An extrovert’s guide to the Unbound Book Festival.

Photos courtesy of the Unbound Book Festival.

Every year I have a blast volunteering at the True/False Film Festival. It’s an extrovert extravaganza where I can soak up all the awesome people and the out-of-towner vibes. I love it so much that I want everyone to enjoy it like I do, and I get genuinely disappointed when I learn someone doesn’t like the festival.

But, in a sense, I get it. Not everyone (maybe no one) is as big an extrovert as I am. And yes, parking downtown can be a hassle. And hey, maybe you just don’t like documentaries. Who am I to judge, right? It takes all kinds of people to make this world we live in.

However, as a hometowner, I do want to find a piece of Columbia I recommend to my more introverted friends. So this year, I decided to stop playing favorites and check out more of the other beloved events in our town, starting with the Unbound Book Festival, which I volunteered for.

I was curious to see how the events compared to T/F. What kind of people does Unbound attract? Would I enjoy hearing from authors I wasn’t familiar with in the same way I found unknown documentaries intriguing? Would it have the same extravaganza vibes?

I started my adventure by listening to British author Zadie Smith have a conversation with Camille Dungy. I read one of Smith’s books 10 years ago and hadn’t particularly liked it (a fact I felt embarrassed about in a theater packed with her fans). Smith’s outfit grabbed my attention, but it was her brain that kept me interested. She was captivating and super relatable (except maybe for her extraordinary ability to quote T.S. Elliot so casually). In a moment that inspired me more than I’d like to admit, Dungy joked about Smith using a flip phone backstage and Smith described how she feels like refraining from smart phones gives her superpowers because she isn’t subjected to screen “zombification.”

I’m not going to attempt to recap the conversation — she talked about everything from architectural city planning leading to segregation in the U.S. to how she feels like a voyeur to the ways growing up in England influenced her writing style. The point is this: She was utterly fascinating. It was refreshing to hear from someone outside of our little Mid-Missouri community. My unfamiliarity with her work did not detract from the experience.

And so, I was hooked. Unbound was giving me one of the things I loved about T/F: an outside perspective.

The next day was the big day — panels, signings, poetry readings. When I showed up early for my volunteer shift, my shift leader suggested that I go read a book. How lovely! I can’t remember the last time I was encouraged to spend free time with a novel. But I was bookless, and I wasn’t prepared to spite Zadie and rezombifiy myself by reading on my phone just yet. So I walked over to the Kimball Ballroom, where COMO Living had a table set up. It was a gorgeous, sunny spring day. As a child of MU grad students and an MU grad myself, Stephens’ campus had escaped my attention thus far. No longer. The beautiful weather and thoughtful vibe of the festival was opening up my mind. I felt like a college student again. I was inspired to write, to linger, to buy a book, to sit in the sun.

When I came back to volunteer, I was finally able to put my finger on what felt different about this festival. It was quiet. Contemplative. Not one, but TWO people actually whispered questions to me. It seemed to me like Unbound might be the introvert’s counterpart to T/F. With fewer events and a smaller crowd, it was less intimidating while still being a community-building celebration of intellect.

And that’s not to knock T/F, of course. But I’m happy to have found another Columbia event that I can rave about, one that I might be able to recommend to my friends who don’t love the frenetic energy of T/F. Ultimately, I’d like to leave you with this endorsement: Columbia has so much to offer. Don’t hesitate to check it all out.

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