The most surprising part of this year's Wisconsin Book Festival (Thursday-Sunday, Oct. 17-20) is how much a celebration of homegrown talent it will be. Clearly, great care has been taken to highlight books that reflect a wide range of voices and reading interests. And yet, with notable exceptions, most presenters live and work in right here in Wisconsin.
Revamped under the auspices of the Madison Public Library Foundation, the four-day festival will include roughly a third as many scheduled readings and events as in 2012. While quite a few events are at Overture Center again this year, the majority will showcase the new Central Library. For those who found previous festivals unwieldy and hard to navigate, this year's should feel like a much more intimate affair.
Among the traditions preserved is High School Friday, which will bring about 150 high school students to the Central Library for a day of programming with authors, artists and performance poets. There will be presentations and workshops by First Wave, the Library as Incubator Project, and Milwaukee sportscaster Jessie Garcia, author of My Life With the Green and Gold: Tales From 20 Years of Sportscasting. Garcia will also appear at a Friday event that's open to the public (4 p.m., Central Library's Community Room).
The fest isn't just a place to meet authors and fellow readers; it's also a chance to expand your book collection. Copies of all books presented at the festival will be available at the Booksellers Lounge in Central Library's lobby. The wildly popular book sales long associated with the festival will continue, too. The Friends of UW Libraries Book Sale at Memorial Library will be held Thursday through Saturday; the Friends of Madison Public Library Book Sale will be at Central Library's garage Thursday through Saturday; and the Friends of the Children's Cooperative Book Center Sale will take place on Saturday at Helen C. White Hall's Library School Commons.
From technology to philosophy
This year's offerings are bound to create conversations that continue after the event concludes. Journalist Stephen Jimenez has been given a prime-time, Saturday-night spot (7 p.m., Central Library's Community Room) for reading from The Book of Matt, his provocative and meticulously researched reexamination of Matthew Shepard's 1998 murder. And renowned technology writer Clive Thompson will share his contrarian thoughts about the future of human intelligence from Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better in a Friday event that's hosted by Wisconsin Public Radio's Steve Paulson (5:30 p.m., Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery).
Bill Ayers -- formerly of the Weather Underground, and currently a committed educator and activist -- will talk about his second memoir, Public Enemy, on Thursday (7 p.m., Overture Center's Capitol Theater). On Saturday, NBC and MSNBC contributor Jonathan Alter will discuss The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies with Madison's own presidential biographer David Maraniss (1:30 p.m., Central Library's Community Room).
Historical offerings include UW philosopher Steven Nadler and UW historian Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen reflecting on philosophers Descartes and Nietzsche and their influence on modern thinking (Thursday, 5:30 p.m., Central Library's Community Room). At 7 p.m. on Thursday, University of Virginia historian Andrew Jackson O'Shaughnessy will discuss The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the American Revolution, and the Fate of the Empire at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum.
Feasting on fiction
Fiction has always been a central feature of the book festival. In this trimmer configuration, the old Friday Night Festival of Fiction has given way to several individual readings. On Friday, Dan Chaon, one of the most respected short-story writers of his generation and a National Book Award finalist, will read from his recent collection, Stay Awake (5:30 p.m., Central Library's Community Room). Then on Sunday, Chaon and Lynda Barry, an author and cartoonist raised in Richland Center, Wis., will co-present a three-hour workshop on "writing the unthinkable" (11 a.m., Central Library's Bubbler Room).
On Saturday, Emma Straub, a former UW creative writing fellow, returns to read from her acclaimed novel about a Wisconsin girl who ends up in 1930s Hollywood, Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures (10:30 a.m., Central Library's Community Room); local author Dale Kushner will read from her impressive debut novel, The Conditions of Love (1 p.m., Central Library's Madison Room); and Susanna Daniel, who also makes Madison her home, will read from Sea Creatures (5:30 p.m., Central Library's Community Room), her beautifully crafted novel of a family and their challenges. On Sunday, beloved Wisconsin author David Rhodes returns to the festival to read from Jewelweed (10 a.m., Central Library's Community Room), a new novel that takes us back to the haunting landscapes and deeply human characters of Wisconsin's Driftless Region.
