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Book Fairs

They’re Going to Party Like It’s 1969

hal-leonard-woodstock.jpgIf you’re wandering the aisles at BookExpo America this weekend, you might notice a bit of a theme to the Hal Leonard, where they’ll be promoting two books aimed at the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. Woodstock Vision features a bunch of pictures from the music festival’s official photographer, Elliott Landy; Bruce Pollock‘s By the Time We Got to Woodstock actually encompasses the wider pop music scene of 1969, which the author believes was the most significant year in rock music’s history. Both Pollock and Landy will be appearing at the booth, and Hal Leonard will be holding a drawing for a gift package that includes both books, DVDs of Easy Rider and Midnight Cowboy, a CD of the year’s top songs, and a bunch of other stuff.

You notice how nobody’s putting out a commemorative book for the tenth anniversary of Woodstock ’99? Or even the 20th anniversary of the impromptu Woodstock ’89? Heck, we would’ve settled for some 25th anniversary celebrations of the US Festival last year…

FishbowlLA: Festival of Books

We couldn’t make it to this year’s Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, but fortunately has FishbowlLA: Editor Tina Dupuy went to several of the weekend’s staged events, including the “Publishing 3.0” panel with (as seen above), David Ulin of the LA Times, ex-Publishers Weekly chief Sara Nelson, ex-Soft Skull executive editor Richard Nash, and Goodreads founder Otis Chandler.

Not pictured: Patrick Brown of Vroman’s, a local indie bookstore that ran a shuttle bus for its Pasadena customers to the UCLA campus where the Festival took place.

You’ll want to see the rest of Tina’s Festival coverage, while you’re at it; next year, we hope to resume tag-teaming the event with her, like we did in 2008.

Reviving the Lit Fest Where Ray Met Tess

Our friend Melissa Kirsch (author of The Girl’s Guide to Absolutely Everything) went to Dallas last week for the revival of the SMU Literary Festival, and was kind enough to send us a field report shortly after her return.


“It’s what occupies the space of a literary life outside of New York,” wrote a wistful Richard Ford in the New Yorker in 1998, remembering neither Yaddo nor Shakespeare & Co., but the 1977 Southern Methodist University Literary Festival in Dallas. This was the glittering annual colloquium where Ford first met Raymond Carver—and where Carver first met his second wife, Tess Gallagher—where Cheever, Styron and Bellow headlined readings and their liquor-soaked afterparties. Alas, due to lack of funds and other bureaucratic hurdles, the Fest has lain dormant for over a decade.

Now, thanks to some enterprising students, the SMU LitFest is revived. Writers Michael Narducci, April Wilder,Tracy Winn, Scott Blackwood and (to my great honor) I descended on Dallas to participate in two days and nights of readings, panels, one-on-one student meetings and everything’s-bigger-in-Texas cocktails. Wilder wasn’t aware of the Fest’s storied past before she arrived, but was impressed from opening lunch to closing drinks: she described the students as “menacingly sophisticated, craft-wise”" and was charmed by literary enthusiasts who turned out in droves: “This was not your usual half-bored crowd—an eye on the clock, an eye on the door—slamming booze and stuffing egg rolls into their mouths to keep from talking. We gathered there to celebrate literature, to quietly announce that the written word matters, whether on a Kindle or a tattoo. We were there to give thanks.”

Such was not always the case back in the LitFest’s golden age, when, as novelist and SMU professor C.W. Smith recalls, a drunk James Dickey stood up at the podium to read and declared, “You’re all a bunch of assholes.” Smith remembered John Updike, on the other hand, as “a consummate gentleman, always willing to talk and meet with students. He was courtly, approachable, just super.” The Southwest Review editor-in-chief and professor Willard Spiegelman remembers bringing Elizabeth Bishop to campus: “She was everybody’s white-haired grandmother in a mink coat.”

(Before we get to the rest of Kirsch’s letter, we should mention that’s Prof. Smith in the photo above…)

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Scene @ Alabama Book Festival


Julie Schoerke was walking past the children’s and YA authors’ tent at the Alabama Book Festival last weekend when she caught up with Charles Ghigna, Margaret McMullen, Helen Hemphill and Laurel Snyder—four of the 60 writers who turned out for the event. “I can’t believe this Festival is only in it’s 4th year,” Schoerke enthused. “The director of the Festival, Jay Lamar and her staff, worked their tails off and the event ran absolutely perfectly as far as I could tell.”

