Tucson Festival of Books 2017

Another year, another blockbuster. Once again I missed out on a couple of big names – Colson Whitehead and Michael McGarrity – but there was plenty of consolation in seeing some lesser-known, bright young (and not-so-young) things.

Adrienne Celt

I was really looking forward to seeing Adrienne Celt as she’ll be appearing later this year at the Southwest Festival of the Written Word. Adrienne, a novelist/cartoonist, starred on an excellent panel with Reed Karaim and Karen Brennan. She was funny and humble and talked lots of good sense.

Karaim is a journalist as well as a novelist, and he had interesting things to say about how his journalistic writing habits affect his fiction. Journalists “don’t have much time for writer’s block,” he says, and they’ve learned to take themselves out of the story.

Karen Brennan was just hilarious – she reminded me of an old-time actress who’s seen it all and condensed it into a thousand one-liners.

Tim Z. Hernandez

I also had the pleasure of attending a session with Tim Z. Hernandez, author of All They Will Call You, a novel I cannot wait to read. Tim, along with Dan Chacón, interviewed me on Words on a Wire (here), and his new book is getting superb reviews. He’s one of those artist/performer/writers who grab your attention through humor, charm, and integrity.

Tim appeared alongside another writer/artist, Maceo Montoya, who spoke so eloquently about Chicanismo. Montoya mentioned that his Chicano students have been through High School and barely know a thing about their heritage.

With a combination of humor and gravity, these old friends riffed away, and it was a joy.

Talking of riffers, Juan Felipe Herrera, the Poet Laureate of the United States, joined Alberto Rios on stage for a beautiful hour of poetry, philosophy and laughter. Rios told great stories about the border at Nogales: how it was first erected from landing strips and how the Mexicans on the other side simply pushed them down so the strips would form a bridge over a creek. The message was … life goes on.

One of these two also quoted Ana Castillo’s admonition to writers: “Write what is tearing at our hearts,” a line I won’t forget.

Nathan Hale

The highlight for me was a kids’ session. That sometimes happens when you have an 8-year-old in tow. Nathan Hale is a cartoonist and storyteller with a difference. His difference is that he does both simultaneously, using software that allows him to project his drawings, live, to the audience as he’s telling the story. He does all the voices – in this case, Thomas Jefferson, Sacagawea, a French explorer called Charbonneau, and even a talking dog. It was history as we didn’t know it, and it was an amusing and inspiring hour.

Thanks, as always, to the organizers and sponsors. You do a remarkable job.




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