By Ryan Grewal, news staff

Hundreds of bookish Bostonians descended upon Copley Square to celebrate the power of the written word at the eighth annual Boston Book Festival on Saturday.

Festival-goers crowded into rooms at the Boston Public Library and the many churches surrounding Copley Square for presentations and panel discussions from a diverse group of over 200 authors invited to discuss this year’s theme of “Life on the Margins.”

Colson Whitehead, a 2016 National Book Award finalist, gave a keynote presentation to hundreds of attendees packed into pews at Emmanuel Church. Whitehead read a passage from his latest novel, “The Underground Railroad,” a mystical and often disturbing story of a girl’s escape from slavery. Afterward, he engaged in a conversation with Buzzfeed’s executive culture editor Saeed Jones about his novel.

Whitehead and Colson discussed the creative process and the research that went into the writing of his novel. Whitehead also described the necessity of violence and cruelty in his work.  

“As someone who is a 21st-century writer, making a psychologically rich-portrait of plantation life was important,” Whitehead said.

The festival’s theme of “Life on the Margins” continued into Frank Gehry’s architecture keynote in the sanctuary of Trinity Church on Copley Square. In conversation with architecture critic Paul Goldberger, Gehry discussed his lifetime of work, including his current project: A Berlin concert hall to house the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, a youth orchestra composed of musicians from the Middle East.

“I am very interested in the idea of people speaking together through the arts,” Gehry said. “I was moved to design this as a gift to [the orchestra].”

Back in Copley Square, the bibliophilic crowd milled through dozens of white-tented booths set up by an eclectic selection of bookshops, literary magazines, creative writing programs and publishing houses.

Many gravitated towards the wheeled carts of books for sale surrounding the Brattle Book Shop’s booth. The Downtown Crossing used book shop has set up a booth in Copley Square every year since the festival’s inception in 2009, according to proprietor Kenneth Gloss.

Gloss, stepping away from his crowded booth, said, “It’s all day long, non-stop here.”

“I particularly like that there are a lot of students and younger people here,” Gloss said, “And the fact that there’s still a lot of enthusiasm for books.”

This year’s festival included many events targeted at young readers. Children listened to “Story Time” readings led by children’s authors and danced to live music at the Berklee Stage. Other young festival-goers flocked to appearances by popular characters like a Wild Thing from “Where the Wild Things Are.

Two groups of Northeastern students helped with the festivities as a part of the Center of Community Service’s biannual Service Day. About a dozen volunteers helped guide festival-goers to various locations, while others helped kids make fictional maps and write stories with the booth for 826 Boston, a Roxbury-based tutoring and writing center.

Katelyn Keen, a freshman architecture major volunteering at the festival, expressed excitement at the festival’s work with younger readers.

“I think it’s cool that they’re doing stuff for kids to encourage them to read,” Keen said.

Ryan Grewal volunteers at 826 Boston, but did not volunteer at the group’s booth on Saturday.

Photo by Lauren Scornavacca