Jewish Book Festival offers a host of author events, in-person and online


Cate Marquis, Special to the Jewish Light

The St. Louis Jewish Book Festival is back, and this time it’s in-person — and virtual. What remains the same is that the book festival, Nov. 7-18, brings to town its usual splendid array of books, with more than 25 events and 35 authors, for its 43rd year.

Among the highlights is the opening night keynote event with Natan Sharansky, a child chess prodigy, former Soviet prisoner, former Deputy Prime Ministry of Israel and recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor and Presidential Medal of Freedom. He will be joined by his co-author, historian Gil Troy, discussing “Never Alone: Prison, Politics, and My People,” a memoir of Sharansky’s remarkable life, at 7 p.m. Nov. 7 at the Jewish Community Center’s Staenberg Family Complex near Creve Coeur (and held virtually online via Zoom).

Other highlights include:

• Lisa Napoli (7:30 p.m. Nov. 8) discussing “Susan, Linda, Nina & Cokie,” her book on the “founding mothers” of National Public Radio (Susan Stamberg, Linda Wertheimer, Nina Totenberg and Cokie Roberts ) during the festival’s Women’s Night event. The event is preceded by a local women’s business expo at 6:30 p.m., highlighting local women groundbreakers.

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• The festival devotes Nov. 10 to “Kristallnacht Remembrance,” with two free events. Author Liza Wiemer discusses her novel “The Assignment” at 10 a.m., and then at 7 p.m. Menachem Kaiser speaks about “Plunder,” his non-fiction book about his efforts to reclaim his family’s apartment building in Poland.

• Foodies get a treat with the festival’s Nourish event (7 p.m. Nov. 15), featuring Paula Shoyer discussing “The Instant Pot Kosher Cookbook.”

• Missouri’s Own panel discussion (1 p.m. Nov. 15), spotlighting six Missouri authors: Jamie Krakover, David Henschel, Bobbi Linkemer, Mike Williams, Mort Meisner and Jan Sokoloff Harness.

• Sports Night (7 p.m. Nov. 18), with author and St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports columnist Ben Hochman discussing his book “11 in ‘11: A Hometown Hero, La Russa’s Last Ride, and a Miracle World Series for the St. Louis Cardinals,” which finishes out the fest.

A couple of events, Women’s Night and Sports Night, require an RSVP by Nov. 1, even for those with Premier Passes. RSVP by calling 314-442-3299 or emailing [email protected]

All of the festival’s in-person programs take place at the J’s Staenberg Family Complex, held either in the Edison Gym or the Carl & Helene Mirowitz Performing Arts Center. All programs are available to attend virtually as well, streaming virtually via Zoom. Seven events are virtual-only (see full schedule for full details).

Planning the festival

“We’re really pleased to be able to offer both in-person and virtual experiences for all events, so ticket-holders can attend based on their comfort level and keep that community connection going strong,” said Hilary Gan, director of literary arts at the J.

James Bogart, who is co-chairing this year’s festival with Louise Levine, said this year’s biggest challenge was determining “whether we could safely conduct a live festival, following last year’s virtual one.”

“Would the authors be willing to travel to St. Louis and what safety protocols could we adopt to ensure the public and our authors were protected?” Bogart said. “The JCC executive team approved and successfully implemented safe health protocols for the recent used book sale. It worked, and the same protocols will be required at the book festival.”

The festival will require patrons attending in-person events to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test within last 48 hours and wearing a mask during festival events (see infobox on page 1A for more details).

“The second challenge, as always, was to offer a diverse, broad lineup of authors and topics during the two-week festival,” Bogart said. “We believe this year’s festival does this with our keynote speaker, Natan Sharansky, several great novelists, mystery night, women’s night featuring a book about the women who created NPR, a cooking program, comedy, sports night, Tennessee Williams, and a fascinating book on the Sackler Family and the opioid crisis they created, and much more. In other words, having something for everyone.”

The book on the opioid crisis is Patrick Radden Keefe’s “Empire of Pain,” at 7 p.m. Nov. 11.

Washington University Professor of Drama and Comparative Literature Henry Schvey will delve into Tennessee Williams’ fraught relationship with the city of St. Louis in his book “Blue Song,” at 7 p.m. Nov. 14.

The Jewish Book Festival is also kicking off a new Arthur Gale Jewish Lives Series, which will feature biographies from the Yale University Press Jewish Lives book series.

“Thanks to the support and creativity of Dr. Arthur Gale, we’ll be bringing in authors who have worked to illuminate Jewish identity,” Gan said, “beginning with David Mikics and his book ‘Stanley Kubrick: American Filmmaker’” at 1 p.m. on Nov. 8.

Something else new at this year’s festival are the “Z3 Track” events, including the opening night Sharansky talk.

“We also have a focused track within the festival called Z3, short for Zionism 3.0, with four different events featuring experts and authors in conversation with each other around issues affecting Israel and North American Jewry,” Gan said.

Following the Sharansky opening night Z3 Track event, Zack Bodner and Leah Garber will discuss Bodner’s book “Why Do Jewish?” about expressing Jewish identity in the modern world, at 10:30 a.m. Nov. 11.

At 1 p.m. the same day, businessmen Uri Adoni and Vijay Chauhan discuss Adoni’s book “The Unstoppable Startup,” on the reasons behind Israel’s startup successes.

At 10:30 a.m. Nov. 17, Jewish identity is the focus of both comedian David Baddiel’s non-fiction book “Jews Don’t Count” about why, in an era of minority awareness, Jews are often excluded, and satirist Sayed Kashua’s novel “Track Changes,” about a man returning to Israel to visit his dying father while also revisiting past traumas.

Other festival authors include Francine Prose and her novel “The Vixen,” set during the 1950s Red Scare, on Nov. 9 at 10:30 a.m. Jean Hanff Korelitz talks about her tense novel “The Plot” at 10:30 a.m. Nov. 15.

Former CIA and FBI agent Tracy Walder, whose book “The Unexpected Spy” deals with both terrorists and with sexism in both organizations, will be featured at 10:30 a.m. on Nov. 8.  On Nov. 16 at 10:30 a.m., there is a double bill with E. Lockhart and her Jewish superhero graphic novel “Whistle” as well as Ken Krimstein with “When I Grow Up,” his collection of newly discovered autobiographies of Jewish East European teens on the brink of World War II.

St. Louis Jewish Book Festival

WHEN: Nov. 7-18

WHERE: Both in-person events at the Jewish Community Center’s Staenberg Family Complex as well as virtual events held via Zoom.

HOW MUCH: Festival passes are $110. Individual event tickets range from free (for the two Kristallnacht Remembrance Day events Nov. 10) to $45 (for the opening night keynote), with tickets to most festival programs $10 to $25. Free student tickets are available for middle school, high school and college students with current ID.

MORE INFO: Visit or call 314-442-3299

COVID-19 PROTOCOLS:: The festival will require proof of vaccination (both doses of Moderna or Pfizer vaccines or one dose of Johnson & Johnson) or a negative COVID-19 test result within 48 hours entry. Vaccination card or photo accepted, plus photo ID. Masks must be worn by everyone at all times while attending festival events.