The Bay Area Book Festival returns to Berkeley May 7-8, featuring an outdoor fair, author talks, free youth programs and more. Credit: Studio Fab

The Bay Area Book Festival is back in person, May 7-8, in downtown Berkeley. Organizers say all of its 105 programs are designed to lift spirits, celebrate coming together again, honor hard-won resilience and give everyone a boost of hope, fun and joy. 

“It’s like your favorite bookstore come to life,” says Norah Piehl, the festival’s new director of literary programs. This year’s festival will feature music, mysteries (including the popular Noir at the Bar), poetry, science, history, Indigenous stories, mapmaking (yes, with Obi Kaufmann), film, and smart romance, anchored by Oakland-based bestselling author Jasmine Guillory, who regularly appears on the “Today” show, plus a huge, richer-than-ever children’s area.

Prefer to watch at home? The festival offers livestreams of many programs.

Piehl, a noted expert and reviewer of children’s literature, joined the festival after years leading the Boston Book Festival. She’s thrilled with how passionately Berkeley and Oakland residents care about books, culture, ideas, and current affairs. These, along with the festival’s commitment to social justice and human rights, frame the weekend’s events. What’s ahead?

Lots of nature — and good news

When it came to programs on current affairs, Piehl and Cherilyn Parsons, the festival’s founder and executive director, decided to look for mostly good news, something they say is sorely needed this year. 

Kim Stanley Robinson brings his first non-fiction book to the Freight & Salvage Theater May 7.

Rebecca Solnit will talk all about roses. “Women in the Wild” features female adventurers, moderated by Outdoor Afro CEO Rue Mapp. Nature speaks in the stunning novels in “The Fierce Voice of Nature,” with authors from Japan, Norway and Spain, including Irene Solà, who writes in Catalan. About Solà’s book, Parsons says, “Have you heard lightning tell us what it thinks? Come hear what it has to say.”

Parsons feels that one of the most profound of the festival’s programs features 93-year-old legend Joanna Macy, Ph.D. Her “World As Lover, World As Self,” now in a 30th anniversary edition, brings together ecology, scientific systems thinking and spirituality to transform the beliefs and structures that contribute to environmental destruction — and that isolate humans from each other. 

Festival COO Scott Gelfand says one of his favorite programs this year is on conservation. “This program explores the indigenous practice of land management, which has been kept alive by Native Americans to restore and protect our precious ecology. It can change how you think about environmentalism.”

And anyone who hasn’t taken a real trip lately can join a gorgeous multimedia tour to the Sierras via bestselling author and environmentalist Kim Stanley Robinson’s new High Sierra: A Love Story, held at the Freight & Salvage Theater. Audiences can buy the book there before it hits stores.

More programs for kids and parents

The festival is for families too, with bookish fun for everyone from toddlers to teens. On three outdoor stages, families can dance to a performance by Oakland’s own Grammy-winning Alphabet Rockers, and enjoy interactive picture book readings and sessions for middle-grade readers on everything from wordplay to cartoons, from big cats to the history of underpants

Mother’s Day programs & discounts

Sunday, May 8, find a special suite of programs for moms and women — a one-of-a-kind gift. Bring mom to see a favorite author, buy her the book, and she can get it signed!

Use code MOM2022 for a discount on a package of three of the festival’s “mom-designed” programs.

Don’t miss the centennial celebration of the Newbery Medal with Meet the Medalists, featuring the last two winners, plus student-produced short films based on Newbery-winning books. YA superstars, including Casey McQuiston, Dhonielle Clayton, and E. Lockhart, offer creative takes on horror, mystery, and romance novels. All youth author programs, and the hands-on Family Fun Zone, are free.

Shaka Senghor presents the Saturday night keynote on fatherhood, transformation and healing.

The Saturday night keynote (May 7) discusses fatherhood so movingly that this evening might bring tears to your eyes. This “Father’s Eve” event features Shaka Senghor, the famed TED speaker, activist and bestselling author of “Writing my Wrongs,” who will invite us on a journey of honesty and healing through his new book, “Letters to the Sons of Society: A Father’s Invitation to Love, Honesty, and Freedom.” It’s a collection of stunningly vulnerable letters to his sons, one whom he is raising and the other who grew up during Senghor’s 19-year incarceration. “It absolutely blew me away,” says Parsons.

Senghor’s messages? Vulnerability, empathy, love and the power of transformation.

Though typically the festival charges a higher ticket price for keynotes, for this Saturday night program, all general admission wristbands are valid. Priority tickets remain $12 and the livestream is just $5.

International culture, local complexity

International Booker Prize author Jokha Alharthi will travel to the festival from Oman. Credit: Ilham Alharthi

The festival’s international program director, Lisa Heyse, brings literary gifts from Oman, Japan, Chile, Mexico, Europe and more. For nearly three years, Heyse has worked with Words Without Borders to bring Jokha Alharthi, winner of the first Man International Booker Prize (in 2019) for a work originally written in Arabic. She’s also the first female Omani novelist translated into English. 

“Oman is relatively unexplored within literature in English translation,” Alharthi says. Her novels also explore universal themes; her recent “Bitter Orange Tree” details “part of every student’s reckoni­ng with their new selfhood.”

In a program on hidden California stories, featured novelist Susan Straight offers words from her early mentor, James Baldwin, “to bring you solace, just like the festival will do this year: ‘You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.’”

Icelandic author Oddney Eir regales the crowd at the 2017 Authors Gala. Credit: Michael Hitchner

Festival details

Where: Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park and indoor venues throughout Downtown Berkeley 

Ticketing: All outdoor programs are free. A General Admission wristband ($15) allows access to ALL indoor programs the entire weekend. Priority tickets for indoor programs  are $12 each. Livestream tickets are $5 per program or $20 for a bundle of sixteen. Recordings are available for one month. 

Get tickets: Available online here or onsite at two box offices: at the BART Plaza and Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park.

Festival Gala: This glamorous cocktail event on Friday night, May 6, is a fundraiser for the festival. Donations of $1,000 receive two tickets and the festival’s thanks. Email

COVID-19 safety: Proof of vaccination (at least two shots), or a negative PCR/NAAT, COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2 test result from within the past two days (or one day for an antigen test) is required for all indoor programs. N95 or KN95 masks must be worn indoors. Masks are required at all book signings and highly encouraged at the Outdoor Fair. 

See a full list of sponsors on the festival’s website. Major sponsors include the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, Stephen M. Silberstein Foundation, City of Berkeley, Zoetic Press, California Arts Council, Cal Humanities and National Endowment for the Humanities, among many more. Major media sponsors are the San Francisco Chronicle, Cityside (Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside) and KQED.