For the last 17 years, the South Dakota Festival of Books has cultivated face-to-face conversations between readers and writers. 

“It’s a gathering of book lovers. All of these like-minded people just enjoying talking about one of their passions,” said Jennifer Widman, director of the South Dakota Center for the Book.

In the past, the festival has taken place in Brookings on even years and in Deadwood on odd years.

This year, however, the experience will be entirely online.

Reaching Readers

“Well, it won’t be quite the same as wandering down the street in Brookings and happening to run into an author and have a chat,” explained Widman. “But we will be using a few different virtual platforms.”

The festival will have events available on Zoom, Crowdcast, Facebook Live, and more.

“Some authors will tell you that writing can be a bit of a lonely enterprise—it’s just the author and the page or the author and the screen. And it’s when the books are out in the world, and they get to go meet their readers that the real community aspect kicks in. They appreciate that now they get to see what their work has meant to somebody else.”

“It’s going to be a very different experience, but we think it’ll be an exciting one in some ways,” she said.

One of the things she says they are excited about is reaching people they have never been able to reach before, whether that be across the country or maybe even across the world.

“We’re hoping that we’ll have a similar turn out or maybe a bit higher,” explained Widman. “We also know that [going virtual] isn’t quite as unique anymore. It doesn’t have the novelty factor that some of those other festivals had.”

A Look into Festival Happenings

*This schedule is subject to change. Refer to for more information and more events.

October 1
Festival Kickoff Celebration // Patrick Hicks // 6:30 p.m.
Kickoff Concert & Reading // Eliza Blue // 7:30 p.m.
October 2
Workshops // Various authors // Daytime
Open Mic // 8 p.m.
October 3
The Writing Life: From Inspiration to Publication // Lorna Landvik // 1 p.m.
Historic Preservation in a Time of Economic & Political Change // Jay Vogt // 3 p.m.
October 4
Her Vote. Her Voice. Reflections on the Fight for Suffrage on the Northern Great Plains // Cody Ewert, Ruth Page Jones, & Molly Rozum // 1 p.m.
October 9
The Last Stand of the Northern Cheyenne: Antelope Creek, 1879 // Jerome Greene // Noon
October 13
Unladylike2020 Zitkala-Sa: Live Screening & Discussion, Co-Sponsored by SDPB // Producers Sandy Rattley & Charlotte Mangin // 2 p.m.
October 15
South Dakota in Poems: A Celebration // Christine Stewart-Nunez // 7 p.m.
October 20
Creating Gatherings in a Time of Pandemic // Phyllis Cole-Dai // 3 p.m.
October 23
All Our Stories: Weaving History & Family Lore into Fiction // Helen Frost // Noon

She says that many other festivals, especially those that took place earlier this year had increased attendance after going virtual.

“This year it doesn’t matter where you are,” said Widman. “You can dial in to any of the events that we have going on at any time.”

Listeners will get the opportunity to learn from and ask questions of their favorite authors.

“I think those connections are really important, and we’re making them in a different way this year, but we’re still going to make them,” said Widman.

Presentations in Cyberspace

Throughout the event, the virtual attendees will be able to register for and watch presentations from around 60 different authors. This roster for authors is a typical amount, according to Widman.

“There’s going to be a lot of unique opportunities for people, whether you’re interested more in history and just the facts, or if you want more of an escape, we try to provide as much variety as we can for people,” said Widman.

There will be presentations in various genres including non-fiction, fiction, poetry, children’s writing, tribal stories, history, and more.


Stream events on Zoom, Crowdcast, and Facebook Live via the South Dakota Humanities Council Facebook page.

The majority of these presentations will be free to attend, though certain writer’s workshops may have a price tag if they’re more intensive, according to Widman.

“We’ll have workshops where they can learn about creating characters, plots, building good writing habits,” said Widman. “I think there are a lot of valuable experiences that come from getting together with other readers.”

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