Boston is deeply entrenched in literary history, having been home to a number of literary giants, not to mention the first public library in the United States, the first printing press in the country, the first newspaper and other monumental firsts. Every year since 2009, literature lovers have flocked to Copley Square to attend the Boston Book Festival, where readers and authors alike can fully immerse themselves with others who share the same passion. This year's festival is this weekend, and with over 200 distinguished authors and moderators, it's slated to be one of the most exciting festivals yet. Deborah Porter, the executive director and founder of the Boston Book Festival, joined GBH All Things Considered host Arun Rath to discuss the origins of the festival and what to expect this year.

Arun Rath: So tell us a bit more about the origins of the festival.

Deborah Porter: I started thinking about doing a book festival in around 2006. I had been reviewing books, mostly children's books, for a number of publications. I was looking for a project and someone, a friend, said, "You know, Boston's one of the few major cities in the world that doesn't have a public event to celebrate books."

Rath: Which is odd.

Porter: Which is a little odd. I mean, it used to have a festival, but it hadn't for almost 10 years. And I thought, well, I'm going to do that. How hard can it be?

It turned out to not be obvious, and it took a couple of years to figure it out, raise the money, and get all the other literary organizations to buy into it and get the mayor to buy into it — it was Mayor Menino at the time. And then we launched in 2009 not knowing if people would show up. I mean, there's lots of opportunities to see authors in Boston every day of the week. Would people come because there's a bunch of them at one time? It turns out that people did come. In fact, so many people came that we were turning people away in large numbers. We didn't have enough seats, we didn't have enough venues. So it was a success right out of the block.

Rath: Not just a success, but at this point in 2022, a huge success. Thousands and thousands of people from all over come to the festival. Were you expecting it to be this big?

Porter: Not at all. Every year we had to add more venues to accommodate the crowds. In 2019, the last live festival, there were 300 authors in 18 or 19 venues. We've shrunk it a little bit. You know, we have almost 200, as you mentioned, and about 16 venues operating simultaneously. But it's still pretty big.

Rath: And the Boston Book Festival's work is expanded with community-driven initiatives that help people in marginalized neighborhoods like the Shelf Help program. Tell us a bit about that and how it came about and how it's played out.

Porter: Well, we really wanted to think of ways to reach out to the community. And Shelf Help is one of those ways. And we decided that we would let people apply teachers and librarians apply for a gift of new books for their libraries or classrooms. And then we would pick a couple of schools and each year would be two that would receive these books and also a visit by a popular children's author. And that's also grown as people learn about it and want to contribute it.

Rath: Well as we've talked about. It's huge. People should go actually to to the festival webpage to see the wide variety of offerings, which sets me up to ask you maybe the most difficult question, which of the author is what are the events? Are you most excited to see this Saturday?

Porter: You know, that's like asking someone to pick their favorite child.

Rath: Aside from the GBH people who will be there, of course.

Porter: Lots of GBH people.

We've got Bessel van der Kolk coming. I mean, he's like a cultural icon at this point. He wrote "The Body Keeps the Score," an amazing book that was published in [2014] but became a New York Times bestseller just in the last couple of years. It's just a cultural touchstone about healing trauma. So that's really exciting.

Our fiction keynotes are Yiyun Li, who's a really exciting author at the height of her powers; and Gish Jen, who's a well-loved local author.

Moshe Safdie is going to be talking about his life in architecture.

Rath: So much great stuff.

Porter: Yeah. We have Deborah Birx, who may be a bit controversial, but she will tell the behind the scenes story of what it was like working in the White House during the pandemic. I think it's important for people to hear that and talk about how to avoid that kind of catastrophe in the future.

This year's [festival is] a little different because we have more genre fiction than we've ever had. We've got a little bit of mystery and some rom-com and historical romance and sci-fi. We're also hosting the Shirley Jackson Awards for the best work of psychological suspense and the dark fantastic.

Rath: Well timed for Halloween.

Deborah, it's been great talking with you. I'll try to see if I can catch you when I'm when I'm there on Saturday.

Porter: That'd be awesome. Thank you.

Rath: That's Deborah Porter, executive director and founder of the Boston Book Festival, which kicks off this Friday night in Copley Square. This is GBH News All Things Considered.