The Bay Area Book Festival returns to downtown Berkeley on Saturday and Sunday. 

Established in 2015, the festival features hundreds of authors over its main two-day event, with talks, readings and panel discussions in 18 indoor and outdoor locations in Berkeley. All daytime programs are free, though preferred seating is available for “Friends of the Festival” who donate $150 or more. An outdoor fair on Sunday with dozens of literary vendors and activities for kids also is free. 

Headliners include Dave Eggers, Joan Baez (a ticketed event on Saturday night is sold out) and Jane Smiley among nearly 300 authors, researchers and literary leaders slated to attend. 

Retired Oakland librarian Dorothy Lazard has published a new memoir ““What You Don’t Know Will Make a Whole New World.” (Courtesy Dorothy Lazard) 

While the festival’s international contingent is one of the largest in U.S. book fairs, the BABF features local bigshots, too. Speakers range from international writers such as Tibetan-Canadian novelist Tsering Yangzom Lama to local legends such as Oakland historian Dorothy Lazard.  

Lazard says, “When we pull people together, like with the Bay Area Book Festival and the short-lived Oakland Book Festival, it kind of invigorates all our smaller communities by giving them an opportunity to come together, to mingle with other people who have different writerly orientations. You can meet new people, you can meet new writers, you can find out about new forms, new publishing opportunities.” 

Lazard, a librarian for 38 years who served as head librarian of the Oakland Public Library’s Oakland History Center, appears on a panel “A Life in Books” with Joan Frank and Jane Smiley on Saturday to discuss her new memoir “What You Don’t Know Will Make a Whole New World.” On Sunday, she interviews Ilyon Woo, author of the best-selling history “Master Slave Husband Wife.” 

San Francisco Poet Laureate and activist Tongo Eisen-Martin appears in a panel “Reforming Cop Culture: In Oakland and Nationwide” in the 2023 Bay Area Book Festival. (Courtesy Tongo Eisen-Martin)

San Francisco Poet Laureate Tongo Eisen-Martin, a poet and activist, is participating in a Sunday panel titled “Reforming Cop Culture: In Oakland and Nationwide.”  

Speaking about the connection between art and prison, Eisen-Martin says, “Prison is the ultimate expression of the relationship between oppressor and oppressed, you know, and one place writers can lend their voice is to the investigation of these social metaphors, of these symbols. 

“I think Bay Area artists do have a head start, being that, you know, the cultural reality of the Bay Area is historically grounded in very radical and honest resistance, and the pursuit of non-hegemony. You know, cultural aspiration,” he adds.  

Conservationist and researcher Jerry Emory appears with Dean King and McKenzie Long on a Sunday panel, “Places Worth Fighting For: Preserving Public Lands,” examining the intersection of California culture, politics and writing.  

Conservationist and researcher Jerry Emory appears in a talk about preserving public land. (Courtesy Nicholas Lilly)

“Someone like myself —we’re inspired by and fed by the natural environment, by being outside, and that leads naturally, in my mind, to doing work in conservation. Because once you educate yourself through reading a lot of good writing, scientific or natural history, or essays, or even poetry about nature, you educate yourself, and it influences the way you look at the world. And it influences the way you write,” says Emory, a Mill Valley resident and author of shoreline guides to San Francisco and Monterey bays, as well the 2023 biography “George Meléndez Wright: The Fight for Wildlife and Wilderness in the National Parks,” about the biologist and naturalist who was the first Hispanic person to have a professional position in the National Park Service.  

The Bay Area Book Festival runs from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. May 6 and 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. May 7 in Berkeley; the information booth is at Center Street and Shattuck Avenue. Most events are free. For the schedule, visit

A free outdoor fair with performances, a children’s area and dozens of literary exhibitors is on Sunday in Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park, 2151 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. 

Select programs with Bay Area writers:  

“A Life in Books” with Joan Frank, Dorothy Lazard and Jane Smiley, moderated by John Freeman, is at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Marsh Theater, 2120 Allston Way.   

“Reforming Cop Culture: In Oakland and Nationwide” with Darwin BondGraham, Tongo Eisen-Martin, Neil Gross and Ali Winston, moderated by Laura Wenus, is at 11 a.m. Sunday in Ballroom 1, Residence Inn Berkeley, 2121 Center St.  

“Places Worth Fighting For: Preserving Public Lands” with Jerry Emory, Dean King and McKenzie Long, moderated by Toby McLeod, is at 11 a.m. Sunday in Goldman Theater, Brower Center, 2150 Allston Way. 

“Poetry and Fiction: The Artist’s Influence” with Selby Wynn Schwartz and Brenda Shaughnessy, moderated by Susan Griffin, is at 2 p.m. Sunday in Goldman Theater, Brower Center. 

Dorothy Lazard interviews Ilyon Woo about “Master Slave Husband Wife” at 2 p.m. Sunday in Ballroom 1, Residence Inn Berkeley. 

Other select notable events:  

“Memoir: The Meaning of Home” with poet and essayists Vanessa A. Bee, Camille Dungy and Kathryn Savage, moderated by Kristin Keane, is at 11:30 a.m. Sunday at Brower Center’s Tamalpais Room. 

“A(lexandra) P(etri’s) US History” with humorist, Washington Post columnist (and an International Pun Champion) Alexandra Petri, interviewed by San Francisco Chronicle political writer Joe Garofoli, is at 12:30 p.m. Sunday at SF Chronicle Stage in the Park in Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park.