COLUMBIA, MO – For most people, it is very rare to have award-winning authors and poets reading and discussing their work in your very own private home. But, that’s just what will happen for the 2021 Unbound Book Festival.

These authors won’t physically be in your home (social distancing is still a thing!), but as part of Unbound’s virtual programming for the 2021 festival, which runs from January 19 through April 23, anyone will be able to “Zoom in” to listen and participate in engaging events wherever they may be. Multiple Unbound events will take place each month on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7 p.m. CST and are free to attend.

Unbound 2021 begins with a panel titled “Alone Together” featuring acclaimed authors and poets Sadia Hassan, Caroline Leavitt, Jennifer Rosner, Ruben Quesada and moderated by editor/author Jennifer Haupt. All of the participants in this panel contributed to the recently released anthology “Alone Together: Love, Grief, and Comfort in the time of COVID-19” and they will read their work and discuss living, working and writing during a global pandemic.

In a normal year, for one weekend in April, more than 60 highly-celebrated, best-selling writers and poets would meet on the historic campus of Stephens College in downtown Columbia for a literary festival that celebrates the written word in its many forms. However, 2020 was anything but a normal year and after the cancellation of the Unbound Book Festival as a result of COVID-19, organizers felt “the show must go on” and instead introduced and presented “Housebound Unbound,” a limited run of author conversations and panels originally scheduled for the 2020 festival that were hosted and moderated on Zoom. According to festival founder Alex George, “Housebound Unbound” was a great success and planted the seeds on how they could navigate the uncertainties of planning the 2021 Unbound Book Festival.

“Not only were the ‘Housebound’ events great fun, and just as relaxed and as stimulating as the usual in-person Unbound events, they were also very well attended and enthusiastically received,” George says.

Given that success, George is excited about the all-virtual 2021 Unbound Book Festival.

“We’re looking forward to welcoming many more visitors from across the country, and perhaps beyond,” says George. “One of the beauties of a virtual festival is that you can attend no matter where you may be in the world. So our geographical scope is, we hope, about to explode. Additionally, spreading the festival out over three full months rather than a single weekend means that nobody will have to make difficult decisions about what events to attend. There will be no conflicts at all. Our events are regularly scheduled on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, and we hope that folks will make it a regular part of their week to tune in to some Unbound programming.”

All the traditional hallmarks of the Unbound Book Festival will still be present, if not in-person: there is a stacked slate of over 60 accomplished writers and over 22 Unbound events. The events include numerous author readings, panel discussions on varying topics and themes, Q & As with the writers as well as an “Authors in the Schools” program and other special events for younger audiences.

George says that he and his fellow organizers are thrilled about this year’s program. “We are resurrecting certain conversations that had been planned for 2020 – a fascinating discussion about Poetry and Prayer, for example, and other events about Math Writing and Representation in the Publishing Industry,” George says. A new addition to the programming is a focus on Missouri, given that 2021 is the state’s bicentennial. “We have panels featuring Missouri poets – including the present Missouri Poet Laureate, Karen Craigo – and several Missouri novelists. We’re also proud to present two of the most incisive and important political writers who write about Missouri, Sarah Kendzior (‘Hiding in Plain Sight’) and Walter Johnson (‘The Broken Heart of America).”

The festival concludes on Thursday, April 23 with the keynote event that will feature readings and conversations between the beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning poets Tracy K. Smith and Jericho Brown.

As noted previously, those interested in “attending” Unbound Book Festival events will have multiple opportunities to do so at 7 p.m. CST on Tuesdays and Thursdays each month and each event is free to attend. For a list of scheduled events, detailed descriptions of each event, biographies of the participating authors and poets, and a “How to Festival” guide with instructions on how to attend, can be found at

An integral part of Unbound’s core mission is to encourage a love of reading and writing in all ages, but especially the young. To that end, the “Authors in the Schools” program brings some of the foremost writers of children’s literature into participating classrooms. The keynote speaker for “Authors in the Schools” this year will be bestselling author of “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter,” Erika Sanchez.

There are silver linings for the Authors in the Schools program in 2021. Traditionally, these events would only take place within certain Columbia public schools, limiting their scope and reach but this year children from around Missouri will be able to participate.

“We’re very proud of our Authors in the Schools program and we’re ecstatic that classrooms across the state will be able to tune in and watch our authors,” George says.

Those interested in receiving updates on the 2021 Unbound Book Festival are encouraged to sign up for the Unbound email list found at the bottom of the page at and/or follow the fest’s Facebook page at

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