Annual Bluffton Book Festival goes virtual for 5th year

WSAV NOW

BLUFFTON, S.C. (WSAV) — The Fifth Annual Bluffton Book Festival kicked off last month and continues through November in its all-virtual format.

Each of the keynote sessions, workshops, panel discussions — as well as ticketed and free events — are taking place online.

The literary festival’s format may have shifted in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but founder Rockelle Henderson says the overall goal of raising literacy levels in the Southeast remains the same.

“We’ve had to pivot, but the pivoting has afforded us this opportunity to broaden the Bluffton Book Festival,” Henderson told WSAV NOW. “It’s been wonderful to be able to open up Bluffton to a wider audience, but also our literary community here to a wider audience and to be able to expand to have Kwame Alexander, who will be participating from London, and James Patterson.”

Patterson and Alexander are among the 2020 festival’s virtual keynote speakers and will be discussing their new book, “Becoming Muhammad Ali,” at an upcoming panel discussion. 

WSAV News 3’s Tina Tyus-Shaw will be interviewing the authors at the Oct. 10 event.

“With your ticket, you get an autographed copy of the book, which you may not get anywhere else,” Henderson said, adding, “This is a special book because the subject is Muhammad Ali when he was a kid as Cassius Clay, which, you know, I don’t think many of us know about his life before he became Muhammad Ali.”

Additional featured writers include New York Times’ bestselling author Susan Abulhawa, author, actor and television producer Eriq La Salle and Pulitzer prize-winning and New York Times’ bestselling author, Edward P. Jones.

Henderson, a Bluffton resident who hails from New York City, says she founded the Bluffton Book Festival, which is running in partnership with the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, after the idea simply came to her in 2016.

“I say it was a gift from God to start the festival and wasn’t something that I had sat around and planned,” said Henderson, who has spent 30 years in the publishing industry with roles at Random House, HarperCollins, Penguin and Disney/Hyperion. 

“Since it just sort of popped in my head, I thought, ‘all right, I will give it a shot,’” she said, using her previous experience conducting festivals with organizations to begin her own.

In its five years, Henderson says she’s observed the Bluffton Book Festival’s noticeable impact on the local community.

“We participated in a tourism survey last year, and I can’t remember the numbers but we absolutely helped to increase the tourism numbers here in the Hilton Head-/Bluffton area because we do some of these events on Hilton Head when we’re in person,” Henderson said.

“I believe we’ve had an impact on benefiting the literacy center with donations, and even the smallest donation helps,” she added. “I also believe that getting more kids to read and finding entertaining and fun ways to do that has probably been the biggest impact.”

Henderson says while the virtual format of attending festivals is still new to everyone, she wants to reassure those attendees who may be hesitant about using Zoom to join in.

“You will not be on camera if you participate, only the authors, the moderator and interviewers will be on camera so you don’t have to worry,” Henderson said. 

This year’s festival began on Sept. 17 and runs through Nov. 21. 

To find out about the Bluffton Book Festival’s upcoming events and how to obtain tickets, visit the festival website at BlufftonBookFestival.com.

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