Fall for the Book’s biggest event ever draws more than 5,000 virtual attendees


Fall for the Book shattered attendance records at their recent virtual event with New York Times bestselling author Kristin Hannah. On April 22 and throughout the following week, more than 5,000 people from around the globe tuned in live and on-demand to watch the hour-long event, sponsored by the Fairfax County Public Library.

Had the event been in-person, the audience for Hannah would have filled more than two full Concert Halls.

“The festival has seen big crowds before, but this event—and the momentum it created online—was extraordinary, with nearly 2,000 people coming from Fairfax County and the DMV area alone,” said Kara Oakleaf, director of Fall for the Book.

Based at George Mason University, Fall for the Book is an independent nonprofit literary arts organization that promotes reading by sponsoring a variety of year-round events and activities, the flagship of which is the Fall for the Book festival held each October.

At the April event, “The Four Winds” author sat down with Tayla Burney, creator and curator of the WAMU in Your Bookstore series, to talk about the writing process, the Dust Bowl, and Hannah’s long and successful career.

Comments flooded the chat in Crowdcast and on YouTube. Viewers shared links to famous Dust Bowl photographer Dorothea Lange, which sparked a passionate discussion of her work and how it informed their own reading of Hannah’s novel, enriching the evening’s experience.

This event crowned a full year of virtual programming for the festival, which saw more than 10,000 visitors in the fall attending events featuring best-selling authors like Madeline Miller of “Song of Achilles” fame, Rainbow Rowell, and Tommy Orange.

Mason alumna Julija Pivo stepped up during the transition to online because of the pandemic and learned a swath of new technology to produce each of the festival’s 50 events.

“So many challenges came with moving the festival online, which pushed my understanding of how technology can build community,” said Pivo, who graduated with a BFA in creative writing in 2020. “I would never have imagined how far the reach of an online platform could be. Being able to create virtual events that brought joy to people all over the world has been deeply rewarding.”

Pivo worked closely with Mason alumni and festival staffers Oakleaf, Suzy Rigdon and Kate Lewis, and two groups of Mason undergraduate and graduate students, who supported the events.

Over the last 22 years, Fall for the Book has always sought to bring community and campus together through its programming, and now that community has spread even farther.

But there’s no rest for the bookish. The staff is already hard at work planning another virtual festival for October 2021. To find out more about upcoming events, visit fallforthebook.org.