Stories Behind the Books
Book FestivalCommunity

Stories Behind the Books

Learn a little about a few of the books and authors visiting Atlanta for the upcoming Book Festival of the MJCCA.

You can’t judge a book by its cover applies to more than initial impressions. Sometimes it’s the story behind the story that readers can’t learn just from the book cover or its brief summary.

The AJT tries to shed some light on those back stories as we preview more than half the 45 tomes in the 28th edition of the Book Festival of the MJCCA.

Billed as the largest Jewish book festival in the country, this year it’s more than just books. There’ll be cake to celebrate a 74th birthday party for celeb headliner Henry Winkler, who opens the festival on Oct. 30 with the book he co-authored, “Alien Superstar.”

The community will commemorate Kristallnacht Nov. 7 between presentations on books exploring the Holocaust such as “The Legacy of Anne Frank,” by Gillian Walnes Perry, guest speaker for the memorial ceremony at the MJCCA’s Besser Memorial Holocaust Garden. New this year, there’ll also be a one-woman stage show straight from New York, “The Fabric of My Life,” by Tziporah Salamon, author of “The Art of Dressing.”

“It’s a different way to present a book,” said festival director Pam Morton.

As always, the festival only features books published in the past two years, she said.

“Unfortunately, we have a finite number of programs and we have to been extremely selective. For instance, this year we had more than 75 local author submissions. We’d love to be able to feature all of our local authors, but we simply don’t have the space. We are fortunate to have an author selection committee to assist us with choosing those authors who appeal to the largest group of people.”

Book Festival Co-Chair Susie Hyman said, “We are so excited to present authors like Jodi Kantor, Bari Weiss, Nikki Haley, and Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, who can take us behind the scenes of current events.

“There are inspirational stories being told by authors like Pat Mitchell and Jon Dorenbos; old favorites such as Alice Hoffman and Candace Bushnell; sports stories from Akbar Gbajabiamila, Adam Rippon, and I.J. Rosenberg; historical fiction and non-fiction; fun programs, including Henry Winkler and Bob Mankoff; and buzz-worthy new fiction round out our lineup … along with so much more!”

Book Festival Co-Chair Deena Profis added, “I have been involved with the Book Festival at the MJCCA for over 10 years, and every year we manage to build, expand, and grow with our depth and reach.

“Our list of authors from current news events to some of the top fiction writers in the country continue to amaze me each year. The Book Festival at the MJCCA is one of the most respected book festivals in the Southeast. What a compliment it is when respected authors from all genres of books call us and want to be part of what has become a premier literary event in Atlanta.”

Morton spotlighted a few of the categories the books may fall into:

Year of the Woman

So many celebs this year and many of them are women. For starters, politicians Nikki Haley, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., and Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, who once occupied the White House, closing out the festival on Nov. 17 and 18, respectively. Then there’s Jamie Bernstein, daughter of iconic composer-conductor Leonard Bernstein; Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, who broke the Harvey Weinstein sex scandal that led to the #MeToo movement; and Candace Bushnell with her new book for the middle-aged crowd, “Is There Still Sex in the City?”

Bring Back the Sequels

Ben Mezrich’s “Bitcoin Billionaire” revisits the founding of Facebook and the basis for the Academy Award-winning film, “The Social Network.” Two of the story’s characters, along with Mark Zuckerberg, were the Winklevoss twins. Here is their story of betting successfully on cryptocurrency.

“Cilka’s Journey: A Novel,” by Heather Morris provides background to the story surrounding her bestseller “The Tattooist of Auschwitz.” We learn more about Lale Sokolov, the Slovakian Jewish prisoner who survived the Holocaust by being the tattooist of Auschwitz, along with his love Gita and their friend Cilka, the subject of this novel.

Inspired by the Holocaust

A prevalent genre for the book festival, the Holocaust choices include Jack Fairweather’s “The Volunteer,” the “true story of a Polish resistance fighter’s infiltration of Auschwitz to sabotage the camp from within, and his death-defying attempt to warn the Allies about Nazi plans for a ‘Final Solution’ before it was too late.”

There’s “Renia’s Diary.” Renia was known as the Polish Anne Frank, according to Morton, who was reading this book at the time of our interview. Renia was murdered by the Nazis, but her sister, Elizabeth Bellak, once called the Polish Shirley Temple, survived by touring during that time, Morton said.

Bellak received the diary from Renia’s boyfriend, who survived, but couldn’t bear to look at it for a long time. She was honored at the United Nations for publishing the diary and will appear at the festival with her daughter, Alexandra, Morton said.

Young and Nimble

In addition to Henry Winkler’s “middle-grade series about a space alien who visits Hollywood as a tourist and becomes a star,” which he co-wrote with children’s writer Lin Oliver, there’s Akbar Gbajabiamila’s “Everyone Can Be a Ninja.”

Gbajabiamila is host of the Emmy-nominated “American Ninja Warrior.” But there’s a backstory to his book too. He is a “modern-day ninja” warrior himself as the son of Nigerian immigrants and one of seven children who grew up in South Central Los Angeles at the height of the L.A. riots.

Atlanta sports writer I.J. Rosenberg’s “Conquered: The Inside Story of Atlanta United’s Magical Run” is yet another book that Morton believes will appeal to the young. It’s the behind-the-scenes look at the Atlanta United soccer team’s rise to the top of Major League Soccer.

Regardless of the genre, there’s much for all at the Book Festival of the MJCCA, running Oct. 30 to Nov. 18.

For tickets, contact the MJCCA box office at 678-812-4002, email,, or visit

read more: