The Wordplay book festival will shift to a virtual celebration this spring instead of the bustling in-person event the inaugural festival was last year.

Held in the neighborhood of the Loft Literary Center in downtown Minneapolis, last May's festival drew about 10,000 people to dozens of author events.

The Loft also announced Thursday that it will either cancel its spring classes or move them to online.

These steps are being taken because of the COVID-19 health crisis which has resulted in the cancellation of thousands of in-person events across the world, including Broadway plays, major sporting events and others.

"It's crushing" to lose the in-person event, Wordplay founding director Steph Opitz said Thursday. "But I'm really excited that we're doing something other than canceling."

The virtual Wordplay will be free and online, using podcasts, video conferences, Twitter, Instagram and other outlets.

It will take place over April and May in collaboration with a number of other book festivals that are also going online only, including the Wisconsin Book Festival, Bronx Book Festival and others.

Wordplay had planned to bring in about 100 authors over the course of one day. "Now we will do a handful of events per week," perhaps over the lunch hour or evening hours, Opitz said. Some of the events will be archived on the Loft website for later viewing.

The virtual Wordplay will be free, with no paywalls for any of the online experiences, but donations are welcome to support next year's festival, which they hope to return to its original in-person format.

Because book sales are a large part of book festivals, Opitz said she is working with local booksellers and the online merchant to make sure books are available.

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