The Kentucky Book Fair, an event started by former State Journal Editor Carl West and held in Frankfort since its inception 35 years ago, will take place in several areas of the Kentucky Horse Park’s Alltech Arena in Lexington, Kentucky Humanities Project Manager Brooke Raby told The State Journal.
Raby said it is too soon to say whether the event that draws an average of 3,500 readers and 170 local and national authors will find a new permanent home in Lexington, but given the pending demolition of the Frankfort Convention Center, there was no alternative site locally to host the event.
“We did go to great lengths and did our due diligence to have it in Frankfort,” Raby said. “We’re sad for the good citizens of Frankfort, but we hope they’ll make the short drive for a nice day at the Kentucky Book Fair.”
Raby said it’s disappointing for the event to move out of Frankfort and that the event would lose momentum if it is moved back and forth between cities. But Frankfort could be considered in the future if it had a suitable venue after demolition of the civic center.
Given the change of venue, the dates of the book fair have also changed to Nov. 17-18. The fair was historically at the beginning of the month.
The verdict is still out on the fiscal impact to the city, surrounding businesses and restaurants, but another notable consideration is the impact it will have on Frankfort authors.
Author and local historian Russ Hatter works with many authors doing research at the Capital City Museum. He considers the loss of the fair a loss for local writers.
“They (Kentucky Humanities) have to do what they have to do, but it’s a tremendous loss for Frankfort and a tremendous loss for Frankfort authors,” Hatter said. “I would consider it not just a downturn for Frankfort’s economy, the town, but the recognition for Frankfort authors. I don’t know how many will participate.”
The book fair was previously operated by a non-profit independent board of volunteers, but it is now operated by the nonprofit Kentucky Humanities (formerly Kentucky Humanities Council), in partnership with the Kentucky Book Fair board.
Well known Frankfort photographer Gene Burch has sold at least seven books of his photography over the years at the fair.
“That’s a bad deal for us. I really hate that the convention center has to go. It’s going to be a huge economic impact on Frankfort,” Burch said. “From our point of view, if we had a book coming out, it would be devastating blow to us not being in Frankfort. All of these books that we’ve done over the years have done well because we were here in Frankfort and our clientele that like our books could get to us easily. It would be blow. How do you guess how much?”
Local author Ray Peden had successful sales of his two books, “One Tenth of the Law,” and “Prime Cut,” at last year’s book fair. He remains hopeful.
“Nobody likes messing with tradition. The Kentucky Book Fair’s move to Lexington may have some impact on Frankfort’s economy, but I am hopeful, fingers crossed, it will not affect the public’s desire to connect with a couple hundred authors, many from Kentucky,” Peden said. “Maybe we authors will find a new outlet for our ‘great works.’ We’ll see. The proof is in the pudding.”
West founded the Kentucky Book Fair in 1981. He covered the White House and Pentagon in Washington for Scripps Howard News Service, which included coverage of President Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal. He brought the idea of the book fair with him to Frankfort from Washington, where the National Press Club had a book fair.
The Kentucky book fair eventually outgrew the Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives building, Kentucky State University and was moved to the Frankfort Convention Center.