This year’s AJC Decatur Book Festival will be the last one with founding executive director Daren Wang at the helm.
Wang, whose debut novel, “The Hidden Light of Northern Fires,” launches at this year’s festival, has announced his resignation, effective at the end of year.
“With the book coming out at this point, it feels like a natural break for me,” said Wang, 51. “As much as I love the festival and what we’ve accomplished, I’ve become the guy who says, ‘That’s not the way we do things,’ as opposed to the guy who says, ‘Hey, what a great idea Let’s do that.’ And I think that’s not what the festival needs in leadership.”
Now in its 12th year, the book festival hosts hundreds of national, international and regional authors in readings and panels that attract up to 80,000 people over its three days. Literary luminaries such as Pat Conroy, Natasha Trethewey, Jonathan Franzen, Roxane Gay, Billy Collins and Joyce Carol Oates have made appearances.
This year’s festival, on Labor Day weekend, will feature 600 authors on 18 stages.
A native of Buffalo, N.Y., Wang came to Atlanta in 1989 after graduating from Cornell University. He eventually began working in public radio, producing shows about books and authors. His first series was “Porches: The South and Her Writers,” for which he spent two years traveling the South, interviewing authors such as James Dickey, Reynolds Price and Charles Frazier.
Inspired by his experience attending the 2005 South Carolina Book Festival, Wang and co-founder Thomas Bell got a group of like-minded folks together to launch the Decatur festival in 2006, with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution as title sponsor.
Festival board president James Diedrick, a literature professor at Agnes Scott College, said he is not entirely surprised by Wang’s departure.
“I knew that Daren had been working on a novel,” he said, calling the book a “stunning debut” and “emotionally gripping.”
“Administrative tenures have a kind of term limit,” he said. “There’s a time when the administrative duties become more of a burden than a pleasure, and that may have played a part in his decision to step down.”
Published by St. Martin’s Press, Wang’s fictional account of historical events that occurred in Town Line, N.Y., during the Civil War goes on sale Aug. 29.
Festival director Julie Wilson said she’s excited for Wang and hopes to continue fostering what he helped establish.
“He has built this amazing event that this city loves and that has brought attention to the literary community in Atlanta, and we want to continue to build on that,” she said.
Prompted to reflect on his legacy, Wang deflected attention to others.
“The festival was a really great moment that I was present for,” he said. “A lot of people have worked on it. I think if I did anything in this process, I helped a lot of creative people find a way to express that.”
A transition team made up of book festival board members and staff members is already in place and is expected to announce an interim director after this year’s festival.
“The AJC Decatur Book Festival is an institution that signals Decatur’s importance as a cultural center,” said Diedrick. “I would love to see the festival remain an institution that is in Decatur but also has a national visibility and is noticed outside of Atlanta and outside of Georgia. I would like us to continue to make it a regional festival that has that kind of reach.”
As for Wang’s future, “I plan to continue to write, and I’m eager to see what opportunities there are after I finish this book tour, which is extensive,” he said. “I think of this as opening some windows and broadening some horizons.”