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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Fifth annual Tucson Festival of Books continues tradition of celebrating literature

    Fifth annual Tucson Festival of Books continues tradition of celebrating literature

    With hundreds of authors and thousands of excited visitors, the Tucson Festival of Books, now in its fifth year, has become a staple in the community, a venue for visitors to bond over literature.

    Tucson locals hatched the idea for the festival after they heard about how outstanding the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books was. According to Bill Viner, president and co-founder of The Tucson Festival of Books Foundation, when he and the other Tucsonans saw the event firsthand, they decided to try doing something similar back home.

    “We thought, well, we can do this in Tucson, Arizona,” Viner said. “Maybe not at that same scale initially, but we thought there was a pent-up demand for the literature and certainly for the need in terms of helping the community with improving our literacy.”

    As it turned out, Viner and the other co-founders were more than right. The first festival, in 2009, brought 450 authors and 50,000 visitors — and each year’s event has only gotten bigger, much to the founders’ delight. This year, over 100,000 visitors are expected.

    “I think we always had the vision that it could be this successful,” Viner said. “We didn’t know, perhaps, that it would grow exponentially. There was kind of this undercurrent within the community because there is a large number of local writers.”

    Not only does the festival give those who love to read and write a place to connect and explore new literary fronts, but the foundation has also donated more than $700,000 to support literacy efforts in Southern Arizona.

    While helping improve local literacy is a welcome bonus, most attendees are just grateful for the chance to interact with fellow enthusiasts.

    For Viner, the best parts of the festival are the hundreds of panels, signings, workshops and other events that cater to every genre and taste.

    “I think one of the coolest things is the opportunity that readers have to connect with their favorite authors,” Viner said. “For those of us that read and have our favorite authors and favorite genres, it’s very fun to sit in an audience with a small group of people and hear that person talk, and then be able to go up afterwards and find they’re really just like us. They’re just normal people who have a gift for writing.”

    There are some big names set to attend and speak at the festival, including Chuck Klosterman and Jen Lancaster, two New York Times best-selling authors.

    Adam Mansbach, who wrote the popular children’s book for adults “Go the F**k to Sleep,” will be there as well to speak at one panel on Saturday and two on Sunday.

    There are also plenty of authors who have published locally, like Mexican-American author, poet and essayist Luis Alberto Urrea, who has three books published through the University of Arizona Press.

    Though every year’s festival has talks and signings, this year will feature the first Literary Awards writing competition and Masters Workshop. According to Viner, organizers wanted to do something similar to the writing and directing components of the Sundance Film Festival.

    “We said, ‘Wouldn’t that be interesting, to do something with the Tucson Festival of Books where we could combine that type of feature so we could give new authors the opportunity to have authors that have been well-published mentor them?’” Viner said.

    There were 300 applicants for 50 slots, and three awards given in fiction, poetry and non-fiction, according to Viner.

    With so much going on, it would be easy for first-timers to get overwhelmed, so Viner has one piece of advice for newcomers.

    “The first thing I would encourage someone to do is to plan a little bit,” Viner said. “Get a copy of the schedule and review it, and pick out maybe three different events or topics in each time slot.”

    If you’re too busy to get to everything, though, don’t worry too much — the festival will be back next year at around the same time. And while you wait for more authors to meet and books to browse, Viner and about 250 others will be working the rest of the year to keep the fourth-largest book festival in the country going strong.

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