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Decatur Book Festival not just for local residents anymore

Don't let the label fool you.

The Decatur Book Festival may be held in Decatur - hence the name - but it's really metro Atlanta's festival, in the same way the Falcons are metro Atlanta's team.

The difference is, the book festival gets better every year.

It also gets bigger. In only its third iteration, DBF has become the largest independent book festival in the country, with more than 70,000 people expected to attend. The last time that many people descended upon Atlanta for a single event, they were wearing uniforms and carrying torches.

(Of course I'm talking about the 1996 Olympics. What did you think I meant?)

This year's festival kicks off with a keynote address by Billy Collins, former poet laureate of the United States. Those who didn't know the U.S. had such a thing may be surprised to learn that we've had not just one but 16 poet laureates in our nation's history. That's more than the total number of people who have actually seen the latest X-Files movie.

Please note that the Collins keynote, which will be held at Agnes Scott College, requires a ticket. (For more information, call the box office at 404-471-6430 or go to www.decaturbookfestival.com.) But all the other events are as open to the public as a Clayton County School Board meeting.

Wait, maybe I should rephrase that.

Other festival venues in historic downtown Decatur range from the old courthouse to the not-so-old Holiday Inn, from the public library to the Cook's Warehouse, from the Presbyterian Church to the popular night spot Eddie's Attic - both known for their emphasis on spirits.

Heck, rumor has it that even Mickey Dees will be getting in on the act, with Ronald McDonald showing up to sign copies of his autobiography, "Sesame Seed Buns, or Why I Wear Loose Pants."

Besides Collins, this year's festival features a veritable galaxy of literary stars, including Pulitzer Prize winners Rick Bragg and Natasha Trethewey, best-selling novelists Emily Griffin and Karin Slaughter and local favorites Pearl Cleage and Ferrol Sams.

(Note: Sadly, home improvement guru Ty Pennington is a last-minute scratch. He was slated to read from his new book: "We Gave You a House, Now Don't Screw It Up.")

There's even a political track, featuring former Nixon White House counsel John Dean and conservative columnist Kathleen Parker, neither of whom is a crook.

Underage book lovers will also be well-served, with the national launch of the first new Madeleine book in 50 years (note: she hasn't aged much), a sci-fi/fantasy panel, and a teen poetry slam, which is to regular poetry reading as Lollapalooza is to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

So if you love books, make plans to spend a major portion of next weekend in downtown Decatur. After all, it doesn't matter if you live in Lawrenceville, Conyers, Snellville or Covington.

It's your book festival, too.

Rob Jenkins is associate professor of English at Georgia Perimeter College. E-mail him at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com.