Though there's pleasure to be found in the cocoon-like nature of reading and writing, there's also a certain tedium. Luckily, an antidote appears each year in the form of the Wisconsin Book Festival (Wednesday, Nov. 7, through Sunday, Nov. 11). Here, I can delight in the fellowship of other book lovers as I indulge in the rhythms of the spoken word.
I'm particularly looking forward to hearing Edwidge Danticat deliver the Mark Gates Memorial Lecture, "Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work" (Saturday, 5:15 p.m., Promenade Hall, Overture Center). A native of Haiti who moved to the U.S. at age 12, Danticat writes fiction and memoir in a voice that's lyrical and unforgettable. She won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2007 and a MacArthur "genius grant" in 2009.
I'm also planning to attend several poetry readings. Madison is home to an impressive number of award-winning poets, eight of whom will read at "Loves & Lives: Lost & Found" (Saturday, 4 p.m., A Room of One's Own Bookstore). On Friday at 7:30 p.m., I'll be torn between a Monsters of Poetry reading at Overture's Wisconsin Studio and the "First Wave: Performance Poetry and Personal Narrative" event at Overture's Promenade Hall. Expect exhilarating verbal gymnastics at both.
I'll be forced to choose again Thursday evening, when there's a panel on gender and identity featuring Helen Boyd, an icon in the world of gender writing (5:30 p.m., A Room of One's Own Bookstore), and a panel titled "Recovering Black Women Writers from the Harlem Renaissance and Beyond" (5:30 p.m., Overture's Rotunda Studio).
To help me make these tough decisions, some local authors shared what they're looking forward to at this year's fest.
Former Isthmus news editor, director of the Money and Politics Project at Wisconsin Watch and author of Watchdog: 25 Years of Muckraking and Rabblerousing
"Ron McCrea has written a lovely and surprisingly uplifting book about Taliesin, which Frank Lloyd Wright built for his beloved Mamah Borthwick, who was murdered there ('Lost Stories of Frank Lloyd Wright,' Saturday, 9:45 a.m., Overture's Promenade Hall). Michael Perry's latest book, Visiting Tom, is an enjoyable read, proving his magic touch at making art out of the ordinary ('Prison, Prose, and Portraiture,' Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., Promenade Hall).
"Of the books I haven't yet read, I'm most interested in [Maria] Goodavage's look at canine combatants, Soldier Dogs (Thursday, 7:30 p.m., Wisconsin Veterans Museum). And I think the gardening memoirs by Jerry Apps and Kristy Athens, who are joining for a panel talk entitled 'With Our Hands in the Dirt,' sound fun (Sunday, 5:15 p.m., Overture's Wisconsin Studio).
"Finally, I'm disappointed to not see Shawn Francis Peters among the presenters. The Catonsville Nine, his fourth and latest book on the gnarled intersection of religion and law, is the finest among the three I've read, and they've all been good. This UW-Madison lecturer is a terrific historian, and this book, about a religiously motivated antiwar protest that happened in his Maryland hometown in 1968, is a compelling read."
Author of several poetry collections, including We Lit the Lamps Ourselves
"As always, I am eager for the Friends of the UW Libraries book sale (Thursday-Friday, 10:30 a.m.-7 p.m.; Saturday, 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m., Memorial Library), one of the juiciest book sales I've ever encountered. Since I am definitely suffering from election fever, one of the events that calls to me most this year is David Maraniss' talk on Obama and November ('It's Presidential,' Sunday, 5:15 p.m., Overture's Promenade Hall).
"I am also eager to hear the poetry panel on 'The Art of Losing: Four Poets Laureate on Love, Bereavement, and Healing' (Saturday, 1:30 p.m., A Room of One's Own Bookstore) and the panel on 'The Animal-Human Connection' (Saturday, 12:15 p.m., Madison Museum of Contemporary Art), a topic I am just beginning to explore."
Executive editor of Tin House and author of the forthcoming novel The Back of the House
"The Friday Night Festival of Fiction (6:30 p.m., Overture's Capitol Theater) has a bit of a magpie quality to it, but that's part of why I'm drawn to it. I suspect someone designed it just for me, a Jo Ann Beard fangirl of many years' standing, someone who's looking forward to exploring the world of the old Hollywood studio system in Emma Straub's novel, and who recently got into Ian Frazier's work thanks to a friend's recommendation to read Great Plains. But maybe best of all, Domingo Martinez and Lysley Tenorio are new to me, so I get to check out new writers alongside the ones I know.
