Aug. 2, 2016 By Hannah Wulkan
The first-ever Queens Book Festival kicks off this weekend in Astoria and will showcase more than 100 authors and writers to help boost literacy in the community.
The free festival, expected to draw between 5,000 and 10,000 people, will be held in the backlot of Kaufman Astoria Studios on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. It will feature panel discussions from authors, a children’s area with readings and activities, and book and food vendors from the area.
The Queens Book Festival project began in the fall of 2014 when Festival Executive Director Johanne Civil learned of the city’s literacy crisis, and that 70 percent of New York City’s third graders reading below grade level. She decided that as a member of the community she needed to take action, and began organizing the book festival.
For the past year and a half she and her team have helped to bring authors to read in schools and have handed out free books and comic books at almost every street fair in the borough. She also helped to organize the first “literary crawl” in Queens, where writers hop between venues, enjoy local food and drinks, and perform poems and works of writing aloud.
However Civil’s biggest undertaking up until this point is putting on the festival at Kaufman Astoria Studios on August 7th. Throughout the day there will be panel discussions with multiple authors centered on specific topics.
“We wanted to touch on the social issues brewing not only throughout the nation, but also locally and within the literary community,” Civil explained.
“Diversity is a big piece, and also social issues such as the LGBTQ movement, censorship, the Black Lives Matter movement, we tried to piece a little bit of everything that’s going on around us together.”
The featured panels include themes such as language, power and censorship, writing about the Caribbean identity in the United States, setting novels in Queens, and writing about multicultural or multiracial identities, among others.
The children’s area will feature authors reading stories, as well as games that focus on literacy. “We partnered with several organizations that specialize programing that elevates literacy,” Civil explained, “So kids can do something that is literacy oriented and have fun with it without necessarily knowing that is what they are doing.”
There will also be a stage featuring young adult author panels and a culinary stage.
Because this is the first time an event like this has happened in the area, Civil said that the biggest challenge she encountered was fundraising. “It’s been a struggle to get the community to understand the festival and to champion literacy,” she explained. A lack of funds prevented the event from taking place at CitiField, as Civil had initially planned.
Despite that, she hopes that the community comes out to see what the festival is all about. It’s open to everyone, whether you’re a booklover or not,” she said. “Reading a book is one thing but being literate is a totally different experience.”
Civil summed up her passion for the festival: “I’m a nerd. I love books, I love seeing children enriched and I love my community wherever it may be and I want to do my part to enrich it.”