JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – On Wednesday, organizers with the Mississippi Book Festival announced the in-person event, which was scheduled for Saturday, August 21, has been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Holly Lange, the festival’s Executive Director, said, “We are disappointed to have come so close to the finish line, but growing concern and cancellations from many of the authors and panelists scheduled to attend has led our Board of Directors to make the hard decision and forgo the in-person event. While we could have continued to wait, the trend lines were moving against us, so we all thought it best to give everyone enough notice so that schedules and travel plans could be changed.”

Even though the in-person event was cancelled, the organizers plan to move as many of the author panels and conversations as they can to virtual presentations in the coming months.

“We had more than 180 authors signed up for 49 very exciting panels,” Lange said, “So our hope is to bring those authors and moderators together online in a variety of formats. We are moving forward with a renewed commitment to engage our book-loving community and continue the spirit of the festival. We encourage everyone to stay tuned for updates on our virtual package coming soon.”

Scheduled speakers included novelists Kiese Laymon and Ellen Gilchrist; historian Lonnie G. Bunch, who is secretary of the Smithsonian Institution; and former Time magazine editor Walter Isaacson, who is now a history professor at Tulane University. Among the topics this year were panels on civil rights, the Gulf South, Afrofuturism, cooking and young adult fiction.

The 2020 festival was also canceled because of the pandemic, but past festivals have attracted thousands of people.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.