks in 2011, will be discussing his new book, Here I Am. Alice Hoffman, whose novel Practical Magic (2005) made the leap to the screen in 1998, will discuss her new novel, Faithful.

Another two authors, Carson Kressley, author of Does This Book Make My Butt Look Big? A Cheeky Guide to Feeling Sexier in Your Own Skin, and Andy Cohen, author of Superficial: More Adventures from the Andy Cohen Diaries, “Bravolebrities” both, will keep things light.

Thirteen thousand-plus attendees are expected to hear the authors in conversation with local journalists and personalities, including Bill Nigut (Georgia Public Broadcasting), Kate Tuttle (Boston Globe and the Decatur Writers Studio), Phaedra Parks (Real Housewives of Atlanta), Jenny Levison (Souper Jenny restaurant), and Derreck Kayongo (National Center for Civil and Human Rights).

Georgia Humanities is a proud supporter of the 25th Edition of the Book Festival of the MJCCA.

Georgia Humanities is a proud supporter of the 25th Edition of the Book Festival of the MJCCA.

One hundred and fifty volunteers, 12 committees, two co-chairs, one festival director, and countless MJCCA employees will help the festival run smoothly.

One Title I elementary school will benefit from the MJCCA’s Project GIVE, which, throughout the course of the festival, will be collecting new and gently used books (suitable for grades K-5) for a new library at Dobbs Elementary.

Some things, though, can’t be expressed in numbers, like the camaraderie that exists among people joined together to celebrate books and conversation. Or the excitement of discovering a new author. Or the knowledge that as long as there are events that bring people together to learn, to grow, to reflect — events like this one — Atlanta will be a great place to live.

Click here to view the festival schedule and for ticket information.

Georgia Humanities is proud to support the 25th Edition of the Book Festival of the MJCCA with a grant made possible by appropriations from the Georgia General Assembly.

Allison Hutton, a program coordinator at Georgia Humanities, is a native Kentuckian who is proud to make Georgia her home. She studied early American literature at Purdue University and the University of Chicago.

Kelly Caudle and Allison Hutton of Georgia Humanities provide editorial assistance for the “Jamil’s Georgia” columns.

Jamil Zainaldin is president of Georgia Humanities, a nonprofit organization working to ensure that humanities and culture remain an integral part of the lives of Georgians. The organization is a cultural leader in the state as well as a pioneer nationally in innovative history and humanities programs. The New Georgia Encyclopedia is a project of Georgia Humanities, in partnership with the Office of the Governor, the University of Georgia Press, and the University System of Georgia/GALILEO. The first state encyclopedia to be conceived and designed exclusively for publication on the Internet, the NGE is an important and authoritative digital resource for all Georgians.

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