E.M. Kokie, author of the compelling young adult novel Personal Effects, about a teenager dealing with the death of his older brother in Iraq, will give a side-by-side reading with her audiobook narrator Nick Podehl on Saturday (11 a.m., Central Library's teen area). The discussion to follow will center on narration in teen novels.
If your fiction-loving heart just won't be satisfied unless you get to see a bunch of authors together on one stage, check out Madison-based novelist and Tin House executive editor Michelle Wildgen's humor-writing showcase on Saturday (8:30 p.m., Central Library's Community Room). She'll be joined by Straub, Lucas Mann and Lindsay Hunter, who'll all read from the more humorous side of their work.
Poetry is meant to be heard, and the Wisconsin Book Festival is a terrific opportunity to experience it live. If the festival had a soundtrack, it would probably be performed by First Wave, the UW's hip-hop and urban arts learning community. First Wave's performance poetry events start on Thursday with a hip-hop arts showcase at 7:30 p.m. in Central Library's Community Room. The Friday performances begin at 5:30 p.m. in Overture Center's Promenade Hall, with spoken-word artists Lemon Andersen and Gia Scott-Heron providing feedback along with Verse Wisconsin's Margaret Rozga, Ching-In Chin, Amaud Jamaul Johnson and Andy Gricevich. Stay for the narrative performance pieces of Line Breaks Rewind, which begin at 8 p.m. On Saturday night, Andersen and Scott-Heron will host the Passing the Mic Tribute Showcase, also at Promenade Hall, following a 6 p.m. screening of Andersen's documentary film about his attempts to reconcile life and art.
On Friday, the lively curators of the Monsters of Poetry reading series -- Adam Fell, Kara Candito and Christopher Mohar -- will read from their own work (6:30 p.m., Central Library's Bubbler Room). Wisconsin poet laureate Max Garland will read on Saturday (4 p.m., A Room of One's Own) and also appear on Sunday as part of a conversation with Madison poets laureate Sarah Busse and Wendy Vardaman (11:30 a.m., Central Library's Community Room).
Art meets storytelling
Illustration and graphic novels figure prominently in this festival, starting with children's literature historian Leonard Marcus' Thursday-evening lecture, "Why Picture Books Matter" (7:30 p.m., Monona Terrace's Lecture Hall). Other highlights include an illustration conversation, in which artists Briony Morrow-Cribbs, Lynda Barry, Ivan Brunetti and Chris Ware will discuss the ins and outs of creating art to accompany stories (Saturday, 2:30 p.m., Central Library's Bubbler Room). Barry, Brunetti and Ware will also participate in a Saturday graphic-novel panel (4 p.m., Central Library's Community Room), in which they'll discuss their latest books.
You'll have opportunities to take in the splendor of the new library and to experiment with some artwork of your own. The Library as Incubator Project team have created drop-in art workshops on Saturday morning (10 a.m. to noon, Central Library). Topics include mapmaking, tracing and blackout poetry, in which participants create their own poetry using existing texts.
Some presenters aren't as easy to categorize. They include Jon Ronson, a strange and wonderful journalist and observer of humanity who is probably best known for the work that became the movie The Men Who Stare at Goats. He will read from his recent collection of true stories, Lost at Sea, on Friday (8:30 p.m., Central Library's Community Room).
Who knew that Wisconsin is one of the most linguistically diverse places in North America? UW professors Thomas Purnell, Eric Raimy and Joseph Salmons will talk about that on Friday at "Wisconsin Talk: Linguistic Diversity in the Badger State," which is also the title of their new book from UW Press (5 p.m., Central Library's Bubbler Room).
On Sunday, G. Willow Wilson, a journalist and award-winning fantasy and graphic novelist, will talk about J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, fantasy and faith in a lecture titled "What Would Frodo Do?" (1 p.m., Central Library's Community Room). Later that afternoon, former New York Times food and media reporter Allen Salkin dishes on the history of the Food Network and its stars in a discussion of his book From Scratch: Inside the Food Network (2:30 p.m., Central Library's Community Room).