When the 12th iteration of the Wisconsin Book Festival welcomed literature lovers to the Central Library last fall, the facility had been open for only about three weeks.
“There was an incredible learning curve in terms of understanding the space,” said Conor Moran, who leads the fest again this year. The organizer said he had every indication it was a resounding success, “but we’ve really learned how to maximize both what we’re able to do at the library and also what we’re able to do with community partners.”
Something else he and the staff at the Madison Public Library Foundation learned is that Madison wants author programming year-round. Outside of this week’s four-day run of talks, signings and exhibits, the Wisconsin Book Festival will have offered about 30 events by year’s end, from last January’s evening with author Lois Lowry to the Oct. 3 talk by Garth Stein, author of “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” with more events coming before 2014 draws to a close. Moran estimates that about 2,000 people have attended signings since the beginning of the year.
“We’re trying to capture what’s going on in publishing throughout the year. That has been a step in the right direction,” he said, because it gets publishers thinking about the October festival by keeping Madison’s literary profile prominent all year.
“It’s been a real revelation for us and something we’re committed to,” Moran said.
When the Madison Public Library Foundation took over the festival from the Wisconsin Humanities Council in 2013, the idea of a themed festival was abandoned, but a few distinct tracks have emerged in this, its 13th year.
A four-track approach
One of those interest areas appeals to children, with authors like B. G. Hennessy, whose “A Christmas Wish for Corduroy” is released this month, and Michael Hall, the writer and illustrator behind “It’s an Orange Aardvark!”
The popularity last year of High School Friday, which this year will engage teens with a presentation by Jordan Ellenberg of “How Not to Be Wrong,” led to the addition of a day for the younger set. Elementary School Thursday will see about 200 students taking part in middle-grade programming on the first day of the fest. The Central Library will play host to a performance by Gustafer Yellowgold, a “musical moving storybook” starring “a friendly fellow who came from the sun and landed in the Minnesota woods,” according to gustaferyellowgold.com.
Another interest avenue for festgoers focuses on Wisconsin authors. Writers like Ann Garvin, Michael Perry, Susan Gloss, Jerry Apps and Erika Janik will be promoting their books. On Saturday, the founders of the Madison Writers’ Studio, Michelle Wildgen and Susanna Daniel, will join Curtis Sittenfeld and Mary Kay Zuravleff in conversation about Sittenfeld’s “Sisterland” and the topics with which each writer struggles.
The book festival happens to fall at the same time as two other events being held Downtown: The Wisconsin Science Festival and the Society for Photographic Education Midwest conference.
The science events include talks by the first chief technology officer of the United States, Aneesh Chopra, author of “Innovative State: How New Technologies Can Transform Government.” Anthony Doerr, author of “All the Light We Cannot See,” will speak at the Wisconsin Institutes of Discovery on Saturday. (See the review of Doerr’s book elsewhere in this section.)
The photography track involves an art reception in the Central Library’s third floor gallery on Saturday.
Andy Adams, the editor of Flak Photo, has curated a selection of photography books from the library that will be on display.
While the Central Library is the hub of the festival, other venues, most within walking distance, will host readers.
“You’ll see an increased number of events happening outside of Central Library, while maintaining that festival feel that people really got behind last year,” Moran said. He said that part of his work this year was to look for related venues and partners, such as the nearby Kitchen Gallery, which will host an event Thursday with popular food blogger Molly Wizenberg who will talk about her new memoir, “Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage.”
On Oct. 19, readers can take a break for a little sunlight and exercise as the Run for Literacy 5K and 10K starts in front of A Room of One’s Own at 315 W. Gorham St. at 10:30 a.m. Proceeds benefit the Literacy Network.
Moran said what he’s most proud of with this year’s programming is the variety of authors who’ll be presenting.
He mentioned the popular mystery writer Deborah Crombie and political journalist Gail Sheehy as two luminaries in their fields that he is excited to present to the library crowds.
An event that is happening outside of the festival that he highlighted features Atul Gawande, who will talk about “Being Mortal” on Oct. 24 at the Central Library.
“We’re just so happy to be able to put this on for Madison,” he said.
And he’s already looking ahead. The dates for the 2015 Wisconsin Book Festival are booked: Oct. 22-25.