Under the Madison Public Library Foundation’s leadership, the Wisconsin Book Festival has morphed from a once-a-year frenzy for literature lovers into a year-round event series culminating in a four-day celebration in the fall. That celebration begins this week with more than 70 events in Downtown Madison.
Book festival director Conor Moran says that, when he took over the festival in 2013, the goal was to realize the full potential of a festival for readers, “and I feel like we’ve hit a good place for the moment,” he said.
The festival is the culmination of more than 30 standalone events throughout the year, including an array of diverse authors including Jacquelyn Mitchard, Helen MacDonald, and Darryl “DMC” McDaniels.
Moran continues to stress the idea of walkability, which means most events are within a few blocks of one another. Venues include Central Library, Overture Hall, the Wisconsin Historical Museum, the Wisconsin Veterans Museum, A Room of One’s Own, and the farthest-flung, the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery.
The festival once again coincides with the Wisconsin Science Festival, which features authors such as Cathy O’Neil, who wrote “Weapons of Math Destruction” about the tyranny of software in our lives, and Nicholas Carr, author of “Utopia is Creepy,” another examination of life in the digital age.
As far as themes go, Moran said that he doesn’t set out to recruit authors who write around one particular theme, but that, “anytime you put 70 events together you start to see threads.”
One thread surrounds Shakespeare, which coincides with the Year of Shakespeare in Wisconsin to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death and the arrival of a First Folio at UW-Madison in November. Some Shakespeare-centric books highlighted include Andrea Mays’ book “The Millionaire and the Bard,” “Performing New Lives” by Jonathan Shailor, and “Much Ado” by Michael Lenehan, about a summer with American Players Theatre.
Another thread is one of racial diversity, which fits with the library’s efforts to showcase diverse viewpoints.
“The library tries to be all things to all people, and for us that means bringing in people from all walks of life,” Moran said. He cites books like “We Gon’ Be Alright” by hip-hop journalist Jeff Chang and “I’m Judging You” by cultural blogger Luvvie Ajayi. On Saturday night, Viet Thanh Nguyen will discuss his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Sympathizer” and his examination of the Vietnam War, “Nothing Ever Dies,” which was recently named a finalist for the National Book Award.
“There’s an opportunity to talk about a lot of things, which is part of what we’re trying to do,” Moran said.
Just outside of the festival on Nov. 1 is UW-Madison’s Go Big Read event featuring Matthew Desmond and his book “Evicted,” about poverty and race in Milwaukee.
Younger readers are included as well, with the return of High School Friday, which features a spoken-word event at the Central Library. On Saturday, longtime Madison journalist Dean Robbins presents his two children’s books, “Miss Paul and the President” and “Two Friends,” both of which introduce young readers to political activism.
The festival opens with Wisconsin favorite Jane Hamilton and her book “The Excellent Lombards,” and closes with mystery writer Charlaine Harris, best known for creating Sookie Stackhouse and the “True Blood” saga, which follows the adventures of vampires of the Deep South.
Moran is already thinking about next year, the book festival’s 15th anniversary. He mentions events planned for the spring including big-name authors Richard Russo and Margaret Atwood.
“I have two events booked for next year,” Moran said. “2017 is shaping up to be another banner year.”