Printers Row Lit Fest 2021: Colson Whitehead, Dawn Turner Headline This Year’s Can’t-Miss Book Festival

Calling all book lovers — it’s time for one of September’s best things to do in Chicago, and one of our favorite events all year. Printers Row Lit Fest is a celebration of literature, top authors and local book sellers, and this year’s festival will include a five-block outdoor book market, talks with artists and authors, and more.

Founded in 1985 by the Near South Planning Board, a not-for-profit community-based organization serving businesses, institutions and property owners of the Near South Side of Chicago, Printers Row Lit Fest is the the largest free outdoor literary festival in the midwest. This year’s event includes programming support from Wintrust and the American Writers Museum, with significant support from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

After the 2020 event was canceled due to Covid-19, this year’s schedule is robust, with special programs including a BookTok panel that will explore the growing influence of content creators on TikTok, events commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire, and programming showcasing diverse Chicago stories.

Here’s everything you need to know about the 36th annual Printers Row Lit Fest.

Please check Printers Row Lit Fest’s website for the latest Covid-19 restrictions, safety measures and schedule updates.

The Details

Dates: Saturday, Sept. 11 and Sunday, Sept. 12 from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Location: Printers Row Neighborhood along Dearborn Street from Polk Street north to Ida B. Wells Drive (view a map of the event). Headline programs are held at the American Writers Museum & Joseph and Bessie Feinberg Foundation Tent.

Cost: The book market and all festival programs are free and open to the public, and special programming is on a first-come basis. Grab your tickets on Printer’s Row Lit Fest’s website.

Health & Safety Protocols: Plans will follow all city health guidelines, with all necessary safety precautions in place. Per their Press Release, “All attendees are encouraged to wear masks when not actively eating or drinking. For programs hosted inside tents and indoor venues, masks will be required and guests over the age of 12 are required to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test result within the last 48 hours, along with a valid photo ID. Unmasked children will not be allowed in program tents or indoor venues. Certain events require advanced registration and all guests must show proof of vaccination with a valid photo ID.”

Editors Note: Check out our guide to the best restaurants near Printers Row.

The Book Market

A photo from 2017’s Printers Row Lit Fest

Stretching over five blocks along Dearborn Street in the famous literary neighborhood of Printers Row, the beloved book market offers old, new, rare, and hard-to-find treasures. The market is rain or shine, and will include a diverse collection of booksellers.


With special events featuring authors, artists and performers, there is something for everyone this year. All programs are free, and on a first-come basis.

Headliners this year include award-winning journalist, former Chicago Tribune columnist and novelist Dawn Turner, who will open the festival in a conversation about her new memoir Three Girls from Bronzeville: A Uniquely American Memoir of Race, Fate, and Sisterhood, on Sept. 11 at 10 a.m.

Editors Note: Check out our Q&A with Dawn Turner to learn more about the inspiration behind her new memoir.

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and National Book Award winner Colson Whitehead, author of The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys, will close out the festival and discuss his new book Harlem Shuffle in a conversation with Dr. Ivy Wilson, Associate Professor of English at Northwestern University.

Two-Time Pulitzer Prize Winner Colson Whitehead | Courtesy of Printers Row Lit Fest

Other nationally acclaimed authors on the schedule include Pulitzer Prize winner Marcia Chatelain (Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America) and National Book Critics Circle Award winner Amy Stanley (Stranger in the Shogun’s City: A Japanese Woman and Her World).

Falling on the anniversary of 9/11, there will also be a commemorative event with John Bodnar (Divided by Terror: American Patriotism after 9/11) in conversation with University of Illinois Chicago professor Nadine Naber (Arab America: Gender, Cultural Politics, and Activism). The weekend also remembers the 130th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire with Northwestern University professor Carl Smith (Chicago’s Great Fire: The Destruction and Resurrection of an Iconic American City).

Diverse Chicago stories take center stage at this year’s festival, with events featuring Michelle Duster, the great-granddaughter of crusading journalist Ida B. Wells who honors her life in a celebratory biography (Ida B. the Queen: The Extraordinary Life and Legacy of Ida B. Wells) and Elly Fishman, with a book based on her immersive reporting at Chicago’s Sullivan High School, where half of the student population are refugees or new immigrants (Refugee High: Coming of Age In America).

