We advanced from Zoom being the first part of a peppy Passover song. Now the online video conferencing app enables important cultural and informative lectures to involve audiences with options and viewer numbers never thought possible.
Pam Morton, director of author events for the Book Festival of the MJCCA, touts how events have continued despite the global pandemic. And she promotes two upcoming high-profile presentations: filmmaker Barry Sonnenfeld and author Daniel Silva. Newly announced early autumn top name authors include Casey Cep, Harlan Coben and Steven Madden.
Morton said, “Not unlike the rest of the world, there was anxiety when we moved to this new format because of challenges involving the unknown: new technology, working from our homes, and finding new ways to work with our partner bookstore, A Cappella Books – just to name a few. In the beginning, every day felt like the first day of a new job! There has been a whole new vocabulary to learn: audiences have become ‘viewers’ and ‘attendees;’ event producers are ‘hosts;’ authors and interviewers are ‘panelists;’ programs are ‘Zooms’ or ‘live streams;’ and past events are ‘recordings.’”
The Atlanta festival has found support in partnerships with other Jewish community centers, including those in Miami, Dallas, Baltimore, Rochester, Indianapolis, St. Louis and Seattle. Along with Morton, they realized that there was power in partnerships with the publishing world. Instead of doing multiple Zoom events, authors are able to concurrently broadcast programs to hundreds of people throughout the country. These partners make group decisions on many of the authors, assist with the production, and consult on best practices.
At the start of the quarantine, for reasons of consistency, Atlanta enlisted Holly Firfer, a local media personality, to host most of the programs as a volunteer. Morton bragged, “She is a truly outstanding moderator. Her enthusiasm and professionalism have been appreciated. As we move into summer programming, we are starting to work with some of our long-time festival moderators. Bill Nigut, executive producer of ‘Political Rewind’ on Georgia Public Broadcasting, recently shared his many talents during an interview with our program featuring FOX News anchor Chris Wallace and his new book ‘Countdown 1945.’
“Most of our past MJCC virtual book festival programming has been free.” Morton said that it has been very important to be there for the community during these challenging times. The Book Festival has held a few ticketed events, which include a copy of the book, often with a signed bookplate from the author and shipping.
“Viewers have found a great deal of solace in the continuity of an iconic community program – even if virtual.”
In terms of the MJCCA’s gradual reopening, the future is a big question mark. When the quarantine began, the Book Festival operated one day at a time, Morton said. Today, as the MJCCA and the world revives, the Book Festival is looking ahead a few weeks at a time.
“There just isn’t any way to predict what the fall will look like, so our plan is to continue offering our programs virtually until it is safe to return to in-person programs. The safety and health of our community are paramount to any programming we do. We are continuing with our virtual programming and have many programs that are still in the planning stages. We recently confirmed The New York Times best-selling author Daniel Silva, who is a huge fan favorite in our community, and we rescheduled our program with Hollywood blockbuster director Barry Sonnenfeld. Early fall authors were originally scheduled to be in-person, so we are just taking a ‘wait and see’ approach to how these events will roll out.”
Book festival co-chairs Dr. Artie Gumer and Deena Profis, an integral part of fall festival planning, have recently reassembled their core Author Selection Committee to reimagine what the fall festival might look like.
Morton is frequently asked how to get one’s book engaged in the Festival.
She always has an extensive list of authors to consider for year-round and festival events and updates it frequently as new books are published. They include submissions via their online form, recommendations from community members or their own committee, and requests from publishers. Their requirement continues to be books published in the current or last calendar year. For now, books must be from 2019 and 2020. In this format, they focus more on newer titles to keep programming fresh.
Register for book festival events at atlantajcc.org/bookfestival.
Here are the latest events from the Book Festival of the MJCCA in Your Living Room:
Barry Sonnenfeld, “Call Your Mother,” a laugh-out-loud memoir about coming of age.
Daniel Silva, “The Order,” featuring the continuing adventures of the legendary art restorer and spy Gabriel Allon. This is a ticketed event.