Tucson Festival of Books Afterglow

When I come to the last sentence of a book I’ve loved, there’s a little sadness and quiet exhilaration. I sigh. I sit quietly. I may say wow or dang that was good! 

Today I had all those feelings. And I also felt high. The Tucson Festival of Books dazzled readers/writers this weekend on the University of Arizona campus. Now it’s over.

I drove cross-country to Tucson in 2002, clueless about what I’d do for work. I quit my teaching job, I closed my bookstore in 1997, and there was no way I’d make a living teaching yoga dance. 

 Greg Brown CDs blaring across the miles through Knoxville, Tenn.; Fort Worth, Texas; and who knows where, N.M., I sang along. Maybe I could plan author events for bookstores. After all, I figured, Tucson is a university town.

My first six months in Tucson I tried to line up author visits for schools but came up with only one gig for the Tucson Unified School District’s Young Authors’ Conference, bringing my children’s author pals Ashley Bryan, Thacher Hurd and Vera B. Williams to town. 

I was told that “Tucson isn’t a literary town.” “We’re not on the author circuit.” All that changed four years ago with the Tucson Festival of Books, the inspired vision of Bill and Brenda Viner, and a few others.

 Every author I spoke to this past weekend at the festival said something like, “I’ve been to lots of book festivals but none have been so well-organized as this.” There’s a lot more to it than if you build it they will come…where have these 115,000 book lovers been (it was reported today that attendance rose from 100,000 last year).

If you do something right, people will come. Tucson is on the author circuit! I’m in book country again. 

Kudos to the Viners. Kudos to Helene Woodhams, who heads the author committee, receiving and responding to so many emails. Kudos to my incredible colleagues on the author committee, especially Holly Schafer, Gwen Harvey and Bruce Dinges. Kudos to Ken McDonald, who for months sends updated author grids, in three different formats. Kudos to 1,500 volunteers who escort authors such as Richard Russo, Kim Edwards, Mary Johnson, Elmore Leonard to their workshops, panels and interviews where we listen, ask questions and celebrate words.

Luckily, we won’t dawdle before reconvening to start planning next year’s TFOB on March 9-10. I’ll only have a month to feel sad about the festival being over. It brought a book-loving community together. I feel high.

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10 Responses to Tucson Festival of Books Afterglow

  1. Frank Mascia says:

    Thank You

  2. Mary Johnson says:

    I LOVED the Tucson Festival of Books! So many great authors, and (as Sheila says) it was very well-organized. Meeting Luis Alberto Urrea was fantastic, and meeting Curious George and Madeline was almost as thrilling–when I had my photo taken with them Saturday morning I felt as though I had become a child again and was sitting on my mother’s lap listening to those stories. Books are wonderful, and the Tucson Festival is a fabulous celebration.

  3. Kathleen Bowman says:

    sheila. sounds wonderful. congratulations to you for being part of such an alive event. of course, your being part of it is what makes it so alive – you take such spirit and curiosity and openness with you and share it with the world. everyone involved deserves the world’s thanks – for keeping culture alive and immediate. gratefully, Kathleen

  4. Kim Edwards says:

    Sheila, thanks for being such a great moderator on our panel, and thanks to you and all the other volunteers at the Tuscon Book Festival for making sure every detail of every event was perfect. It was a joyous weekend celebrating books, and deeply heartening to see the amazing turnout. I had a great time! And by the way, I love Greg Brown, too!

  5. Well organized and at the same time extremely relaxed and fun. Where else could one discuss healing with L Urrea and take photographs w Madeline and Curious George? Great job Tucson.

    • And Sheila, I should have known you were a Greg Brown fan–you smart woman you. It was wonderful meeting you and your lovely daughter. Looking forward to beginning her book. Thanks for your efforts on behalf of the authors.

    • sheilawill says:

      Thanks Donna! I’m still feeling some of the afterglow. And now I have your email address. Has Greg ever been to South by Southwest? I’d like to get there; maybe we’ll go next year. Let’s stay in touch! I’ll forward your message to Brook.

  6. Tucson has four events that are as good as, or better than, these kinds of events anywhere. They are the Tucson Festival of Books, The University’s Humanities Seminars Program, the free science lectures of the College of Science, and the Arizona Friends of Chamber Music annual Chamber Music Festival. All great events to be proud of and enjoy!

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