Michael McLane has every right to a day off after months of planning for the Utah Book Festival.
Instead the Utah Humanities Council's literary coordinator is only getting started, with days answering emails and phone calls ahead of him. And that's before the five-week festival kicked off on Saturday, Sept. 22 with a workshop with poet, essayist and novelist Ana Castillo at Salt Lake City's Library Square. "I've yet to check myself into an institution, [but] it's been so much work," McLane jokes.
His labor, and the forethought of colleagues at the Humanities Council, is worth it to book lovers across the state. Plenty of other festivals and arts events cater to niche interests across an array of arts, but the annual Book Festival, now in its 15th year, is one of the few arts events that covers the state from top to bottom, from Logan to St. George.
With its recurring motto of "What Kind of Idea Are You?" borrowed from British author Salman Rushdie (who is currently in the news nationally with the release of his memoir, Joseph Anton, about living under a fatwa) the festival's aim has always been to initiate conversation about books. The inherent challenge, then, is that the resulting conversations are as endless as the potential of books themselves. The inexhaustible supply of topics means the focus of the festival itself risks becoming frustratingly diffuse. That seeming weakness, though, is also a strength.
What happens so often with books, as McLane discovered for his first year as the council's literary program officer, is that they inevitably coalesce around communities of interest, such as midwifery to the environment, public education, and those who struggle with disabilities. This years the Council is partnering with institutions from the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art to the National Ability Center, hoping to reach a wide audience..
Author Victoria D. Burgess will host an Wednesday, Oct. 3 panel on midwifery for her forthcoming biography of Laurine Ekstrom Kingston, The Midwife. Natural science and wilderness writer Craig Childs, whose past books include The Secret Knowledge of Water and Finders Keepers: A Tale of Archaeological Plunder and Obsession, will present his new book, Apocalyptic Planet, with readings in Moab and Salt Lake City. Anthony Robles, a three-time all -American wrestling champion who was born without a leg, will discuss his life and his book, Unstoppable, in West Jordan. (See box for event information).
This year's festival also includes an impressive slate of Latino and Latina writers, including the legendary Chilean poet Raul Zurita, an artist tortured under the Pinochet dictatorship who has written a trilogy in homage of Dante, and whose "scaled poems" have been etched into the earth and sky using construction equipment and planes. "He's one writer to get really excited about," McLane said. "It was really dumb luck that we got him on the schedule."
Other Latino writers include Carlos Motta, an editor and multidisciplinary artist prominent in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community, children's author George Ancona, and Juan Pablo Villalobos, currently generating book-world buzz with his debut novel Down the Rabbit Hole, a comic story with a dark twist about a boy whose father is a drug lord. "Again, another piece of dumb luck," McLane said. "He just happened to be traveling through the state during the right time for the festival."
These offerings are a sampling of what McLane estimates to be the festival's 120 events stretching through September and October, which is officially recognized as National Book Month.
"A big part of my job is to find a way into as many communities as possible with this festival," McLane said. Because the festival is still adding events, McLane advises readers to keep an eye on the schedule at www.utahhumanities.org.
Utah Humanities Council's 15th-annual Book Festival
When • Sept. 22-Oct. 31, with some 120 events over five weeks.
Where • Salt Lake Main Library auditorium, 210 E. 400 South, Salt Lake City, and multiple locations at Utah towns and cities including Brigham City, Logan, Ogden, Ephraim, Orem, Midvale, West Jordan, Cedar City, St. George, Moab and Boulder.
Info • Free. Visit www.utahhumanities.org for a schedule or call 801-359-9670 for information.
Select Utah Book Festival events
Craig Childs • The author and NPR commentator, will discuss his new book Apocalyptic Planet: How the World is Always Ending Itself.
When • Wednesday, Oct. 3, 7 p.m. in Moab; Oct. 20, 3:30 p.m. in Salt Lake City.
Joy Harjo • Native American poet and author of memoir Crazy Brave.
When • Friday, Oct. 5, 7 p.m.
Where • Holmgren Historical Farm, 460 N. 300 East, Tremonton
Where • Star Hall, 125 East Center St., Orem; Salt Lake Main Library auditorium, 210 E. 400 South, Salt Lake City.
Angela Smith • The author will read from Hideous Progeny: Disability, Eugenics, and Classic Horror Cinema, with a screening of Tod Browning's cult-classic film "Freaks."
When • Tuesday, Oct. 16, 7 p.m.
Where • Salt Lake Main Library auditorium, 210 E. 400 South, Salt Lake City
Raul Zurita • The Chilean poet, author of Canto a Su Amor Desaparecido ("Song for His Disappeared Love") in Spanish and English program.
When • Thursday, Oct. 18, 5 p.m.
Where • Salt Lake Main Library auditorium, 210 E. 400 South, Salt Lake City.
Charlaine Harris • The author of "Southern Vampire Mystery" series and creator of Sookie Stackhouse, inspiration for HBO's "True Blood."
When • Saturday, Oct. 27, 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Where • Salt Lake Main Library Auditorium, 210 E. 400 South, Salt Lake City at 5 p.m.; Viridian Events Center, 8030 S. 1825 W. West Jordan at 7 p.m.
Anthony Robles • All-American wrestling champion who was born without a leg, will discuss his new book Unstoppable.
When • Saturday, Oct. 27, 7 p.m.
Where • Viridian Events Center, 8030 S. 1825 West, West Jordan