The wait is over: 2019 St. Louis Jewish Book Festival starts Nov. 3

Isaac Mizrahi will be the keynote speaker at this year’s Jewish Book Festival. He will speak about his book “I.M.: A Memoir on Nov. 3 at 7 p.m.

By Cate Marquis, Special to the Jewish Light

Readers eagerly wait for it all year. The 41st annual St. Louis Book Festival takes place Nov. 3-17 at the Jewish Community Center’s Staenberg Family Complex. The festival is one of the nation’s largest, with 25 events in 12 days.

This year the opening night keynote speaker is fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi, who will speak about his book “I.M.: A Memoir” on Nov. 3 at 7 p.m. 

The book details his personal life and career, from early years working with designers Calvin Klein and Perry Ellis, to acclaim in the fashion world with his own label, to his partnership with Target, which brought his fashions into the mass market and changed retailing. A question-and-answer and book signing will follow Mizrahi’s talk. Tickets are $45.

“We could not be more excited for Isaac Mizrahi to open our Festival on Nov. 3,” said Amy Bornstein, director of literary and Jewish arts at the J. “Isaac will share his incredible story about growing up gay in a sheltered, Syrian Jewish Orthodox family. The themes in his memoir are so poignant and relevant today. Audience members can expect a fun and inspiring evening with an important and sometimes serious underlying message. But at the end of the day, Isaac Mizrahi is an entertainer and he will not disappoint.”

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The festival offers a wide array of subjects and authors, with something for every taste, ranging from the inspirational to the astounding to the amusing. Bob Germain, co-chair of the book festival, said this year’s festival offers something for everyone.

“We have books at the extreme of seriousness, one from the perspective of a peace-promoting Palestinian, two books about concentration camps (one about an escape and one about an undercover volunteer), and one about the aftermath of 9/11,” noted Germain, adding that lighter topics include sports, food, the Plaza Hotel and the true story of a movie script written by artist Salvador Dali for the Marx brothers. 

“And we have a lot in between,” he added.

The book about the Dali script is Josh Samuel Frank’s “Giraffes on Horseback Salad.” The author adapted the script into a full-color graphic novel, bringing the surreal story to life, and will discuss it at 1 p.m. Nov. 11.

The peace-promoting Palestinian is Yousef Bashir, who will speak about his memoir “The Words of My Father,” his harrowing experience as a teen in Gaza and his father’s unshakable belief in peacefully co-existing with his Israeli neighbors, at 7 p.m. Nov. 5 (see review on page 11).

Festival co-chair Barb Williams said a few highlights of the festival will include: 

• University City’s own Art Shamsky speaks at 7 p.m. Nov. 6 about his book “After the Miracle: The Lasting Brotherhood of the ’69 Mets” (read an interview with Shamsky on page 10).

• Chef/stand-up comedian Elana Horwich discussing her book “Meal and a Spiel” at 10:30 a.m. Nov. 8

• Michael Coles, co-founder of the Great American Cookie Co. and former CEO of Caribou Coffee, discussing “Time to Get Tough,” at 7 p.m. Nov. 12

• Jack Fairweather, author of “The Volunteer,” the true story of a Polish resistance fighter who assumed a fake identity to intentionally get captured and sent to Auschwitz to report back to the underground, speaking at 7 p.m. Nov. 14

• Barbara Ostfeld, the first woman in Jewish history to be ordained as a cantor, discussing “Catbird: The Ballad of Barbi Prim,” at 10:30 a.m. Nov. 15.

Bornstein said another event sparking a lot of interest is Lori Gottlieb’s talk about her book “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone,” at 7 p.m. Nov. 13 

“As a psychotherapist and national advice columnist, Lori has written a hilarious, thought-provoking and surprising new book that takes us behind the scenes of a therapist’s world. I personally think it is so popular because of the prevalence of mental illness in our society and a universal realization that seeking therapy and community support can be life-changing.” Local therapist and social worker Carly Sparks will moderate the conversation with Gottlieb.

Bornstein said volunteers work throughout the year to plan the festival.

“Year-round, a committee of 50-plus dedicated volunteers meet to select authors, secure sponsorship dollars, collect raffle items, coordinate hospitality details, staff our pop-up bookstore and so much more,” said Bornstein. “During the two-week festival, upwards of 70 volunteers are involved in producing a series of 35 seamless events. It is truly a team effort.”

Germain said many of the authors come from the Jewish Book Council, where over the course of three days in New York City, four people from the St. Louis festival (including the festival co-chairs) heard more than 250 authors “audition” for two minutes each. Other authors came from various sources, including recommendations and partnerships with other local organizations.