Kentucky Book Festival Highlights: An Interview with Director Sara Volpi


by Good River Review staff


The Kentucky Book Festival celebrates its 40th anniversary this year with a weeklong festival, November 1-6, capped off by a book fair on November 6 at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington. We spoke with Sara Volpi, festival director, about what to expect this year at the Festival.


Many Spalding MFA alumni are affiliated with the Kentucky Book Festival, starting with Bill Goodman (CNF ’12), executive director of Kentucky Humanities, of which the Festival is a program. Spalding MFA alums participating as authors include Whitney Collins (F ’18), David Domine (F ’13), Silas House (F ’03), Angela Jackson-Brown (F ’09), Nana Lampton (P ’04), Frank X Walker (P ’03), and Kentucky Poet Laureate Crystal Wilkinson (P ’03). Faculty member Jeremy Paden will be there as well, as will incoming MFA student Kathy Stearman.

Sara Volpi

Good River Review: We see the Kentucky Book Festival has moved to Joseph-Beth Booksellers. How did that move come about and how do you see it affecting the experience of attendees this year?


Sara Volpi: The team at Joseph-Beth has a long history of hosting successful literary events, both large and small, in Cincinnati and Lexington. They’ve been a proud partner of the Kentucky Book Festival for years, and hosting a big, bookish event like ours at the largest independent bookstore in Kentucky just seemed like a great fit. We hope the central location and accessibility will enable us to reach many book-lovers throughout the day.


There will still be two “stages” where programs will take place, and 140 authors will be on hand signing books. All authors, attendees, staff, and volunteers will be asked to wear masks while attending the Kentucky Book Festival and related events, and we will provide access to sanitizing stations.


GRR: What are some of the books you're excited to include in the lineup this year?


SV: I tore through Maryanne O’Hara’s excellent memoir, Little Matches, which is a beautiful homage to her daughter Caitlin and a deep dive into grief and its effects. I also really enjoyed Margaret Verble’s new novel, When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky. Beyond a thrilling story overall, Verble was able to weave in fascinating historical details while discussing important issues like racism with incredible skill and awareness.


Balancing out with some nonfiction, I found Kentucky State University professor Wilfred Reilly’s book Taboo: 10 Facts You Can’t Talk About, to be quite compelling. I’m also looking forward to reading Paul Griner’s new novel, The Book of Otto and Liam, and Whitney Collins’s new short story collection, Big Bad—both published by Sarabande. Karen Salyer McElmurray’s Wanting Radiance is now available in paperback, and that’s in my TBR pile as well.


There are so many others that I need to finish reading, like When Stars Rain Down, by Angela Jackson-Brown, and Even As We Breathe, by Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle. I know many folks are fans of Elin Hilderbrand, author of Golden Girl, Summer of ’69, and dozens of other “beach read” novels.


And there are the Kentucky mainstays who’ll be in attendance, such as Silas House, Gurney Norman, Ed McClanahan, Bobbie Ann Mason, Frank X Walker, and of course our Poet Laureate, Crystal Wilkinson. Fans of history will find insightful new books from Brian Kilmeade, H. W. Brands, Peter S. Canellos, and others.

GRR: What Festival events are you particularly looking forward to?


SV: We’ve been able to put together a slate of events that are unique and exciting again this year, such as a Literary Luncheon with Ouita Michel or Cocktails & Conversation with Margaret Verble. For me, of course, all of them will be so much fun. But of particular interest is the daylong celebration at Joseph-Beth on November 6, because that’s when I do a lot of my Christmas shopping.