2022 Southern Festival of Books

Attendees browse bookseller tents on Nashville's Legislative Plaza at the 2022 Southern Festival of Books.

The Southern Festival of Books returned to Nashville's War Memorial Plaza and Nashville Public Library earlier this month after two years of virtual programming due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The 34th annual celebration of the written word is hosted by Humanities Tennessee and took place Oct. 14-16, drawing some 20,000 attendees who enjoyed live music, dozens of book vendors, author talks, book readings and much more.
"We have learned the value and relative ease of virtual events during Covid, and we will always offer some level of that for people who cannot or do not care to travel — That’s important — But the energy and excitement of being back in person was palpable all weekend," Humanities Tennessee Director of Literature and Language Programs Serenity Gerbman said in an email. 

"From authors and hosts being in conversation with one another and audiences, to attendees lining up for book signings and photos with favorite authors, the weekend was filled with moments, conversations, and connections that are hard to replicate online."

Gerbman said that Middle Tennessee's "thriving" literary community was evident throughout the festival, adding that the publishing world as a whole is returning to full force following the heights of the pandemic.

"This weekend provides a very positive snapshot of our community for the larger book world, and shows that readers still want to come out and have the experience of engaging with authors and other readers," Gerbman said.

Among the local bookstores present at the festival was Nashville's own Parnassus Books, whose Store Manager Cat Bock said that they have been a part of the festival since Parnassus opened in 2011.

"Working the festival and being a bookseller here is one of the highlights of our year," Bock said. "We love to be able to help Humanities Tennessee to be able to put on this festival and keep it free to the public. We donate a portion of our proceeds back to help keep it free and open to everyone." 

Bock said that ahead of the holiday season, they are seeing a "huge resurgence" in the popularity of romance books in part, she said, due to the role of social media apps, especially TikTok which has cultivated a new community of literary fans in what is known online as "BookTokers."

"Our romance section and romance readership has absolutely exploded, and we really expect that to be one of the sections that people are most excited about during the holidays," Bock said.

And like seemingly all goods over the past two-and-a-half years of the pandemic, books are not immune to ongoing global supply chain and manufacturing issues.

"That is especially true for any books that are printed on specialty paper," Bock said. "Cookbooks, gift books, kids books, anything that's not a standard paperback, so we're seeing a lot of folks start their shopping early, and we really encourage that."

And while there may be some added wait times to restock titles this year, it's clear that the written word is strong, especially in Middle Tennessee.