Q&A: Roger Jellinek
Executive Director, Hawaii Book and Music Festival
Photo by Rae Huo
Roger Jellinek took the scenic route to Honolulu. Born in Mexico and educated in England, he spent his early working life in New York, with a stint as the deputy editor of The New York Times Book Review. He’s now a partner with Jellinek & Murray Literary Agency and heads the Hawaii Book and Music Festival (HBMF), which is entering its third year.
Q: In a nutshell, what is the HBMF?
A: It’s an annual, nonprofit, free-admission festival that takes place in a series of stages and pavilions. There’s the Mission Memorial Auditorium where the superstars speak—this year, Michael Ondaatje will be one of them—a Hawaiian Culture Pavilion, a Main Stage for music, a Storytelling Stage, an Arts and Crafts Pavilion, and a Food and Cookbook Pavilion. A large part of it is the Keiki Festival. It’s a rich stew.
Q: Why a book festival?
A: Book festivals are a big feature of almost every major city in the country, but [until the HBMF] there’s never been one in Honolulu. People assumed there would be no interest. The first year, we drew 10,000 people. The second year, 20,000. And we expect between 25,000 and 30,000 people this year, which is extraordinary for a new festival.
Q: Sounds like Honolulu is a reading town—is it also a publishing town?
A: Yes. Hawaii has probably the most vigorous regional book publishing industry in the country. Nationally published books have six weeks to prove themselves in stores, or they get returned to the publishers. In Hawaii, it’s a very different matter. Books that are published here can stay in our stores for months or years. There’s a whole different psychology for publishing here. You can gauge the demand much more carefully.
Q: What lies ahead for the festival?
A: Well, the mother model for [the HBMF] is the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland, which has been going for 30 years. There’s a big book festival, music festival, drama festival and, of course, the Fringe, [a mammoth alternative arts festival that dwarfs the main event]. You can go around the clock—and I have done that—without sleeping anywhere. Honolulu is a great place for a long international festival, and I think the month of May is turning into the makings of a citywide festival. Our job isn’t to control all that—it’s just to create a catalyst.