The Tucson Festival of Books was this past weekend, and it was once again a great success. The weather wasn’t as nice as I had hoped, as Saturday was cold and rainy, but there was still a strong turnout. The attendance was once again on track to be well over 100,000, though I haven’t seen a final figure anywhere.
The Author’s Table Dinner
On Friday, I was once again lucky enough to attend the kickoff dinner for the festival. It was wonderful!
J.A. Jance, a graduate of the University of Arizona, was the emcee this year. She is the author of dozens of thrillers and mystery novels, some of which are even set in Arizona.
Both of my parents have read nearly all of her novels, and I’ve read quite a few myself. I definitely recommend them!
R.L. Stine received the Founders’ Award, and gave a lovely speech. He was quite funny and self-effacing, including when he read some of his fan mail; one of the letters, in its entirety, read: “Dear R.L. Stine, You are my second-favorite author.” That was it. Another letter informed R.L. Stine that the writer had read 40 of his novels, and found them boring. Stine went on to discuss how he had gotten into written scary books (Goosebumps, Fear Street, etc.) and how grateful he was for his career and all the young readers that propelled him to success. Once again, I was impressed by his kindness, humility, and humor.
The keynote speaker was Alan Zweibel. Zweibel was one of the original writers for Saturday Night Live, along with many other television shows such as Monk and Curb Your Enthusiasm. He has written books and plays as well, and has won many awards for his work. As might have been expected, Zweibel’s speech was laugh-out-loud funny. He talked about how he got started as a comedy writer, selling jokes for $7 apiece to stand-up comics, and how he used to have to haggle with comedians who only wanted to pay him based off how much of a laugh his jokes got.
Zweibel went on to explain how Lorne Michaels found him in a comedy club, and hired him to write for SNL. Zweibel wrote for the show from 1975 through 1980. On his first day, Zweibel was so intimidated by all the comedy greats that he met in the studio for SNL that he panicked and hid behind a potted plant. A young woman named Gilda Radner saw him behind the plant and crouched down to speak to him, forming an immediate friendship that lasted until her death in 1989.
One of the funniest parts of Zweibel’s speech was when he talked about arguing with the woman who worked as the network’s censor, telling them what they could and couldn’t say on the air. Zweibel even talked her into allowing them to say “bitch” on air, after successfully convincing her that they were using the word as an adverb, rather than calling someone a bitch. He wasn’t sure if she believed him, or just couldn’t figure out how to debate him, but “bitch” stayed in the sketch. Zweibel also won debates by telling her she was being sexist when she tried to block “blue balls” shortly after allowing “pussy whip” — though both terms were masked in jokes that referred to blue cheese and cats, respectively.
After coming offstage, Zweibel shook hands, spoke with people, and took photos. He was charming, and just as funny offstage as on. The entire night was light-hearted and fun, with both speakers telling lots of jokes and amusing anecdotes. It was a wonderful evening, and got everyone very excited for the festival the next day.
The Festival of Books
I just about had a temper tantrum when I woke up to clouds and gusting winds on Saturday morning. When a drizzle kicked him, I actually started pouting and flopped on my bed very dramatically.
I was determined to go to the festival regardless, though, so I donned my raincoat, grabbed a plastic bag to protect any books I bought from the rain, and headed over the University of Arizona campus. Despite the nasty weather (it rained off and on the whole five hours I was there), many people still came to enjoy the events. Many of the same vendors were there, including Bookmans and Steam Crow. (Lots of literary love to them!) I especially like the Bookmans tote this year; it has an illustration of a Lucha Libre fighter with a “Reader 4 Life” tattoo, and in big pink letters says “Vivan los Libros”.
The Literacy Connects tent was beautiful again this year. It had two giant white boards where people could write and draw about why reading was important, or what books they liked and why. Photos can do justice much better than my descriptions:
The range of events was astounding. There were readings, book signings, writing seminars, question-and-answer sessions, and so much more. On top of all the strictly literary events, there were musical performances, food vendors, science experiments, games, characters in costume, and art of all kinds. The festival is truly a little bit of everything, bound together by a common love of books and passion for literacy. After wandering happily around the tents and events, it was time for me to report for my volunteer shift at the English Department tent. I was working the table to both give information about the fabulous English department, as well as to sell raffle tickets for a print from an 1870 magazine depicting the all of the characters from Charles Dickens’ novels.
Despite the crummy weather, I had a blast. The weather on Sunday was much better, though, and so I’m sure many people had an absolutely perfect day.
Until next year — happy reading!