Virtual Festival Proves the Written Word Can Still Unite Us

Readers, Writers Come Together Via Zoom

It's been an unusual year and an unusual South Dakota Festival of Books. The event, like everything else in 2020, has been turned on its ear by the coronavirus pandemic.

But this "new normal" Virtual 2020 South Dakota Festival of Books has proven that the written word is still crucial to American culture and retains the power to unite us.

Surprisingly, for many participants, the Virtual Festival served as a reprieve from the pandemic rather than a restrictive measure necessitated by it.

More than 60 local, regional and national authors were the stars of Zoom "rooms," where self-expression was celebrated, as were anecdotes, poems, feelings, inspiration. From the nationally famous – "World War Z" author Max Brooks discussing his book that became a blockbuster hit starring Brad Pitt – to regional talents like Sioux Falls poet Dana Yost, who shared heartfelt verses about his experiences with mental health challenges, the event provided a welcome dose of humanity.

Readers logged in to hear new points of view. Smiling faces populated Zoom rooms, participants patiently waiting to hear about a new book or listen to a poem. Comments filled the Zoom chat section, where people typed in their questions and musings and received responses from presenting authors. Participants in these online conversations were considerate and reflective.

How did the written word provide a sanctuary? Perhaps sincerity is the key.

Many presentations began with presenters saying, "I'm really sorry we can't gather in person." They meant it.

Authors are often studious, thoughtful and solitary. They bury themselves in words, emerging every few years with 50-100,000 of them published in a book. They need years of thinking and crafting to get those words right; therefore, the opportunity to meet people in person, to be "out in the world," can be especially rewarding. This year authors were grateful to meet readers virtually. Readers, equally grateful, were attentive and reflective as the authors discussed their creative work.

Contemplation is required for any level of understanding, and that is what the Virtual 2020 South Dakota Festival of Books afforded: an opportunity to understand and an exercise in compassion, empathy and patience.

Thank you to everyone who joined us to connect over books, converse about ideas and celebrate words.

Learn More About SDHC and the Festival of Books

The South Dakota Humanities Council provides humanities programs, including the Festival of Books, to readers and writers all year long! Want to find out more? Click below to subscribe to our monthly e-newsletter and weekly blog.