Two Thousand-Plus Find Their Stories at First Heartland Book Festival

Monday, October 23, 2023
Jermaine Fowler speaks and gestures.
Jermaine Fowler speaks at the opening of the Heartland Book Festival. (Photo by Kenney Ellison)

Find Your Story, we urged. 

More than 2,100 people from across the region did just that at the inaugural Heartland Book Festival, which opened at Kansas City’s historic downtown Folly Theater and then spilled into a bustling Central Library a few blocks away. Presented by the Kansas City Public Library, Missouri Humanities, and the Missouri affiliate of the Library of Congress’ Center for the Book, the gathering on October 6 and 7 offered an array of presentations by local, regional, and nationally renowned authors; workshops; musical performances; a photography exhibition; and other activities and attractions – all free of charge. 

Jermaine Fowler, host of the history podcast The Humanity Archive and author of the bestselling The Humanity Archive: Recovering the Soul of Black History From a Whitewashed American Myth, delivered a warmly received keynote address on the festival’s opening night. Bestselling author Karin Slaughter, whose works have spawned two streaming and television series (Netflix’s Pieces of Her and the ABC police procedural Will Trent), headlined the next day’s lineup.

Videos of both presentations are available on the Library’s YouTube channel:

•    Here is Fowler’s discussion of literature’s ability to reveal our hidden selves and connect us to a shared human story.

•    Here is Slaughter’s presentation on how she became an ultra-successful writer and discussion of her latest book in the Will Trent series, After That Night.

•    Also available for viewing is the book festival presentation on creativity by Columbus, Ohio, illustrator and storyteller Andy J. Pizza, host of the Creative Pep Talk podcast. 

The all-ages festival, following the theme Find Your Story, was a successful and welcome addition to a Kansas City cultural calendar largely lacking such a celebration of the written word. “It would be nice if that void was filled and this festival … helps more and more people recognize Kansas City for the literary presence that it has,” said Glenn North, the director of inclusive learning and creative impact for the Kansas City Museum and the first poet laureate of the city’s Historic 18th & Vine Entertainment District. He was among the festival’s participants.

The Heartland Book Festival is envisioned as a recurring regional event in partnership with Missouri Humanities. While locations beyond 2023 are yet to be determined, the Kansas City Public Library expects to be a continuing collaborator.



Jermaine Fowler  |  Books as Mirrors: Seeing Ourselves in Every Story

Jermaine Fowler is a New York Times Bestselling Author and public historian who founded The Humanity Archive, a media company that uses history to explore the stories of humanity. His work sheds light on the unsettling history and current realities of poverty, racism, and educational inequality in post-industrial cities. Jermaine offers hope by studying traditions of excellence that connect us and push us toward a better world. He teaches us how history can be a powerful tool for transformational change, uncovering our blind spots and features voices and perspectives traditionally erased from the past.


Karin Slaughter  |  After That Night

The works of bestselling author and crime writer Karin Slaughter have spawned two streaming and television series (Netflix’s Pieces of Her, adapted from Slaughter’s novel of the same name, and the ABC police procedural Will Trent.


Andy J. Pizza |  How to Find Your Next Story

Andy J. Pizza, based in Columbus, OH, is an American illustrator who has worked for clients such as The New York Times and LEGO, as well as illustrated picture books like A Pizza With Everything On It.  His podcast, Creative Pep Talk, hosts guests like comedian Abbi Jacobson and poet Morgan Harper Nichols. Andy is a storyteller, often pep talking teams at creative hubs like Warby Parker and Sesame Street.