Daren Wang Departs Decatur Book Fest, Launches Debut Novel

Courtesy of The Decatur Book Festival

Earlier this month, Daren Wang announced that he was resigning as executive director of the AJC Decatur Book Festival. Wang co-founded the annual event which is heading into its 12th year this Labor Day weekend. As he leaves, he will also be launching a book at the festival — his debut novel, titled “The Hidden Light of Northern Fires.”

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“It just feels like a good break in my life,” Wang tells “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes. “There’s just a shift in mindset. The difference between founding a festival and running the festival is considerable. I really do feel like it’s time for new leadership.”

Wang’s novel draws on his childhood hometown in upstate New York and is set during the Civil War. 

“This story wouldn’t leave me alone,” he says. “I grew up in this place, 15 miles from the Canadian border outside of Buffalo. Even as a little boy I’d hear these stories that it seceded from the Union. Only place north of the Mason-Dixon.”

In this unlikely setting, Wang also discovered that the house he grew up in had been a stop along the Underground Railroad. “Hidden Light…” presents a fictionalized account of Mary Willis and her family, who helped fugitive slaves make their way to freedom.  

“I’d never heard the name Willis growing up,” Wang says. “The Willis family that founded the town isn’t mentioned anywhere. It leads to this idea of alienation between the founder and the place.”

Wang launches the book Saturday, Sept. 2 at the AJC Decatur Book Festival.