Below is the full list of events, courtesy of Printers Row Lit Fest:

American Writers Museum & Joseph and Bessie Feinberg Foundation Tent programming

Saturday, September 11

10 a.m. – Opening Ceremony

Chicago’s First Lady Amy Eshleman, Chicago Public Library Commissioner Chris Brown, 4th Ward Alderman Sophia King, Wintrust Bank Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Matt Doubleday, American Writers Museum President Carey Cranston, Joseph and Bessie Feinberg Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer Janice Feinberg and Near South Planning Board President Bonnie Sanchez-Carlson

10:15 a.m.-11:30 a.m.
Three Girls from Bronzeville: A Uniquely American Memoir of Race, Fate, and Sisterhood by Dawn Turner (In conversation with Mary Schmich)

12 p.m.-1 p.m.
Poison for Breakfast by Lemony Snicket

1:30 p.m.-2:30 p.m.
The Last Trial by Scott Turow (In conversation with Steve Edwards)

3 p.m.-4 p.m.
White Feminism: From the Suffragettes to Influencers and Who They Leave Behind by Koa Beck (In conversation with Natalie Moore)

4:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m. – Guild Complex and National Book Critics Circle present Exhibit B
Sky GoodmanIgnatius Valentine AloysiusMojdeh StoakleyNick Ward and Ruben Quesada (moderated by J. Howard Rosier)

Sunday, September 12

10 a.m.-11 a.m.
The Dragons, the Giant, the Women: A Memoir by Wayétu Moore (In conversation with Donna Seaman)

1 p.m.-2 p.m.
His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, A Life by Jonathan Alter

2:30 p.m.-3:30 p.m.
Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves by Glory Edim (In conversation with Raven Stubbs)

4 p.m.-5:30 p.m.
Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead (In conversation with Dr. Ivy Wilson) presented by the American Writers Museum; Advance registration required

731 Plymouth Court Stage (C-SPAN Stage) programming

Saturday, September 11

10 a.m.
By Water Beneath the Walls: The Rise of the Navy Seals by Benjamin H. Milligan

11 a.m. 
The King of Confidence: A Tale of Utopian Dreamers, Frontier Schemers, True Believers, False Prophets, and the Murder of An American Monarch by Miles Harvey (In conversation with Ann Dwyer)

12 p.m. 
Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America by Marcia Chatelain, 2021 Pulitzer Prize winner in History (In conversation with Elizabeth Taylor)

1 p.m. 
Stranger in the Shogun’s City: A Japanese Woman and Her World by Amy Stanley, National Book Critics Circle Award winner & PEN Award winner (In conversation with Deborah Cohen)

2 p.m.
Supreme Inequality: The Supreme Court’s Fifty-Year Battle for a More Unjust America by Adam Cohen (In conversation with Erin Delaney)

3 p.m.
Justice Deferred: Race and the Supreme Court by Orville Vernon Burton and Armand Derfner

4 p.m.
Refugee High: Coming of Age in America by Elly Fishman (In conversation with Meha Ahmad)

5 p.m.
White Negroes: When Cornrows Were In Vogue…And Other Thoughts on Cultural Appropriation by Lauren Michele Jackson (In conversation with Natalie Moore)

Sunday, September 12

10 a.m.
The Hispanic Republican: The Shaping of an American Political Identity, from Nixon to Trump by Geraldo Cadava (In conversation with Michael Puente)

11 a.m. 
Halfway Home: Race, Punishment, and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration by Reuben Jonathan Miller (In conversation with Alex Kotlowitz)

12 p.m
Until Justice Be Done: America’s First Civil Rights Movement from the Revolution to Reconstruction by Kate Masur
At the Threshold of Liberty: Women, Slavery, and Shifting Identities in Washington D.C. by Tamika Y. Nunley

1 p.m.
Nobody’s Normal: How Culture Created the Stigma of Mental Illness by Roy Richard Grinker
(Mis)Diagnosed: How Bias Distorts Our Perception of Mental Health by Jonathan Foiles
In conversation with Araceli Gomez-Aldana

3 p.m. 
Reaganland: America’s Right Turn 1976-1980 by Rick Perlstein, TIME Magazine’s “100 Must-Read Books of 2020”

4 p.m.
Chicago’s Great Fire: The Destruction and Resurrection of an Iconic American City by Carl Smith (In conversation with Rick Kogan)

