The Wisconsin Book Festival is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year! To mark the occasion, the festival gave away free books at two May events, and it will distribute free books on Wednesday, June 15, when world-renowned author James Patterson will visit Madison to speak about his new autobiography, James Patterson by James Patterson: The Stories of My Life.

The festival is currently accepting proposals for its fall celebration (October 13–16), which will include a full lineup of in-person events at Central Library. The schedule will be released in early September.

The festival has come a long way since the Wisconsin Humanities Council started the event in 2001. In 2013, Madison Public Library — in partnership with Madison Public Library Foundation — assumed the festival’s ownership. Well-known authors with local ties, such as David Maraniss, immediately signed on to participate, and have returned time and again as new books are written. The festival eventually transitioned into a year-round event to provide more consistent opportunities for connection with authors, publishers, media and book lovers. It also gave the festival a flagship location for events when Central Library was rebuilt in 2013, and it boosted its efforts to feature a diverse lineup of participants that includes local and award-winning authors, authors of color, LGBTQ authors and a wide range of literary genres.

“We’re incredibly proud to be our region’s source for free programs that give our community access to a wide range of authors and literary masters, from first-time local writers to acclaimed, award-winning authors and poets,” said Wisconsin Book Festival Director Conor Moran, who has provided festival leadership since 2013. “We love the role we play in being the place for voices — especially the underrepresented — to express their ideas and shape community conversations that deepen our knowledge and understanding, and intensify the desire to read and learn.”

The festival has built unique partnerships with both local and national organizations. A regular joint event with UW-Madison’s Program in Creative Writing showcases rising regional talent among students and fellows, facilitating important literary conversations. C-SPAN’s Book TV airs live broadcasts of festival programs during the fall festival celebration weekend to make them accessible to viewers nationwide. In 2021, the festival partnered with the library and UW-Madison’s All of Us research program (affiliated with National Institutes of Health) to host a series of events on health care-related topics. The festival has also enjoyed a strong, longtime partnership with A Room of One’s Own bookstore, offering event attendees the chance to purchase books through the store at in-person and virtual events, and it regularly encourages festival-goers to support local, independent bookstores.

When the pandemic began, the festival quickly adapted its programs to an all-virtual format and became a national leader in the book festival world, owning the digital space. It continues to offer some virtual programs via Crowdcast to meet the continued demand of many who found virtual programs to be more convenient for them.

Madison Public Library Foundation privately raises funds for festival costs; the library provides event space and staffing support. Over the years, the foundation has secured multiple grants from high-profile arts organizations like the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as sponsorships from local individuals, foundations and businesses. Visit the festival website for a current schedule of events.  

Festival sponsors this year include:

Marvin J. Levy

Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation

Cheryl Rosen Weston Estate

American Girl’s Fund for Children
The Bass Family
Friends of UW-Madison Libraries
Great Dane Pub & Brewing Co.
MG&E Foundation
Stafford Rosenbaum LLP
University Research Park

Madison 365
The Capital Times and Wisconsin State Journal
Wisconson Public Radio