Printers Row Lit Fest all about love, literature and community – Chicago Tribune
Consuming literature is a lonely endeavor. Unless you’re reading out loud, sitting down with a novel is an intimate experience between you and your pages. But it doesn’t have to be.
A lover of books also loves to talk about favorite authors and works, which is where Printers Row Lit Fest steps into its role. The outdoor festival held Saturday and Sunday provides a space for bibliophiles to come together to create a community accepting of any and all kinds of literature.
John Glover, owner of Glover’s Bookery, says there’s a value in sharing what you enjoy. “People that talk books are either really interesting or really weird, but I enjoy learning what everyone else likes,” the bookdealer said. Glover has trekked to Chicago from Lexington, Ky., for Lit Fest every year since 1986 to sell rare, used and out-of-print literature.
In the tents that line the middle of Printers Row in the Loop, you can often catch parts of conversations on why Thoreau is a great writer, or how unbelievably cheap an antique Twain hardcover was.
Nataliya Shurupova of Chicago and her husband, Kevin Leonard, visited Lit Fest for their third consecutive year in search of 20th-century hardcover books. Leonard grabbed copies of “Charlotte’s Web” and “Alice in Wonderland,” and Shurupova excitedly pulled out a 1910s version of “The Odyssey” that she got for $24. “I’m not a collector, I’m just buying what I like to read,” she said. She, like many of the Lit Fest visitors, has been reading and keeping books since she was a child, but her growing library will go to her young son, Alexander. Alexander isn’t too excited about books yet, “but we’re always encouraging him to read,” his father said.
Lit Fest can be a place for collectors â€” and not just those seeking books. Nineteenth-century maps, old movie posters, vinyl records and retro magazines line shelves just as Shakespeare and Hemingway do. On the blazing hot Saturday, spending too much time outside in search of the perfect novel would cause you to sweat. The Chicago wind helped, but true opportunities to cool down came in the form of moderated discussions with authors and writers inside Jones College Prep and the Harold Washington Library Center.
Audiences, out of the high-noon sun, got to relax for 45 minutes, listen to their current literary crushes and secure autographs after the talks.
Some authors and writers, like poet and Harold Washington Literary Award Winner Rita Dove, shared their experiences and discussed why they write. Dove delved into how her worldview was shaped while she was living in Germany, and how she is trying to use her poetry to help conversations surrounding race in America.
Trans activist and writer Janet Mock and Dove stressed in their respective dialogues the importance of representation. Dove told the audience she hopes her work helps her readers “see that a black woman can do these things.”
For Mock, “I want to make people feel like ‘you’re not alone’ and ‘you can make it through this,'” without watering it down and pretending that her experiences are the same as others. They may have commonalities, but there are still differences â€” Mock can only offer her stories and hope there is solace in that.
Other writers and academics like Michael Eric Dyson acted as thought leaders during their conversations. Mock, in her two books, felt that she had armed her readers to talk about issues of gender and sexuality (and their intersections with race and class), and Dyson is actively taking part in discussions of race relations â€” as was seen on Bill Maher‘s “Real Time” Friday evening, in the wake of the host’s controversial use of the n-word during a previous episode of the show.
After the writers talked, there were short Q&A sessions. After gushing to Mock or thanking Dyson for his work, visitors engaged in meaningful questions about allyship, reparations and other tough and touchy topics. Lit Fest gave these readers a chance to take their thoughts off the page and get personal with the authors, for as long as time allowed.
If you didn’t get to ask your question, fear not. You might just have run into Dyson while looking at a copy of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” at an old bookstand.
Here are some other weekend highlights.
Samantha Irby, an Evanston native whose New York Times best-seller “We Are Never Meeting in Real Life” includes all sorts of grisly, laugh-and-cry-out-loud Chicago ordeals, along with Scaachi Koul (“One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter”) and Jenny Allen (“Would Everybody Please Stop?: Reflections on Life and Other Bad Ideas”), spent Saturday morning talking about finding humor in the everyday, even when the everyday resembles a dumpster fire. The three women with indignantly titled books (pointed out by moderator Tricia Bobeda) spoke frankly about topics ranging from ovarian cancer to psychopathic dads to public pothole tumbles while the audience laughed along with quips on memes, “writing processes” and Koul’s rejection of the journalism school dictum “Don’t write about yourself.” “You don’t write about yourself,” she said. “I don’t need another essay collection about a white guy (writing about his body parts).” Bobeda asked the essayists who they would like to write about, other than themselves. Irby said Forest Whitaker. “I would like to write our love story,” she said. It seemed like most of the audience was thinking, “Oh my God, please.”
â€” Morgan Greene
Harold Washington Literary Award recipient Dove was feeling so good at the end of her discussion with Tribune columnist Mary Schmich at the Harold Washington Library that she belted out a soothing rendition of “Summertime” when asked if she’d sing. The Saturday morning conversation between the two Pulitzer Prize-winning women revolved around the universality of childhood experiences as reflected in Dove’s latest book “Collected Poems: 1974-2004,” and Dove’s transformative year abroad in Germany in 1974 â€” the first time she said she was seen without the “racial baggage” she felt she carried around in America as a black woman. “Rita Dove is a force of nature,” Schmich said â€” complimenting the previous U.S. Poet Laureate on not only her written body of work, but also her influence and skills in other arts. The current state of race relations in the United States was also discussed. “Racism is an institution that built the nation, but also undermines our values,” Dove said, adding that writing a poem to encompass and break through current racial tensions would be her task for a while. Dove sounded up for the challenge, closing with, “Women writers are leaders. Black women can do this.”
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