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Wordplay 2.0, shorter and tweaked; ‘Significant Other’ to open at MJTC

ALSO: 28th Annual Songs of Freedom – Bob Marley Remembered at the Cabooze; book launch for Anton Treuer at Minnesota History Center; and more.

2019 Wordplay attendees waiting in line at Open Book.
Photo by Anna Min

In January, the Loft announced four authors who will appear in this year’s Wordplay festival, set for Saturday, May 9. On Tuesday afternoon, it revealed all the rest – an avalanche of nearly 100 authors including more big names.

Steph Opitz
Courtesy of the Loft
Steph Opitz
Add these to your list of must-sees: cookbook author Alison Roman; novelists Charles Yu and Peter Geye; nonfiction writers Michael Ian Black, Kao Kalia Yang. Nicholas Kristof and Scott Pelley; poets Mark Doty and Danez Smith.

The only author from last year who will return is Laila Lalami, because she has a new book.

We expected a fresh crop of authors, but the festival will change in other ways, too. Which isn’t surprising, since this is only its second year. We spoke with festival founder Steph Opitz about the changes and the thinking behind them.

This year’s Wordplay will be one day, not two. Steph said: “Previously I worked on the Texas book festival, which needs to be two days because of how many people come to it. I was used to a two-day structure. But until we get to be the size that demands two days, one is more fun, easier, and not competing directly with Mother’s Day [May 10]. The size we are now – 10,000 people plus – feels great for one day. If we get to 30,000, our goal in five years, we’ll look at doing two days again.

“The day will be an hour longer than last year. We’ll have more sessions throughout the day, and another outdoor stage. Some of the stages had down times last year, a half-hour or an hour between sessions. We won’t do that this year.”

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Prices will go up. Last year’s wristband was $10. This year’s is $17 ($20 at the gate). Last year’s VIP access was $250. This year, there’s a Friend of the Festival wristband for $500. Steph said: “There were two different ticketing levels last year. $10 got you into the street festival, $40 into [author sessions at] the Guthrie. We decided to split the difference to $17, which is all-inclusive. You get into every author session. And you still get a $5 book voucher.

“Last year’s $250 VIP ticket gave you access to certain things and not others. We wanted to give people what they were requesting. The $500 is VIP reserved seating at everything, and admission to a VIP party with authors on Friday.

“We’re definitely trying to support the longevity of the festival. If we charged the actual price, tickets would be $80. Sponsorships help, but we need to charge something. And we really want people to commit to the festival – to put it on their calendar and plan for it.”

Last year’s opening night party was a concert at First Avenue. This year it’s a carnival at Open Book. Steph said: “We’re calling it Play with Words. It’s going to be a big party at Open Book, on all three floors, with a lot of carnival-like things going on. Activities like fishing for books, fortune-telling and impromptu readings. Authors will be there.”

(And we couldn’t resist asking:) Who’s the author you’re most looking forward to seeing? Steph said: “I’m really excited about Clare Beams. She’s coming to the festival with a debut novel, ‘The Illness Lesson.’ She had a collection of short stories that came out last year that I fell in love with. She was definitely among the first people I booked. She’ll be somebody not everyone will have heard of, but after, they’ll want to keep an eye on her.

“Of course it’s exciting to have big names – Steve Inskeep, Alison Roman, Natalie Diaz, Lily King – but I love the idea that somebody will come to the festival, like Clare Beams or Gabriel Bump, for their first book, and maybe by the end of the year they’ll win a National Book Award or something like that.

“When I was running the Texas Book Festival, I remember telling everyone there, ‘You’ve got to go see this author Marlon James. He’s going to be amazing.’ A year later, he won the Man Booker Prize.”

Registration for Wordplay 2020 will open to Loft members on Wednesday, March 18, at 10 a.m. and to the general public on Thursday, March 19, at 10 a.m. See the complete author line-up here.

The picks

Tonight (Thursday, Feb. 13) at Honey: Breaking Down, Breaking Up – A Poetry Show of Break-up Poems. Not in love with Valentine’s Day? Presented by Cracked Walnut, hosted by Erin Murphy, the evening will feature area poets and an open mic, in case you’ve penned a break-up poem you want to share. Too bad Minneapolis doesn’t have a club called The Bitter End. 7-9 p.m., pay-what-you-want.

Treat yourself to stories by the exceptional Kevin Kling on Valentine's Day.
Courtesy of the artist
Treat yourself to stories by the exceptional Kevin Kling on Valentine's Day.
Friday at the O’Shaughnessy: Kevin Kling & Friends: “The Love Show: Skyway to Heaven.” In love with Valentine’s Day? Settle in for stories by the exceptional Kevin Kling and music by Marc Anderson, Dan Chouinard, Bradley Greenwald, Prudence Johnson, Simone Perrin, Claudia Schmidt and Dane Stauffer. This is a new edition of Kling’s perennially popular V-Day blast – an evening meant for sweethearts. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($25-29).

Friday and Saturday at the Cabooze: 28th Annual Songs of Freedom – Bob Marley Remembered. Nothing warms the heart and soul like reggae. (Maybe that’s why the Children’s Theatre scheduled “Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds” for January and February.) An Arctic front makes Marley’s music even more therapeutic. This is the Reggae king’s 75th birthday year, and the Cabooze will celebrate with the International Reggae All-Stars, New Primitives and Innocent Reggae Band. 18+. Doors at 8 p.m., music at 9:30. FMI and tickets ($12 advance, $16 door).

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Saturday at the Minnesota History Center: Book launch for Anton Treuer’s “The Language Warrior’s Manifesto: How to Keep Our Languages Alive No Matter the Odds.” Professor of Ojibwe at Bemidji State University, author of several books including “Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians But Were Afraid to Ask,” Treuer has fought for years to revitalize his tribal language. (He learned it as an adult.) His latest book is a compelling and clearly written argument for why this matters and how it can be done. Here’s a series of short videos featuring Treuer that were produced recently for Twin Cities PBS. (The last is “Cultural Conversations: The Importance of Language,” if you want to start there.) Saturday is the History Center’s Dakota & Ojibwe Language Family Day. Treuer’s talk is at 10 a.m. and free. Museum admission is required for the family-friendly language activities scheduled for noon-3 p.m. FMI.

Opens Saturday at the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company: “Significant Other.” Jordan (Bradley Hildebrandt) is a young Jewish man living in New York. Surrounded by his close group of female BFFs, his social life is full. Then they start getting married, and what about him? Joshua Harmon’s play won raves for its Off-Broadway premiere in 2015 and was included in the New York Times’ top 10 productions of the year. Hayley Finn is the director; the cast also includes Chloe Armao, Olivia Wilusz, Audrey Park, Nancy Marvy, Paul LaNave and Tony Larkin. 8 p.m. FMI and tickets ($23-38).

Sunday at the Textile Center: Rimon Artist Salon Series: “Handed Down.” Visual artists Robyn Awend, Beth Barron and Rachel Breen will show and discuss newly commissioned pieces informed by lineage, tradition, memories and inherited values. What we have been given by our past, and what we are handing down to those who come after us? Their work incorporates salvaged material scraps, poetic fragments, antique textiles, and reclaimed photographs – recycling as a practice. This is the 13th season of “one of the leading series of Jewish events in the country.” 2 p.m. FMI and tickets ($12; $6 ages 36 and under).