Until last year, there hadn’t been a North Carolina Book Festival since 2014. For decades, the valuable but recalcitrant festival had weathered name changes and long gaps as it was passed around between area universities, with seemingly no one in particular in charge.

But in February 2018, two local literary servants, Chris Tonelli (of Raleigh’s So & So Books) and Jason Jefferies (Quail Ridge Books’ marketing manager), took charge independently, bringing the festival downtown, with a shot of contemporary energy from of-the-moment writers like the poet and critic Hanif Abdurraqib.   

Today, the first wave of the 2020 lineup (February 21-23) was announced, and it brims with current relevance, headlined by the likes of novelist Katya Apekina, a 2019 Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist for The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish; poet Jericho Brown, a 2019 National Book Award finalist; and Raleigh’s own YA star Kwame Mbalia, the New York Times bestselling author of Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky.

The North Carolina Book Festival and Quail Ridge Books also announced their joint lecture series, which begins February 4 with Raleigh’s Therese Anne Fowler in conversation with her husband, the novelist John Kessel, about her new novel, A Good Neighborhood. The series continues with National Book Award Winner James McBride and 2019 MacArthur “Genius” fellow Valeria Luiselli, author of Lost Children Archive.

Subscriptions to the lecture series are on sale now ($85); the festival itself is free.