Well, in the end, it was all pretty great, wasn’t it? Starting with the weather, which had been iffy right up to the opening of the first Wordplay book festival. But last weekend, there we were, crowded around the stage behind the Loft Literary Center in downtown Minneapolis, waiting for Stephen King and Benjamin Percy, and the weather was perfect: blue sky overhead, sun shining down, cool breeze on our faces.
King and Percy were the size of ants, because I was not one of those people who got in line at 7 a.m. for their 10 a.m. appearance Saturday, so there were several thousand people in front of me. But there was a Jumbotron, and King and Percy were on it, jumbo-sized.
Their rapport was fun and King was great at those pithy one-liners that everyone started tweeting immediately (expletive-laden though they were). “If you can read, you can write, and if you can read and write, you can own the [bad word] world.” And, surveying the huge crowd, in tones of wonder: “You came out because you actually read [another bad word].”
The attendance for the two-day festival topped 10,000, and it was wondrous to see so many people running around with lapel stickers in passionate defense of the Oxford comma, or lugging bags of journals and books, or elbowing each other to point out, There goes Amy Tan! Look at her boots!
While it was delightful to see authors in conversation (Amy Tan and Mary Karr packed their venue, with people lined up four deep outside), some of the unmoderated conversations were more entertaining than illuminating.
Tan and Karr, for instance, one-upped each other on whose mother was worse. “My mother was suicidal.” “My mother was homicidal.” “My mother was suicidal and homicidal.” “So was mine.” Stalemate. Happy Mother’s Day.
When there were moderators, though, the conversations were both entertaining and illuminating — such as portrait photographer Beowulf Sheehan, talking with Minneapolis photographer Eric Carroll about how he photographs authors. For one thing, Sheehan reads their books first. Cormac McCarthy, he noted, writes about dark subjects that are pierced with light, and so Sheehan’s images of McCarthy are dramatically lit.
He also asks authors how they would like to be portrayed. Donna Tartt told him that she is, at heart, a dandy, and so Sheehan’s portraits of her for “The Goldfinch” accentuate her cuffs, her collar, her general dandiness.
Later, Tommy Orange and Laila Lalami chatted with University of Minnesota Prof. Joseph Farag. That conversation was brilliant, with the two writers talking deeply about how they create and sustain the voices of so many characters in their recent polyphonic novels.
Farag — like Carroll with Sheehan, like Sun Yung Shin, who moderated a conversation between Dani Shapiro, Ed Bok Lee and Nicole Chung earlier in the day — asked excellent questions, kept the conversation flowing naturally, leaned forward and listened with sparkling interest.
And every session, both days, began with these poignant words: “I would like to begin by acknowledging we are on unceded land of the Dakota people.”
If you missed the whole thing and are regretting it, or if it whetted your literary appetite, remember that the Rain Taxi Twin Cities book festival will take place Oct. 12 at the State Fairgrounds. And there will be a host of writers’ series this fall and winter — Talk of the Stacks, Pen Pals, Talking Volumes and more.
Of course, the folks behind Wordplay are already planning book festival No. 2 for next May. You want to hear a writer? You have no lack of opportunities here.
Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune senior editor for books. On Facebook: facebook.com/startribunebooks.