Center Stage programming sponsored by 4th Ward Alderman Sophia King

Saturday, September 11

10 a.m.
Baby Loves! Board Book Series by Ruth Spiro

10:20 a.m.
Just So Willow by Sara Shacter

10:40 a.m.
Time to Recharge, Harper! by Kelly Leigh Miller

11 a.m.
Egg Marks the Spot: A Skunk and Badger Story by Amy Timberlake

11:20 a.m.
I Feel…Picture Book Series by DJ Corchin

11:40 a.m.
Dragons Are the Worst! by Alex Willan

12 p.m.
Dear Teacher: A Celebration of People Who Inspire Us by Paris Rosenthal

12:20 p.m.
Simon B. Rhymin’ by Dwayne Reed

1 p.m. – The Future of Afrofuturism
Master of Poisons by Andrea Hairston
Remembrance by Rita Woods

2 p.m. – Life, Death and the Art of the Obituary
Longtime Chicago Sun-Times obituary writer Maureen O’Donnell in conversation with Rick Kogan

3 p.m. – Fiction Wit and Wonder
The Seventh Mansion by Maryse Meijer
The Upstairs House by Julia Fine
All’s Well by Mona Awad
Machines of Another Era by Bess Winter
Moderated by Rebecca Makkai

4 p.m. – Thrilling Fiction
Bad Moon Rising by John Galligan
Godspeed by Nickolas Butler
The Lucky One and Death at Greenway by Lori Rader-Day
Whisper Down the Lane by Clay McLeod Chapman
Moderated by Keir Graff

5 p.m. – Parent Nation
Dr. Dana Suskind in conversation with Heidi Stevens

Sunday, September 12

10 a.m. – Power: Exile, Exclusion and Resistance
The Deportation Machine: America’s Long History of Expelling Immigrants by Adam Goodman
Between Everything and Nothing: The Journey of Seidu Mohammed and Razak Iyal and the Quest for Asylum by Joe Meno

11 a.m.
What Lives in the Woods by Lindsay Currie

11:20 a.m.
Dancing at the Pity Party by Tyler Feder

11:40 a.m.
A Total Waste of Space-Time! by Jeffrey Brown

12 p.m.
Taught By Women: Poems as Resistance Language: New and Selected by Haki Madhubuti (In Conversation with Dr. Kelly Norman Ellis)

1 p.m. – Fiction: Murder, Mayhem and Bad Manners
The Social Graces by Renée Rosen
The Sign of the Gallows by Susanna Calkins
Murder at Wedgefield Manor by Erica Ruth Neubauer
The Operator by Gretchen Berg
Moderated by Lauren Margolin (The Good Book Fairy)

2 p.m.
An Especially Good View by Peter L.W. Osnos (In conversation with Jim Warren)

3 p.m. – Playboy Bunny Hop
Shoulder Season by Christina Clancy (In conversation with Christine Sneed and Candace Jordan)

4 p.m. – Artists as Activists and Agitators
Playwright Zayd Dohrn
Golem Girl by Riva Lehrer
High-Risers: Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing by Ben Austen

5 p.m. – 40th anniversary of the beginning of the AIDS epidemic
Co-founder of Windy City Times and co-publisher of Chicago Reader Tracy Baim, in conversation with Heidi StevensRae Lewis-Thornton and Victoria Noe (Fag Hags, Divas and MomsThe Legacy of Straight Women in the AIDS Community)

Grace Place programming

Saturday, September 11

10 a.m. – When the Light of the World Was Subdued
Co-Sponsored by the Indigenous Nations Poets (In-Na-Po)
Elise PaschenMargaret Ann Noodin and Mark Turcotte
Moderated by Kimberly Blaeser

11 a.m.
Pilgrim Bell: Poems by Kaveh Akbar
In conversation with Jessica Hopper (The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic)

12 p.m. – Fiction: Dark Secrets
The Beauty of Your Face by Sahar Mustafah
How I Learned to Hate in Ohio by David Stuart MacLean
Northernmost by Peter Geye
Last One Out Shut Off the Lights by Stephanie Soileau

1 p.m. – She Persisted
Banshee by Rachel DeWoskin
The Talented Miss Farwell by Emily Gray Tedrowe
Blow Your House Down: A Story of Family, Feminism, and Treason by Gina Frangello
Once I Was Cool by Megan Stielstra
Moderated by Rebecca Morgan Frank