Scene @ South Carolina Book Festival


Karen Spears Zacharias (second from left) sent us a quick note after last weekend’s South Carolina Book Festival, where she got to hang out with publicist Buzzy Porter and authors Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, and Robert Dugoni. She also passed along a story Dugoni told her involving one of the festival’s main guests of honor, Scott Turow; Dugoni had met a veteran who had met Scott in a bar back in the mid-1970s. “According to this fellow,” Zacharias told us, “Scott said he was going to write a book one day. The man said, if you write that book I’ll buy it and have you sign it someday. He pulled the yellowed paperback from his backpack to show it to us. Bob encouraged him to tell Scott that story. The veteran said, ‘He won’t remember me. It was just one night in a bar.’”

We’re betting he just might have, though.

Scene @ Texas Book Festival


Aaron Hierholzer was kind enough to send us some photos from last weekend’s Texas Book Festival in Austin, where Christopher Buckley was one of the dozens of authors who came to discuss their work and meet fans. Of course, Buckley wound up talking quite a bit about his sudden departure from the National Review, the magazine his father founded, after his endorsement of Barack Obama last month; at one point, interviewer Steven Isenberg asked if he secretly yearned for the sheer comic potential of a McCain/Palin administration, and he conceded that Obama would be a “challenge to the satirist.” But Buckley also warned against underestimating the humor inherent in gaffe-magnet Joe Biden, on whom a character in his latest novel, Supreme Courtship, is based.


The other highlights of Aaron’s weekend included a conversation between Richard Price and Philip Gourevitch, and a panel where Daniel Wallace and Ann Packer talked about how writers approach reading (and readers).

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Scene @ Montana Festival of the Book


Although we weren’t able to get out to Missoula for last month’s ninth annual Montana Festival of the Book, program coordinator Judy Klein was kind enough to send us a recap—that’s her and HumanitiesMontana acting director Kim Anderson with the University of Montana’s mascot, Monte—the star of a brand new picture book called The Great Monte Mystery.

Authors who came to the three-day event included Thomas McGuane (pictured), Sherry Jones, Rick Bass, and Ripley Hugo; one of the highlights of the weekend was a staged group performance of “The Lady in Kicking Horse Resevoir,” a poem by Hugo’s late husband, Richard Hugo.

Book Fairs: Financial Pressure, But Also an Outlet for It

texas-book-fest-logo.gifThe Texas Book Festival is coming up this weekend, and we wish we could make it out to Austin, but our travel budget is just about depleted for 2008. (We may have a line on some field dispatches, though; stay tuned!) We asked the festival’s literary director, Clay Smith, if he’d been feeling a similar economic crunch, given current conditions, and he observed that the festival has been picking up the travel and hotel tab for more writers this year than usual (and if you’ve ever seen their guest list, you know: that’s a lot of writers).

“It does seem like publishers are spending more on marketing and ads than on touring,” he emailed us, “which is a problem for festivals and bookstores that have a history of putting on good events… Writers still want to be a part of a big festival like ours so the economy hasn’t put a damper on the quality of our writers, but it has made publishers more watchful of the costs of a tour.” Concern over travel expenses might also, he conceded, affect potential attendees who live beyond the immediate Austin area. “But I actually think a book festival can benefit from the moments in our culture when our national problems seem nebulous and inexplicable,” Smith adds. “We’ve seen a proliferation in the ways ideas are conveyed (blogs, social networking, etc.), and that’s been kind of thrilling to watch, but I think that the big ideas in our culture still come from books.”

“A book gives a writer the space and the format for a thoughtful look at the issues we face in a way most media outlets either can’t, or refuse, to do. A book festival gives our audience access to those writers who are thinking about these issues and during the sessions at the Festival, our writers give the audience clear ways to understand our culture’s problems (and its positive aspects, too!).”

Overheard in Frankfurt

An attendee at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair swears he overheard the following conversation between two other publishing industry pros:

clipart-twoguys-talking.jpg“Where were you? You missed our appointment.”

“I know. I’m sick of remaindering your books.”

“You might have called to cancel.”

“I was busy talking with a real publisher whose books actually sell.”

Scene @ Nashville’s Southern Festival of Books


We wish we could have been in Nashville last weekend for the Southern Festival of Books last weekend, but Julie Schoerke sent us some pictures. She met up with festival co-coordinators Serenity Gerbman and Emily Masters, and then with authors Gary Slaughter and Susan Gregg Gilmore, and then she took a peek backstage at the gift bags presented to all the weekend’s guest writers, which included a tiny bottle of Jack Daniels and a mud pie.

This year’s festival highlights included “Authors in the Round,” a fundraising dinner where fans willing to pay between $200 and $2,000 got to share a table with one of forty authors, including Madison Smartt Bell, Rick Bragg, or Beth Ann Fennelly. Among the dozens of other literary stars who came for the weekend: National Book Award winner Sherman Alexie, Katie Crouch, and Oprah Book Club star David Wroblewski. And Schoerke tells us the Book TV crew was there, and they read GalleyCat. Woo!

(We are so going next year. It’s not even up for debate.)