Executive Director Cherilyn Parsons Steps Down from the Bay Area Book Festival 

April 6, 2023

Effective June 2, 2023, Cherilyn Parsons, who founded the Bay Area Book Festival in 2015 after two years of planning, is leaving her role as Executive Director, though she will remain involved with the Festival as a trusted advisor.

Under Parsons’s leadership, the Festival has become one of the leading book festivals in the nation and world. Her vision was to create a large literary celebration taking place over a single weekend, with each Festival bringing together hundreds of notable and diverse authors and thousands of readers of all ages for literary events across multiple stages and in a vibrant Outdoor Fair. During her tenure, which has been supported by experienced and gifted staff, the Festival has presented approximately 800 distinct events and more than 1,600 unique authors/speakers, including many winners of top prizes (such as the Nobel, Booker, National Book Award, Pulitzer, etc.) as well as newly published authors who have found their first major platforms at the event. Nearly 150 authors have traveled to the Festival from 30 countries outside the United States. Parsons has raised the majority of the funds to support all these activities as well as year-round programs throughout the Bay Area, including Women Lit and the virtual #UNBOUND series, which took the Festival through the pandemic. Known for its emphasis on social justice, the Festival has presented slates that have been exceptionally diverse across multiple measures.

Brooke Warner, Chair of the Festival’s Board of Directors, said, “With the Bay Area Book Festival, Cherilyn created something magical where nothing existed. The Festival has been such a gift to the larger Bay Area community, and I know that tens of thousands of residents join me in appreciation and in anticipation for what’s next. The Board is committed to guiding this transition and to working with the stellar staff to build on Cherilyn’s remarkable legacy.”

Norah Piehl, the Festival’s Director of Literary Programs for the past two years, and former Executive Director of the Boston Book Festival, will step up as Interim Executive Director.

Parsons reports, “I couldn’t  be happier that Norah will take the reins, nor more confident about the Festival’s future under her leadership, supported by our phenomenal staff. Norah is a creative visionary, a literary powerhouse, and one of the most competent professionals I’ve ever met, anywhere. I can’t wait to see where she and the staff take the Festival next, not only building on our first nine years but bringing fresh initiatives, some of which already have succeeded wildly, including our pre-Festival ‘Prologue’ series of events and a radical expansion of our youth programs to foster future generations of readers. Audiences can also see her hand guiding the terrific programs of the recent two Festivals. She has won the confidence and devotion of our board, donors, broad literary community, and staff.”

Norah Piehl states, “Even before I relocated to the Bay Area to work with Cherilyn, I knew her as a tireless advocate for authors and literary culture—her reputation, and the reputation of the Bay Area Book Festival, spans the country and the globe. Cherilyn has created a thriving, world-class literary festival that’s also deeply grounded in the Bay Area, and it’s my honor to work with our stellar team to build on this foundation and guide the Festival into its second decade.”

After stepping down from her role, Parsons plans to pursue her own writing, to rest and rejuvenate after nearly eleven years of building the Festival, and to support Norah and the team. She offered the following remarks, reflecting on what’s to come: “Next year—the 2024 Festival—will be our Tenth Anniversary! The Festival’s truly phenomenal staff have moved mountains in making our large events happen. And we have so many people to thank, including the City of Berkeley, generous donors, thousands of volunteers, and many, many partners. I especially want to call out our earliest donors, staff (or rather, volunteers, since no one was paid back then), partners (such as the San Francisco Chronicle and KQED), and members of the local literary community who took a chance in throwing their support to an outsider, me, with an outsize vision but not much else. I’m so grateful to all of you, and I couldn’t be more proud of what we’ve achieved together. I’ll be cheering from the sidelines as the Festival moves into its exciting future.”

This summer, Parsons will be moving to France for a few months. She can be reached at [email protected]