At last year’s Twin Cities Book Festival, Cheryl Strayed was shooting the breeze with some of her fans, not on a stage, but sitting at a handful of round tables that could have been a teachers’ lounge — everyone at the same level, just hanging out.
In no other entertainment industry would we ever see the fans and the artists mingling in such an immediate, casual manner — or at all. Last year, with her book “Wild” topping all the charts, Strayed was the literary equivalent of Hollywood’s Reese Witherspoon, who will play her in the movie version of the book, now in production.
Can you imagine Witherspoon walking into a State Fair building and sitting down with fans? Nope. But that kind of thing happens every year at the Book Festival.
Readers and writers and publishers and book artists come together and hang out, and for a day, we’re all just people who love books. (OK, this year, when Jesse Ventura shows up to talk about the book he “authored” with two or three ghostwriters, you might not get that kind of access.) It’s an amazing event and a reflection of a community that so highly values reading.
This year’s lineup includes such national writers as Nicholson Baker, Delia Ephron and David Wojahn, as well as dozens of local stars, including Pete Hautman, Jim Northrup, Howard Mohr, Jack El-Hai and Ventura. There will be food, music, children’s activities, and tons of books for sale, new and used. Local presses offer some great discounts, so bring wads of cash.
This year’s Twin Cities Book Festival runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Progress Building at the State Fairgrounds.
It’s all made possible by the hard work of the folks at Rain Taxi, led by editor Eric Lorberer, who is the festival director. The festival gets bigger every year, and it’s clearly a crazy amount of work, so we asked him why he does it.
MinnPost: Why is it important that the Twin Cities host an event like this?
Eric Lorberer: The Twin Cities are a model of a thriving literary community. Multiple writing programs, independent publishers, great bookstores, countless authors, and mission-driven institutions like the Loft and ourselves here at Rain Taxi — it would be ludicrous not to have an annual gathering that celebrates this heritage and the people who work so tirelessly to make it such a literary haven. It’s one of the few days a year when we can all publicly relish in the hard work we all put in, day in and day out, to make the world hospitable to the bookishly inclined.
MP: Aside from being a fun get-together, what sort of things happen because of the Book Festival that wouldn’t otherwise?
EL: World-class authors come through for the Festival, of course, but it helps to put the Twin Cities on the map for major artists throughout the year. Take a look at the fantastic Pen Pals and Talking Volumes lineups, as well as the authors who regularly read at Magers & Quinn, Common Good Books, Red Balloon Bookshop, and the many other fine bookstores in our area. The Book Festival isn’t directly or solely responsible for this, of course, but having a world-class book festival in our city certainly opens up a lot of opportunity for a lot of authors looking to connect with their readers.
MP: Who would you say is this year’s biggest “rock star” author?
EL: That’s a tough one. We have literary giant Nicholson Baker, whose new novel literarily features rocking out. Mircea Cartarescu is beyond rock-star status in his native Romania — his most recent book was a best seller on the day it was released. Rae Armantrout is an experimental poet who won the Pulitzer Prize. And David Wiesner is only the second person in history to be a three-time Caldecott Award winner — we predict he’ll be the first four-time winner. And folks can get up close and personal with the one and only Jesse Ventura in our Lit Lounge!
MP: Who are you personally most excited to have on the schedule?
EL: Again, a tough one. I’m a poet, so I’m thrilled about the strong poetry programs we have this year, including the Minnesota Poetry Showcase. I’ve given one of David Wiesner’s books (“Tuesday”) as a gift to lots of people, and I’m excited that we have him giving a talk about his artistic process — a rare treat. Ytasha L. Womack is not a household name, but her book “Afrofuturism” is fascinating. And Nicholson Baker is one of my all time favorite writers period. But I can’t honestly say I’m more excited about any one presenter or event — I tracked down every one of these folks and I’m excited about this lineup from top to bottom!
MP: How is this event funded? And, in support of all the folks sitting at the tables, why should visitors consider buying books here?
EL: The event is funded through grants, sponsors and donations. We’ll have donation stations throughout the site, and if attendees can put a couple bucks in there, we can continue taking the Festival to new heights. But we definitely encourage attendees to budget a bit for the exhibitor tables. Our book fair offers tremendous one-day specials, deals you can’t find anywhere, and this is an opportunity to support people and businesses here in Minnesota who work all year to create something they want to share with you. Buying things is important, and it makes artists happy, but I can’t overemphasize how important simply stopping and chatting with an exhibitor is. Many people are just here to spread the word about their work, explain their vision, and meet like-minded people.
MP: What big trends or changes will be evident in this year’s gathering?
EL: We’ve got more yummy food vendors in the exhibit hall, more exhibitor tables than ever, more lounge room seating, readings in a separate building (they’ll be easier to hear, we promise) and 1,000 vinyl records in our Used Book Sale, all for a buck.
MP: Why do you, personally, do this? It must be an enormous undertaking to put the festival together every year.
EL: It is enormous, and more than a little stressful … but I love books!