By Georgio Valentino
Every spring, a hand-picked selection of the country’s most celebrated writers descend on the Palm Beaches for a boutique book festival of chart-topping proportions. Among the headliners of this fourth annual edition of the Palm Beach Book Festival are multiple award-winning authors Dan Rather and Kwame Alexander.
The event is the brainchild of locally based novelist Lois Cahall. Although she considers herself first and foremost a writer, Cahall has always operated across media, building her successful “Screen Queen” persona through print, radio and television from her erstwhile home base in New York.
“Many years ago,” Cahall says, “Oprah taught me to become a ‘three media convergence.’ So, I used my written movie reviews for my radio show and my advice columns in women’s magazines for my TV spots. At the time, my radio was sponsored by Blockbuster. That tells you how far this goes back. That tells you how very old I am!”
The media maven would eventually land in the Palm Beaches, where she leveraged her decades of experience to found the Palm Beach Book Festival in 2015. From the start, it was conceived as an intimate — even exclusive — event.
“The Palm Beach Book Festival is the Oscars of books,” Cahall declares. “If you’re a book lover, we have more celebrity under one roof in one day than any other event in Palm Beach County, or so the local powers-that-be have told me. But beyond that, and here’s the most important bit, I ‘m not paying my authors. They believe in my cause of nurturing the written word. Most of the authors are friends. Last year I brought in $1,000,000 worth of guest speaking talent for free.”
This year’s talent includes Alexander and Kirstin Chen, who kick off the festival with a discussion on family, love and hope, as well as mystery writer Joseph Finder and humorist (and dog-lover) W. Bruce Cameron.
Guest authors are hand-selected in keeping with a different theme each year. The current couldn’t be more timely.
“This year’s theme is grace, dignity and humanity in a time of worldwide crisis,” Cahall says. “I love all the authors as I picked them all for various reasons. If it’s a friend I try to make it work. Last year I had three four friends on the ‘New York Times’ best-seller list simultaneously, so it was easy.”
Indeed, one of Cahall’s writer friends nearly helped her land a former vice president as special guest.
“Joe Biden was our choice to come in, as my friend was the ghost writer on his latest memoir,” Cahall confides. “We had Joe locked last July. Then the months dragged on. Joe wanted to come in during his autumn book tour. But we were an April festival. I got worried he’d run for president which meant he wouldn’t have time to come in for April.
“So around Christmas, just before we announced the lineup, Dan Rather’s amazing book What Unites Us arrived. I had tears by the second page for all that he says about patriotism. The way it used to be. Honoring our parks, schools, history, etc. I knew he was our man given our theme. I called and we locked him days later.”
There’s also an Oprah’s Book Club panel featuring author Mira T. Lee, whose debut novel Everything Here Is Beautiful has earned her accolades from the highest authorities. The panel is moderated by O Book Club curator Leigh Haber.
When asked if Oprah herself might one day appear at the festival, Cahall makes an only slightly tongue-in-cheek prediction.
“Yes,” she muses, “when she has her memoir we’re a good stop on her presidential tour. Wink.”
The Palm Beach Book Festival is open to the public on April 14 at the Palm Beach County Convention Center, 650 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach. The festival takes place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission: $75-$100. Visit palmbeachbookfestival.com for more information.