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Clusterfest 2012: Decatur Book Festival 

When asked to name the coolest thing about the Decatur Book Festival, CL staffer Sarah Brooks said it best: "It reminds people that there is literary life beyond Kindle." Word. Now add to that the second coolest thing about this book lovers' event: It's held in what Southern Living named this year as one of the top 10 foodie towns in the South. Dog-ear that, hungry readers.

Now in its seventh year, the Decatur Book Festival has hosted some of the most renowned authors and writers of our time, from former Poet Laureate Billy Collins to novelist Jonathan Franzen to political columnist Arianna Huffington. It's also become a significant part of the national literary landscape, now ranked as the largest independent book festival in the country. Amazingly, all events spread out at the 16 venues are free.

Packed tight with author readings, workshops, and book-centric activities, representing nearly three-dozen genres, DBF happenings take place at such diverse venues as Decatur Library, Decatur Presbyterian Church, Eddie's Attic, the Old Courthouse, and Cook's Warehouse. The friendly neighborhood settings add a touch of familiarity and warmth to the whole works, creating a looser vibe and more accessibility to your favorite authors than you're likely to find at other fancy-pants Big City literary do's. A couple of the must-do items for this year's festival include Friday afternoon's Writers Conference Workshops at Agnes Scott College, followed by the evening's keynote speech at Emory, delivered by hometown author and recently named U.S. Poet Laureate for 2012-2013, Natasha Trethewey.

Some of the other authors/items flagged on our itinerary so far: debut novelist Baratunde Thurston, author of How to be Black; the Criminal Mikes program, featuring "a killer conversation" between Michael Connelly and Michael Koryta; Chuck Thompson, author of Better Off Without 'Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession; John T. Edge, author of The Truck Food Cookbook; and the Carapace storytellers' themed tribute to the 100th anniversary of the marriage of Virginia Stephen and Leonard Woolf [note to self: get in line at Eddie's Attic early for this one]. Aug. 31-Sept. 2. Most venues are around the square in downtown Decatur. Friday evening's keynote speech (a ticketed event) is at Emory. www.decaturbookfestival.com.

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