They promised a party, and a party it will be.
Stephen King will be there, with his guitar. So will Mary Karr, Marlon James, Amy Tan, Natasha Trethewey, Dani Shapiro and about 100 others.
Wordplay — a new book festival to be hosted in May by the Loft Literary Center — will open with a rollicking concert at First Avenue in downtown Minneapolis starring the all-author supergroup the Rock Bottom Remainders.
The Rock Bottom Remainders is a fluid band, its members changing depending on who is in town, but it’s anchored by King, Tan and Karr, as well as humorist Dave Barry and sportswriter Mitch Albom, all of whom will be in Minneapolis for the festival.
“We really believe that books deserve a party,” Loft Literary Center executive director Britt Udesen said last year when announcing Wordplay.
The festival, which will take place May 11-12 in downtown Minneapolis, will include readings, conversations, panel discussions, craft lectures, writing workshops, cooking demonstrations and children’s activities — including a real-life “Where’s Waldo?” After-hours events will include a lit crawl.
Events will be scattered among the Guthrie Theater, Mill City Museum and the Open Book building. Streets behind Open Book (3rd Street and 11th Avenue S.) will be closed to accommodate outdoor tents, three stages and food trucks.
Steph Opitz, the founding director of Wordplay, said the lineup offers something for everyone. There’s no real theme to the festival other than the broad theme of new books.
“When people see this list they’ll say it feels all over the place, to which I would say, awesome!” she said.
The full list — about two-thirds national writers and one-third local writers, all of whom had a book published in 2018 or the first half of 2019 — was announced Thursday and can be found online at loft.org/wordplay.
“I really can’t believe Jamaica Kincaid is coming,” Opitz said. “I found that out over Thanksgiving break, and I was at my in-laws’, just running around with excitement. I’m thrilled she’s going to be here. I’m excited by the list as a whole, and what it can offer.”
Book festivals have been growing in popularity across the country over the past 10 years, with Miami’s the biggest and one of the oldest, at 35 years. It runs for a full week, bringing in about 600 writers and attracting 300,000 to 400,000 people each autumn.
Other festivals — the Portland (Ore.) Book Festival, the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C., and Printers Row Lit Fest in Chicago — are more modest, usually held over two days.
Still, they bring in thousands of people and are designed to attract a wide audience. Portland, for instance, has, in addition to author events and writing workshops, a beer tent, concerts and pop-up readings at the Portland Art Museum.
The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books bills itself as “a two-day celebration of music, comedy, photography, film, art, food — and, of course, books.”
Minnesota has long been home to a multitude of literary events — public library programs such as Talk of the Stacks, Pen Pals and Club Book; the MPR- and Star Tribune-sponsored Talking Volumes lecture series; and author events hosted by colleges, universities, the Loft Literary Center and bookstores.
And the metro area is home to the Twin Cities Book Festival, hosted by the nonprofit literary journal Rain Taxi, which has been held each autumn for 18 years.
That festival, which takes place at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds over the course of one day, is free and draws about 6,000 participants.
Wordplay, Opitz and Udesen have said, is meant to complement, not compete with, the Rain Taxi festival.
Opitz, who has also worked on the Brooklyn Book Festival and the Texas Book Festival, estimates that about 10,000 people will attend the inaugural Wordplay, but she envisions the festival growing over time.
Tickets will go on sale at 10 a.m. March 14 for Loft members and on March 15 for nonmembers. Prices start at $10 and top at $400 for a VIP pass. Children under the age of 17 can take part at the $10 level for free. The Rock Bottom Remainders concert is $40. Tickets are available through First Avenue.
The festival will be cashless, so it’s recommended to buy tickets in advance. More information is at loft.org/wordplay- registration.