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Events Tue Jun 12 2012

Printers Row Lit Fest: an Epilogue

Printer's Row 2012.jpgThis weekend I periled the outrageously hot weather to walk the booths at the Chicago Tribune's annual Printers Row Lit Fest. The city's most recognizable literary celebration brought together all walks of the lit community including publishers, authors, and organizations. I walked off the Red Line, snagged a free sample of hummus, and was on my way to peruse what the fest had to offer. Right off the Harrison entrance, I heard a reading already in progress at the Mystery Writers of America tent. I made my way through the crowd, stopping at the Small Press Tent where local presses such as MAKE Magazine and Grow Books Press.

Alyson Beaton, the creative force behind Grow Books, had Grow's line of activity books for children on display, including a street graffiti art book and mini house kits. I walked around the tent, finally purchasing that issue of the Chicagoan (the new endeavor by JC Gabel of Stop Smiling) I'd been meaning to snag, before heading toward Grace Place to hear author Richard Russo and his daughter Kate Russo, discuss their collaborative work, Interventions.

Richard Russo, acclaimed author of Empire Falls, began his presentation with an apology that both he and his daughter Kate were suffering from allergies. This did not hinder the discussion of the process and craft that went into creating his newest work, Interventions. The book is a set of short stories, individually bound and accompanied by Kate's artwork created. Early on in the panel, the Russos mentioned that there would not be an e-book version, explaining that they wanted to make a "beautiful book in a beautiful way." This combined what Russo described as "the language of image and the language of words." The initial idea for the work came about around the dinner table where they established their interest to create a physical book. In a time of climbing digital sales for many of Russo's contemporaries, they wanted a piece that readers could relate to, and that paid homage to the early nineteen century novels that mixed text and image.

In the beginning, Russo sent Kate the first story, "The Horsemen," to generate ideas and see how the project could conceivably come together. Kate, a painter, looked for a still moment in the story to capture its theme. The end results for this particular story depicts a forest viewed from the perspective of a person riding a horse. With confidence that the project could be successful, Russo chose the other stories he would include in this collection: a piece of non fiction about his childhood home in upstate New York, a story about a woman selling her house but not wanting to give up the memories within (the collection's title work), and a nun in a writing class ("The Whore's Child," which was previously published). Kate went on to explain how the process of putting out this book on a small press gave them control of the final product from the colors of the art to the paper used. Russo offered that for some of his commercially published works, the publisher would select a cover image without much discussion, simply saying, "I hope you love this as much as we do." Working with his daughter, he made sure the two of them put together a book they would love as much as the reader.

After the panel, I headed out of the air conditioning and back into the sweltering heat. I bumped into Jesse Jordan, author of Gospel Hollow and co-host of Reading Under the Influence. He was among the hundreds of attendees scouring the booths lining Dearborn Street. There was no time for me to join in the crowds as I made a bee line to the next event I planned to attend (out of the dozens this weekend) -- a conversation between San Francisco author and Chicago native Peter Orner and local author Patrick Somerville.

The event was held in the University Center, a collaborative residence center for South Loop area colleges. I noticed local authors Jill Summers and Rob Duffer (also a host of RUI) were in attendance and took a seat next to them. For the panel, the two held an academic discussion about humor in fiction, plot and story development. It began with each reading a few pages from the other's work. Both selections were rich in character voice and humor. The selection Orner chose to read from Somerville came from his forthcoming work, This Bright River. The scene showcased Somerville's use of humor as we saw two central characters in the midst of a phone conversation. Somerville's use of plain language got to the core of what his characters wanted from one another. Orner commented that while humor is often necessary to keep the audience engaged, "the funnier the book, the harder to convey an emotional experience to the reader." In Somerville's This Bright River, he explained how the book is split into two parts, shared by different narrators. From the selection read, he explained that humor is rich in first half of the book, but making sure he did not overuse it, he was prompted to direct the second half of the book into more realistic storytelling. I was curious to hear more about this, but time only allowed for an hour long panel. Though left with more questions, I was satisfied knowing that Somerville might be able to continue this talk at the release of This Bright River June 26 at the Book Cellar.

Now late into the afternoon, programming in the large stages in the parking lot along Plymouth Court ranging from Eat Well to TribNation seemed to be winding down. Columbia College Chicago had a tent at the Harrison Street entrance and I was able to see some student and alumni readers from their creative writing programs. Author Cynthia Vargas was among the readers, her daughter Vivi in tow as she took the mic. Her 3-year-old took a turn too, singing a few lines into the mic after her mom read a piece of unpublished work. On my way back to the CTA, giving the booths another once over, I bumped into author Ben Tanzer and his son Myles. Printers Row was a family friendly event, with programming for everyone. It was great to see so many writer's about with their families.

 
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reno lovison / July 14, 2012 12:35 PM

If you would like to experience a little of the event. Check out http://www.authorsbroadcast.com to watch our monthly "Authors Showcase" program. The July and August episodes are dedicated to the Chicago Lit Fest. See what you missed or review the fun you had.

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