The Arizona Book Festival – April 5th, 2003


On Saturday, April 5th, I participated in the Sixth Annual Arizona Book Festival, held for the first time at the historic Carnegie Library (Phoenix’s first public library) on West Washington Street in downtown Phoenix. The event started at 10 a.m. and officially wrapped up at 5 p.m.

The Festival is sponsored by the Arizona Humanities Council, the Maricopa County Library District and the Arizona State Library.

It is a free event held to celebrate the book in all its forms. It features four stages on which a continuous program of panel discussions, readings, author talks, question and answer sessions, and even theatrical performances are held. Attendees can attend the presentations, buy books, have books appraised, and even attend cooking demonstrations (and sample the results). There is even a special children’s area with a program of hands-on activities and storytelling. This year a featured guest for the children was the famous character Dora, from the acclaimed Nickelodeon show “Dora the Explorer.”

The Carnegie Library first opened its doors on February 14th, 1908–four years to the day before Arizona became a State. The building served as the main Phoenix Public Library until a new spacious site was constructed in a more centralized location a little to the North and East. The building underwent a $1.3 million rehabilitation in the mid-1980s and has most recently been equipped with public-access computers through which visitors will have access to a wide range of information.

Andrew Carnegie, an industrialist and philanthropist, funded the construction of more than 2500 buildings worldwide between 1898 and 1919, two-thirds of which were built in the United States.

The building now houses the Arizona Woman’s Hall of Fame Museum.

A variety of food vendors were in attendance as well, providing everything from hot dogs and hamburgers to Mexican Food and Indian Fry Bread.

I have been participating as an author guest at this event since they first started and always look forward to spending a pleasant day with fellow authors and booklovers. This year some 150 published authors attended. I do not yet know the attendance figures for this year, but last years attendees numbered some 14,000.

Dozens of booths displayed books and book-related literature. Booksellers, educational institutions offering classes about literature, small press publishers, special interest groups and clubs all offered pamphlets and merchandise, answered questions and generally spent the beautiful day smiling. The temperature remained in the 70s throughout and there was a light breeze that occasionally gusted and sent things flying. It was not uncommon to see sun-reddened faces by the end of the day.

I found this year’s event significantly different from previous outings because of the change in venue. For the last five years, the Festival was held at the Margaret Hance Deck Park located behind the main Phoenix Library downtown just West of Central Avenue. At the Deck Park location (actually a park located over a downtown transit tunnel) the crowds could be quite large because passers-by could see the tents and banners and curiosity would bring them to check things out. Since it was at the normally busy Main Library, people would spend time at both and the audiences for specific presentations could be rather large. Parking was on the site and very convenient.

At the Carnegie Library, the chance of attracting passers-by is significantly reduced. There is less street traffic, especially on the weekend, and parking is somewhat less convenient – though there was free parking nearby. The available space is somewhat more confined making the event appear smaller. The grounds of the Carnegie Library are fenced and gated, however, so the site is considerably more secure.

Essentially, the change in venue made the Arizona Book Festival a destination point instead of drop-in event. From what I observed, the crowd was smaller than in previous years, though no less enthusiastic.

The guest authors are sponsored by various clubs and organizations like Sisters In Crime, the Arizona Authors Association, and (in my case) by the Central Arizona Speculative Fiction Society. Modest Grants are given to these groups to aid them in attracting well-known authors who will attract fans to the event and provide a high profile.

My sponsors brought Hugo Award Winning Author David Brin (author of Startide Rising and Earth) to Phoenix from San Diego, and the balance of the authors participating with us this year were already resident in Arizona, including Jennifer Roberson, Doranna Durgin, Ernest and Emily Hogan, Michael Stackpole, Dennis McKiernan and myself. And, remember, the Central Arizona Speculative Fiction Society is only one of many clubs sponsoring author appearances.

We conducted our panel discussions at one of four program areas–ours was called the Literary Stage. Following a reading by David Brin, panel topics included Writing Influences, World Building and Writing In Someone Else’s Universe.

Featured authors at the event included Jack Gantos, Kent Haruf, J.A. (Judy) Jantz, Maxine Hong Kingston, William Kittredge, Annick Smith, E. Annie Proulx and Alberto Alvaro Rios.

In conjunction with the Arizona Book Festival, there is another program called OneBookAZ, a statewide effort that brings readers together through literature by asking each adult to read the same book and participate in discussions and programs throughout the month of April. This year’s selection is Kent Haruf’s Plainsong. There is a separate selection for children, Jack Gantos’ Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key.

All in all, it was a beautiful day and a fine time was had by all.

Adam Niswander
adamn@worldnet.att.net
Phoenix, Arizona

Author of The Shaman Cycle Novels: The CharmThe Serpent SlayersThe Hound HuntersThe War of the WhisperersThe Nemesis of Night and The Primal Pipers; as well as non-Cycle novels The Repository, and The Sand Dwellers.

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