The biggest book festival the Twin Cities area has ever seen is just about ready to launch.
Wordplay will take place May 11-12 in downtown Minneapolis. Created by the folks at the Loft Literary Center, the festival will bring in more than 100 writers, including Amy Tan, Tommy Orange, Edwidge Danticat and Stephen King, who will open Saturday's events with an interview on an outdoor stage.
Daytime events will be held indoors at the Loft and the Guthrie Theater, and outside in tents just north of U.S. Bank Stadium. A wristband will be required for admittance. The evening Literary Pub Crawl will take place at various spots in Uptown, including Morrissey's Irish Pub and Bryant-Lake Bowl. (No wristband required.)
Wondering how to get involved? We talked with Steph Opitz, the founding director of Wordplay. Read on.
Q: What is Wordplay?
A: We call it a party for books. It's a street and indoor festival with about a hundred authors who you can hear read and discuss their work, and then meet them and get them to sign their latest book. There will also be book-related activities, especially for young readers; food trucks; a beer garden, vendors. The idea is really to have fun, with books at the center of it all.
Q: How did it come to be?
A: A lot of people were behind this, but a coffee date between myself and Britt Udesen, the executive and artistic director of the Loft, really kicked it off.
Q: How long has it been in the works?
A: Almost two years. Uff da.
Q: How many people are working on it?
A: When you look at staff and volunteers, it's more than 500.
Q: What is the purpose of the festival?
A: To place literature at the center of daily life.
There's an ecosystem we're trying to foster. It involves: Kids seeing adults read. Having fun with books — like sleuthing around the festival to discover where is Waldo, in real life. Adults gathering to discuss pressing contemporary topics using literature as the conversation's vehicle. Having a beer and/or a taco while listening to someone read. Engaging in community. Buying books and making a practice of supporting authors and independent bookstores. It's this whole big thing that we want the festival to be perpetuating.
Q: Are there any writers you are most excited about?
Q: Reading is a solitary sport. Why are book festivals popular?
A: I think most people want to talk about the great book they've just read — that's why book social media is so robust.
Book festivals create a space for people to talk about the great book they love, with people who feel the same, in front of the very author who wrote said book. And it's a space where you can get a sampling of a lot of books and authors all at once to plot out your next book — or hundred books — to read.
Q: Why do you think people want to see and hear the authors they read?
A: I think that a reader's relationship with an author is much more intense than, say, your typical celebrity.
A reader spends so much more time with an author, in a manner of speaking, when reading their work — that book may have gone with the reader on vacation, or gotten them through a difficult time, or been a reason for friends to get together.
So it's thrilling to hear and see the writer of a book held so dear in person.
Q: You've got mystery writers and children's authors, regional writers and nationally renowned poets, fiction writers and memoirists. Why did you assemble such an eclectic list?
A: Because we want an eclectic audience. Whatever you read, however you read it, we want Wordplay to be a place for you to fly that flag.
Q: How did you nab the elusive Stephen King?
A: I'm not sure I really know what ultimately tipped the scale in our favor, to be honest. Perhaps it was that I had tried to get him to do an event for over a decade, since back when I was working on the Brooklyn Book Festival, or that we're the home of Benjamin Percy, of whom the King is a professed fan. [Percy will lead the dialogue with King at 10 a.m. Saturday.]
Likely it had a lot to do with the large gathering of the Rock Bottom Remainders [the supergroup of authors, including King, who will play a sold-out show at First Avenue the night before his appearance].
Q: There will be six, seven, sometimes eight things going on at once. What advice do you have for navigating this?
A: Pick one or two events you definitely want to see each day, and then be nimble about the rest. It's fun to let curiosity and convenience guide the rest of the day — "Oh, there's seats open at that stage, let's check it out!" "Oh, there's a lot of people laughing at that stage, let's see what's going on!" Book festivals, like musical festivals, are a great place to see someone you're already a fan of, but an even better place to discover your next favorite author.
Q: Will this become an annual event?
A: Yep! That was the plan all along.
Q: When it's over, are you going to Disneyland?
A: I'm going to the adult version of Disneyland: New Orleans for a few days with some friends. Then submissions open June 1 for Wordplay 2020, and we get ready to do it all over again.