"I still love a great book for kids or adolescents, and I love even more the fact that YA literature seems to have opened itself up to a greater range of topics over the years. I don't remember reading much in my adolescence about coming out, for instance, but I wish I had. I would love to hear more about how writers approach the YA market and how it affects choices in their craft, so I will be at 'Losing It: Writing Loss for Adolescent Readers' (Saturday, 9:45 a.m., State Capitol, Senate Room 425 SW)."
Lecturer at the Edgewood College English department and author of the poetry collection I Am Not a Pioneer
"The events I'm most psyched about are a combination of panels and performances involving some of my favorite contemporary writers. First, 'A Face to Meet the Faces: Persona Poetry' (Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., Madison Museum of Contemporary Art), where Kara Candito, Matthew Guenette, Rita Mae Reese, Susan Elbe and Nina Corwin will read and discuss poems they've written from another's point of view, which is a super tough thing to do.
"Second, the 'Devil's Lake Panel' (Wednesday, 5:30 p.m., Wisconsin Studio) will feature readings by Alyssa Knickerbocker, a destructively good fiction writer, and Traci Brimhall, who always seems to be on the brink of spontaneous combustion in her poems and onstage.
"And finally, 'My Heart Is an Idiot: FOUND Magazine's 10th Anniversary Tour' (Friday, 9 p.m., Overture's Capitol Theater). FOUND is a very funny, very sweetly dirty magazine devoted to pieces of strange, hilarious, heart-wrenching writing 'found' in random places all over the world.... If there is any darkness inside of you, Davy and Peter Rothbart will dispel it - for a little while - by inducing the comfort of true communal smiling."
Executive director of the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy and author of In Service to American Pharmacy: The Professional Life of William Procter, Jr.
"'American History in Brief and In-Depth' (Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., Overture's Wisconsin Studio) promises much for the practicing historian. The two works to be discussed - Paul Boyer's American History: A Very Short Introduction and Stanley Kutler's The Wars of Watergate - exemplify ends of the history spectrum, from sweeping narrative to focused analysis. Kutler is well known for his frequent media appearances as an expert on Watergate and the Nixon administration. Boyer is less known among the general public, even though he authored general history textbooks in addition to scholarly monographs.
"Boyer died in March, and two of his colleagues will read from his work. No doubt, there will be discussion of Boyer's legacy and the continuing legacy of Wisconsin historians back to Frederick Jackson Turner. Perhaps a heated debate about the frontier thesis will break out. We can always hope!"
Author of The Green Suit: Stories and other novels
"I'll be attending the Friday Night Festival of Fiction to see Ian Frazier, who has written several nonfiction masterpieces, including Great Plains and a collection of essays called Nobody Better, Better Than Nobody. Nobody has written about bears or fishing or advice columnists or Sitting Bull better than he has. He is pretty old for having just published a 'debut novel,' but the pieces of it I've read are hilarious and suggest that he may be younger than he claims to be.
"I am also interested in hearing the UW historian Alfred McCoy talk about torture and the decline of American values (Saturday, 2:45 p.m., Overture's Wisconsin Studio). A country that endorses torture and refers to it as 'enhanced techniques' is a country that has lost its bearings."
Judith Claire Mitchell
UW creative writing professor, MFA program director, and author of The Last Day of the War: A Novel
"Many of the readers at the Book Festival were once affiliated with UW-Madison's creative writing program, so for me, the festival is a family reunion.... There's nothing like the readings by former students who've gone out and made their writerly dreams come true.
"My festival week begins with the 'Devil's Lake Panel' (Wednesday, 5:30 p.m., Overture's Wisconsin Studio), when former UW grad student Alyssa Knickerbocker reads a story that was a diamond in the rough when she brought it to class a few years ago, and is now a polished - and published - gem. Friday, it's off to the reading by the 2012 Wisconsin People & Ideas writing contest winners (Friday, 5:30 p.m., A Room of One's Own Bookstore) to cheer for my ex-undergrad, Andrea Lochen, and congratulate her on her debut novel coming out next year.
"At the Friday Night Festival of Fiction, I'll be chanting 'Em-ma, Em-ma' after ex-grad student Emma Straub reads from her hot new novel, Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures. And on Saturday, I'll kvell as two former students, Dean Bakopolous and his big sister Natalie, read from their respective new novels and talk about how they draw on the same memories to produce very different work (Saturday, 6:30 p.m., A Room of One's One Bookstore).
"In short, the festival is Christmas in November: an abundance of gifts and the kids back home for a few hectic but joyful days. Yes, after they all leave, I collapse. But while they're here, there's such fun, excitement, and pride in these young, talented, Madison-nurtured authors."