2 p.m. – Fiction: Transcending Genre
My Heart Is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones
The Living Dead by Daniel Kraus
The Shimmering State by Meredith Westgate
Dare to Know by James Kennedy
Moderated by Dan Chaon

3 p.m. – Fiction: Imagining the Past
Clark and Division by Naomi Hirahara
The Taste of Sugar by Marisel Vera
Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey by Kathleen Rooney

Program Tent programming

Saturday, September 11

10 a.m. – A poetry reading presented by the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, Surviving the Mic, and The Voices and Faces Project
Anne Ream and Aimee Noffsinger

11 a.m. – BookTok panel
Ayman Chaudhary, Campbell StensonAddie LaBelleSimone Siew and Selene Velez
Moderated by Mai-Linh Weller

12 p.m.
Zero O’Clock by C.J. Farley

1 p.m. – Poetry Panel
Carrie Olivia Adams, Aviya Kushner and Rebecca Morgan Frank

2 p.m. – Writers Who Teach Writing
Christine SneedJuan Martinez, Faisal Mohyuddin, Simone Muench and Michele Weldon
Moderated by Billy Lombardo

3 p.m.
Chicago Tribune editorial page editor and theater critic Chris Jones in conversation with Rick Bayless

4 p.m. – The Art of the Essay
Austen Years: A Memoir in Five Novels by Rachel Cohen
Having and Being Had by Eula Biss
In Conversation with Lina Ferreira Cabeza-Vanegas

5 p.m. – Beyond Compromise
I Told You So! Donald Trump: The Awful Years by Stump Connolly
Rex Huppke
Mark Caro
On Compromise by Rachel Greenwald-Smith

Sunday, September 12

10 a.m. – Our Stories are Our Power: An interactive mini writing workshop presented by The Voices and Faces Project
Anne Ream and Aimee Noffsinger 

11 a.m. – Crossing Borders: Reading, Researching, and Writing Migration Novels
Mr. and Mrs. Doctor by Julie Iromuanya
Dragonfish by Vu Tran
Moderated by Rachel DeWoskin

12 p.m. – Society of Midland Authors features Award Winners
Golem Girl by Riva Lehrer
The King of Confidence: A Tale of Utopian Dreamers, Frontier Schemers, True Believers, False Prophets, and the Murder of An American Monarch by Miles Harvey
Lift as You Climb: The Story of Ella Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell
Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey by Kathleen Rooney
This Is Ohio: The Overdose Crisis and the Front Lines of a New America by Jack Shuler
Moderated by Greg Borzo

1 p.m.
Ida B. the Queen: The Extraordinary Life and Legacy of Ida B. Wells by Michelle Duster (In conversation with Bernard Turner)

2 p.m. – Family Fiction
Agatha of Little Neon by Claire Luchette
How to Walk on Water by Rachel Swearingen
The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson
Little Pieces of Me by Alison Hammer

3 p.m. – The Power of Compassion
The Way She Feels: My Life on the Borderline in Pictures and Pieces by Courtney Cook
Dancing at the Pity Party by Tyler Feder
Group: How One Therapist and a Circle of Strangers Saved My Life by Christie Tate
Moderated by Sandra Colbert

4 p.m. – Chicago Writers Association presents Crime Fiction
A Bend in the River by Libby Fisher Hellman 
Pulse by Michael Harvey

Get Involved

Printers Row Lit Fest would not be possible without the help of generous sponsors and volunteers. If you are looking to get involved, the festival is looking for volunteers.

Additional sponsors of this year’s event include Alphawood Foundation, American Writers Museum, Joseph and Bessie Feinberg Foundation, Sourcebooks, Better, BritBox, Poetry Foundation, Chicago Public Library, 4th Ward Alderman Sophia King, Grace Place, Hotel Blake, 3L Living and Hilton Chicago.

For more information and the most up to date programming details, visit

Make It Better Media Group is a proud sponsor of the 2021 Printers Row Lit Fest.

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Macaire Douglas

Macaire Douglas lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and two sons. She proudly supports Save Abandoned Babies Foundation, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization that works tirelessly to prevent the illegal abandonment of newborns nationwide. Since its inception in 2000, more than 3,600 newborns have been safely surrendered and adopted into loving homes.