Nineteen years ago, Rain Taxi held the first Twin Cities Book Festival at Open Book in Minneapolis. It was just weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, and the sole out-of-town author — 77-year-old poet Robert Creeley — finally made it to Minneapolis from the East Coast after 18 arduous hours of travel. (There were tons of local writers in attendance, as well, including Robert Bly.)
Creeley “really went through a lot to get here, and I think that alone said something about why we all do this,” said Rain Taxi editor Eric Lorberer.
“When he spoke to us for that keynote that year, we felt reaffirmed in how hearing from a major poet could be consoling and nurturing and give us some of our humanity back in that really troubled time.
“And we know that will be equally true this year as this year’s authors bring us some joy and hope in this troubled time.”
The festival has grown from about 1,000 attendees that first year to a reliable 6,000 and is a literary mainstay of autumn.
This year’s festival — the 20th — will be virtual, and it will be spread over three days (Oct. 15-17) instead of the usual one jam-packed day. The two additional days are “to fight online fatigue,” Lorberer said. “While normally it’s great fun to cram in a lot of authors and exhibitors in one big beautiful day, in the digital format we recognize that cramming-in is not the paradigm.”
Over those three days, people can browse the virtual exhibition hall, with publishers, journals and other literary organizations; attend the Minnesota Mingle of local authors (renamed the Minnesota Mashup for the different online experience); and take part virtually in all the usual activities.
It will open and close with huge names — poet Naomi Shihab Nye will give the keynote on Oct. 15; and Ayad Akhtar, poet, novelist and newly named president of PEN America, will close the festival, in conversation with Minnesota writer and musician Dessa.
In between, there will be nonstop virtual events — writers in conversation, panel discussions, readings, stories for children.
Lorberer was reluctant to single out highlights. (“I am passionate about each and every person who is coming,” he said. “I invited them all and I appreciate their work.”)
So here is a sampling from me:
James Patterson and Kwame Alexander will discuss their joint biographical novel about Muhammad Ali; Kate DiCamillo will be in conversation with young adult author Jennifer M. Brown; Jasper Fforde will be in conversation with Stephanie Curtis; poets Yona Harvey, Linda Hogan and Ted Mathys will read from their new work and take part in a discussion moderated by Minnesota poet Kris Bigalk; and graphic novelists Tim Probert, Kathleen Gros and David Bowles will talk about writing graphic novels for middle-grade children.
Rain Taxi will also release a chapbook of Black poetry, which came about as part of the organization’s anti-racism pledge in June.
“Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop” was edited by Minneapolis poet Mary Moore Easter, and it includes work by nine Black poets responding to the death of George Floyd: Philip S. Bryant, Easter, keno evol, Sherrie Fernandez-Williams, Bernard James, Douglas Kearney, Michael Kleber-Diggs, Sagirah Shahid and Maya Washington.
The festival schedule is online at raintaxi.com, and events will be archived on the festival webpage for anyone who gets online fatigue. It is free for all, but there will be ways to donate online.
“Our nonprofit organization’s only chance to break even is if people like what they see and donate a little bit,” Lorberer said. “We have always been dependent on that ethos of a lot of people giving just a little in support of this effort.”
Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune senior editor for books. @StribBooks