Hawai‘i Book & Music Festival is Changing and Moving to UH Mānoa This Year

Don’t book the Hawai‘i Book & Music Festival just yet—it’s changing months, moving locations and shaking up its lineup with new events, which may include TED-type Talks, concerts and a student Fringe festival.
Illustration: Christine Labrador


For 14 years one of the rites of spring has been the Hawai‘i Book & Music Festival, which typically drew 15,000 visitors over the first May weekend to Honolulu Hale for a pop-up bazaar of song and storytelling. But starting in 2020 the circus will move to fall at UH Mānoa.


Yes, you heard right, Mānoa—the place with the impossible parking situation and boa constrictor coils of weekday traffic.


In the eyes of a refreshed festival board of directors, a change had to come. “The physical reality became a real turnoff,” says the festival’s chairman, David DeLuca, who runs Bess Press and da Shop, the successful Kaimukī bookstore. “Two years ago the city shut down access to the restrooms at Honolulu Hale due to financial restrictions.”


SEE ALSO: 50 Essential Hawai‘i Books You Should Read in Your Lifetime


Festival executive director Roger Jellinek is busy slating ideas, fundraising and working with sponsors. “We’ll have a TED Talks kind of program sponsored by Oceanit. It will take place in the UH iLab, which is modeled on the Stanford Innovation Lab with the intention for the community as well as for the university folks to use it to develop enterprises.” Classes on sustainability are booming, with more than 60 courses in the UH system last year, according to Jellinek. Climate change, innovation and Hawaiian studies are major themes on the docket—“and these will be permanent.”


“I know change sometimes is scary for people,” says UH provost Michael Bruno, “but we immediately saw the vast potential for good for both the community and the university.” Now students of all ages, even UH students with May finals and graduation, can more easily attend. Parking will be free.


Fun Fact: Festival board member Joel Cosseboom attended his first festival dressed as the shark from the popular book, The Three Little Hawaiian Pigs and the Magic Shark.


“The university stays open on weekends, unlike the Hale,” says Joel Cosseboom, interim director and publisher of the University of Hawai‘i Press. “There’s built-in security. There’s staffing already there. Food services, audiovisual for the rooms we use, a bookstore. There’s a lot that just fits in rather nicely with the needs of the festival.”


SEE ALSO: A Writer’s World: How to Make it in Hawai‘i


It was Cosseboom, who joined the festival board three years ago, who brought the idea to Bruno. “I had just seen and read about other festivals and was talking with Jellinek about The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. It was at UCLA and now is at USC and has become very integrated with the university.”


One possible date for 2020 could add some pumpkin-flavored spice to the festival: Halloween falls on a Saturday. If that happens, says Cosseboom, “we’ll get kids to come and collect books as candy.”


Read more stories by Don Wallace