Saturday, March 17, 2018

Tucson Festival of Books: Luis Alberto Urrea, Vickie Vértiz, Daniel Olivas and Juan Felipe Herrera

Touted as one of the largest gatherings for the culture of books, the Tucson Festival of Books took place the weekend of March 10 & 11. 

It  seemed to have met expectations,  the mall of the campus of the University of Arizona teeming with one hundred thousand plus people weaving  their way around the tents set up by 600 book vendors and publishers who were exhibiting a vast array of genre: murder mysteries, romance, dystopian, gardening, food preparation, fantasy, comic books, manga, arts and crafts, you name it, it was there.

There were also tents/ booths set up by many organizations that are connected in some manner to books such PBS/NPR or the Forest Service.

National Parks

And then there were the 400 authors talking about their published works, or reading from one of their books, or lecturing to impart their knowledge of their craft. And there were events to entertain or workshops in a creative project as was the case with one held by Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera that my wife attended and recorded for me, titled Writing Weird Wild Fun Poetry with Children. In the workshop Felipe used an interesting interactive technique with phrases in Spanish and English such as molcajete,  sahuaro, salsa, that the audience of 40 plus had to repeat. My wife said she relaxed, feeling like a child having fun. Eventually he arrived at the core of the workshop to break down barriers that people have about poetry by having them create an odd sized book of several pages with scribbles and having participants assign a word to each page derived from the scribble, that linked together became a short poem. 

Juan Felip Herrera
 I attended a panel discussion with Daniel Olivas and Vickie Vértiz who each read several poetry selections from their book(s). Vickie, a self described lesbian woman read a memorable poem entitled Vete a la Chingada Party which she said was an event that she foresaw as a celebration of her graduation and return to her hometown of Bell Gardens from a fancy Ivy League school but turned out to be anything but that as she describes a run in with a rival over a former lover. It was both funny and revealing.

Daniel’s most memorable poem was one describing a public reading he was giving and one he hoped would be attended by his father. He and the audience had to wait past the time scheduled and reluctantly he had to start without him. The father eventually arrived and a conversation ensued after the reading at which time Daniel learned that his father, a would be writer early in his life, has burned all of his manuscripts. 

Danile Olivas and Vickie Vértiz

That afternoon we both attended a session with Luis Alberto Urrea and Tom Perrotta, titled Masters of Fiction, attended by 300 people, many of them older women with white/silver hair.  It takes a lot of gumption for an author to share a talking spot with Luis Alberto Urrea, who seems to ease into any topic with humor and humility connecting effortlessly with an audience and unintentionally eclipsing the presence of the other author.

Luis Alberto Urrea and Tom Perrotta on the right
Urea conveys a lot of information and opinions and I’ll share two of them. Early in his career he was told by someone important in the publishing world that he should adopt a different name, that Urea was too difficult for the reading public. Urea said no and made sure he was always Luis Alberto Urea.

Secondly he said that he has told aspiring Latino authors that they should not box themselves into the genre of Chicano Literature as it can easily become a coffin.

Unidentified Folklorico Dance Group entertaining some of the attendees at one of several stages

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