Virtual 2020 Festival Features Authors of “The Orphan Master’s Son” and “World War Z”

Preview: Adam Johnson and Max Brooks

The Virtual 2020 South Dakota Festival of Books includes some heavy hitters in the publishing world, including a homegrown Pulitzer Prize winner and a novelist whose book "World War Z" became a blockbuster movie starring Brad Pitt.

Preview: Adam Johnson and Max Brooks

To attend events featuring Johnson, Brooks, and many more, visit and register free. The official slate of weekend events begins with a special kickoff Oct. 1; a Festival Preview Party is scheduled for Sept. 22.

Adam Johnson

NOTABLE BOOK: "The Orphan Master's Son"

  • Winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize
  • Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award
  • Winner of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize
  • Named ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR by more than a dozen publications, including The Washington Post • Entertainment Weekly • The Wall Street Journal • Los Angeles Times • San Francisco Chronicle

Virtual 2020 Festival of Books Event
Friday, Oct. 2
7 p.m. - 8 p.m.
Adam Johnson
Making Readers Uncomfortable, from South Dakota to North Korea: Adam Johnson in Conversation with SDPB's Lori Walsh


Inside a Secret Society

Note: This story was featured in our 2020 South Dakota Festival of Books Guide produced by South Dakota Magazine. Click here to download a copy for free.

To help research his Pulitzer Prize-winning 2012 novel, "The Orphan Master's Son," Adam Johnson traveled to one of the most secretive nations in the world — North Korea. There was just one problem. "It's illegal for a citizen of the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] to interact with a foreigner," he says. "North Korea is the one place in the world you can't talk to a North Korean."

Instead, Johnson sought out expatriates in South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and California and used their accounts to gain insight into this mysterious society. One of these sources was Kenji Fujimoto, a Japanese sushi chef who cooked delicacies for the country's "Supreme Leader," Kim Jong-il, and flew kites with young Kim Jong-un. Fujimoto provided a wealth of details about life at the top in the East Asian dictatorship.

North Korea stands in sharp contrast to Johnson's birthplace of Yankton, which he remembers as a land of stories. "When I was young, I would go to South Dakota in the summers, where people exchanged stories all the time, in the coffee shops, at pancake breakfasts, at supper clubs," he says. "I came from a family of great storytellers — and the landscapes, South Dakota farms and the Missouri River fed my imagination."

Max Brooks

NOTABLE BOOK: "Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch"

  • An Amazon Best Book of June 2020 
  • “A masterful blend of laugh-out-loud social satire and stuff-your-fist-in-your-mouth horror. One elevates the other, making the book, and its message, all the more relevant.”—David Sedaris, #1 New York Times bestselling author of "Calypso"

As a best-selling author, Max Brooks is credited with helping propel zombie lore from niche sub-culture fascination to mainstream pop-culture obsession. While Brooks has published three massively successful zombie-themed books—"The Zombie Survival Guide," "World War Z," and "The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks" — Brooks' ultimate goal was to challenge old ways of thinking and encourage mental agility and flexibility for problem solvers and leaders. "World War Z" was the basis for the 2013 American apocalyptic action horror film World War Z starring Brad Pitt; the film, which grossed more than $540 million, is the highest-grossing zombie movie of all time. Brooks' unique, unconventional thinking depicted in his books has even inspired the U.S. military to examine how they may respond to potential crises in the future. "World War Z" was read and discussed by the sitting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Brooks has been invited to speak at a variety of military engagements.

Brooks is now touring virtually in support of "Devolution," which bestselling author David Sedaris called "A masterful blend of laugh-out-loud social satire and stuff-your-fist-in-your-mouth horror. One elevates the other, making the book, and its message, all the more relevant."

Brooks balances his work as a novelist and speaker with his duel fellowships at the Atlantic Council's Brent Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security and the Modern War Institute at West Point. Together with his colleagues from the Modern War Institute (including ML Cavanaugh, a 2019 Festival presenter who returns to the lineup for the Virtual 2020 Festival), Brooks has co-edited two books on teaching military science through science fiction: "Strategy Strikes Back: How Star Wars Explains Modern Military Conflict" and "Winning Westeros: How Game of Thrones Explains Modern Military Conflict."

Virtual 2020 Festival of Books Event
Saturday, Oct. 3
7 p.m. - 8 p.m.

Max BrooksMatthew Cavanaugh
Devolution: Bigfoot and Big Ideas - Max Brooks in Conversation with ML Cavanaugh


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