On stage, Al Franken cracked jokes and talked politics. Former U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera praised poet Ray Gonzalez, who smiled and praised him back and then read a few poems.
Cartoonist Roz Chast shared her quirky vision of New York, and young-adult writers S.K. Ali and Peter Bognanni talked about the worst thing that has ever happened to them on a book tour.
Daniel “Lemony Snicket” Handler kept folks laughing; memoirist Alex Lemon kept them pondering, and poet Yrsa Daley-Ward kept them enthralled.
All of these things did not happen at the same time, of course, but they all happened on the same day, over the span of about five hours. I hope you didn’t miss it — “it” being last weekend’s 17th annual Twin Cities Book Festival, a big, inspiring celebration put on by the literary journal Rain Taxi.
The whole thing went off without a hitch, as far as I could tell — except when Twitter autocorrected one of my tweets, changing Al Franken into Al Frankenstein.
Gonzalez, who teaches at the University of Minnesota and is the 2017 Witter Bynner fellow, credited Herrera with helping him establish his career. “He said this to me many, many years ago: Love what you have,” Gonzalez said. “That simple. Love what you have. And that is why I am here today.”
And then he read his newest poem, “Solar Eclipse Totality.”
Herrera listened intently. “Ray writes solid, rockin’ poetry,” he said. “Every time I come back here, I want to stay here. Everyone has happiness on their faces. I want to have happiness on my face.”
(But Herrera has such an infectious smile that it seems clear he is no stranger to joy.)
The crowd for Sen. Franken, D.-Minn., in conversation with MPR’s Gary Eichten, was enormous, fanning out so far that many people couldn’t see the stage. Franken was discussing his newest book, “Al Franken: Giant of the Senate,” and he started his talk by laughing about his reviews on Amazon.
“The one-star reviews are like, ‘How dare he call himself a giant of the Senate?’ ” he said.
This wasn’t the first time his satire had been questioned; in 2003 he was sued by Fox News over the subtitle of his book “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.”
“That helped the sales of the book tremendously,” Franken said. “They didn’t understand that satire is protected speech even if the object of the satire doesn’t get it.”
After the laughter of Herrera and Franken came the intensity of Daley-Ward’s poetry. “Crack open a window,” she said. “Even in the rain.”
And when we left the fairgrounds, the bright skies of the morning had turned into a misty, poetic rain. Check out the photos at facebook.com/startribunebooks. (And “like” us while you’re there.)
Coming next month
If you are kicking yourself for missing the festival, don’t despair. Head to Grand Marais, Minn., Nov. 2-5 for the North Shore Readers and Writers Festival. Kao Kalia Yang, Mary Casanova, Barton Sutter, Patricia Hampl and others will offer readings and workshops. Editors from local presses, including Coffee House, the University of Minnesota and Graywolf, will talk about the industry. More information: grandmaraisartcolony.org.
And, a favor
The holidays are coming, and we need your help on our gift-books roundup. Write a few lines about a book you love and why you recommend it, and include your full name and city. I’ll run suggestions Nov. 26. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune’s senior editor for books. On Twitter: @StribBooks. On Facebook: facebook.com/startribunebooks