There will be plenty of heart — and humor, joy, love, sorrow, pride and gratitude — when a cadre of prize-winning, best-selling authors take the stage of the Star pavilion at next weekend’s Tucson Festival of Books.
“Each year we plot out a theme, a storyline of sorts, that connects the authors we invite to the stage. The lineup has to be compelling, engaging and memorable — much like their books,” says John M. Humenik, co-founder and chairman of the book festival.
“The theme this year is emotion and heart,” says Humenik, the Star’s former publisher and president who is now publisher and president of the Wisconsin State Journal and vice president for news for Lee Enterprises Inc.
“We also want our audiences to have a great experience: the kind of experience that gives them something meaningful to learn, something to share and something to remember,” he says.
“We believe it will be an inspiring literary experience with a lot of fun mixed in. After all, it’s why we read. We read to be moved to a new level of understanding.”
Here’s a look at authors at the Star tent, on the UA Mall.
A SIMPLE MASTERPIECE
Maureen Corrigan, who has inspired many book-group selections over her 25-year career as book critic on the Peabody Award-winning NPR program, “Fresh Air,” wants you to be fascinated by and rethink Jay Gatsby, Nick Carraway and all of characters of “The Great Gatsby.”
She’ll bring new insights to “Gatsby” and author F. Scott Fitzgerald when she discusses “So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures,” at 10 a.m. Saturday, March 12.
“In an effort to delve deeper into Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, I take readers deep into the sources of the book in Fitzgerald’s life and American culture of the early 20th century, but I also take my readers on rollicking ‘road trips’ with me,” she says.
“I want readers to become as fascinated with this deceptively simple masterpiece as I am — which isn’t hard because there are so many fascinating stories surrounding Gatsby.”
What to expect at the festival: “To be moved by Fitzgerald’s life and work, as well as enlightened and entertained by incredible stories,” Corrigan says.
“For instance, I’ll talk about the fact that a patriotic paperback distribution program during World War II helped rescue ‘The Great Gatsby’ from near oblivion. (At the time of Fitzgerald’s death, copies of the second printing of ‘Gatsby’ from 1925 were still moldering in Scribner’s warehouse. The novel didn’t sell well when it first appeared.)
“Imagine: Fitzgerald’s last royalty check when he died in Hollywood in 1940 was $13.13. These days, ‘Gatsby’ has conquered the globe. My own book is being translated into Russian and Korean because people around the world are so fascinated by Jay Gatsby and his story as an epitome of ‘Americaness.’”
What you’d like people to know: “‘Gatsby’ is out and out funny! The first third of the novel contains scenes that read like clips from a screwball comedy. Fitzgerald liked a good laugh and, like the best American writing. … ”
TELLING A GOOD STORY
David Maraniss is a storyteller who draws his inspiration from the oddest places, such as a TV commercial.
Maraniss, winner of the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting and an associate editor at The Washington Post, has written a shelf full of books on sports and political figures, including, “Barack Obama.” He’ll discuss Motown, cars, bankruptcy and his latest book, “Once in a Great City: A Detroit Story” at 11:30 a.m. Saturday, March 12.
Maraniss says the idea for “Once a Great City” was sparked at a bar in New York City on Feb. 6, 2011, as he watched the Super Bowl on television, nervously rooting for the Green Bay Packers. (The team won, by the way, beating the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25.)
A halftime a commercial caught his attention.
“A freeway sign that said Detroit. Iconic images of the city: the Joe Louis fist, the marvelous Diego Rivera murals of Detroit Industry, the spirit of Detroit sculpture, a black sedan cruising down Woodward Avenue and stopping outside the grand old Fox Theatre, and the rapper Eminem getting out, walking down the aisle of the darkened theater, a black gospel choir on stage rising in song, and Eminem turning to the camera and saying, ‘This is the Motor City, and this is what we do,’” he says, describing the commercial.
“I choked up watching that ad,” Maraniss says. “I was born in Detroit. It hit me in a deep way, even though it was only selling Chryslers. I started thinking about what I could do to honor the city of my birth, and eventually settled on this book, which depicts Detroit at a time when it seemed to be booming in cars, Motown, labor and civil rights — yet the signs of its collapse were already there.”
However interesting a topic may be, Maraniss says, “I have to be obsessed with a subject to write a book. My usual time spent on each book is 3 to 3½ years, so it has to be something that I’m basically willing to give my life over to.”
What to expect at the festival: “I am a storyteller. I will tell the story of Detroit and put it in the context of what this city gave America, which is an enormous amount in terms of the automobile culture, the Motown soundtrack of our generation, the heart of the American labor movement, and a key player in the transformative civil rights movement of the sixties.”
A NOVEL IDEA
C.B. McKenzie breaks the boundaries that divide literary fiction and mystery writing.
He’ll help you bust boundaries and other writing quandaries during Bending Genres at 4 p.m. Saturday, March 12.
McKenzie’s “Bad Country,” a mystery set in Tucson in which protagonist Rodeo Grace Garnet is a part-Yaqui private investigator, won the 2013 Tony Hillerman Prize for best first mystery set in the Southwest, won the Spur Award for Best Western Contemporary Novel, and was a finalist for the Edgar Award for Best First Novel. His next literary crime novel, “Burn What Will Burn,” is set in rural Arkansas, and will be released in June. He spent the summer in Iceland prepping for another book.
You won’t find detailed, easy-to-skip-or-skim descriptions, exposition or banter in McKenzie’s books. And unlike many mysteries, all the questions are not conveniently answered.
He says his books are not overwritten and that readers must read every word to get the full impact of the book.
You might recognize McKenzie from around Tucson. He received his master’s of fine arts and Ph.D. from UA and was a faculty member at Pima Community College. He lives in California.
What to expect at the book festival: He doesn’t have an agent, so he can’t help you find one. He will, however, answer just about anything else about publishing and writing, including developing your story ideas.
Fans of Rodeo Grace Garnet take note: He will be back, but won’t return to Tucson. McKenzie says he plans Rodeo stories set in West Texas (if you read “Bad Country,” you know why) and in New Mexico. There also won’t be a string of Rodeo books.
“I’m not a series writer,” McKenzie says.
THE MOCKINGBIRD STILL SINGS
Harper Lee, whose landmark, Pulitzer Prize-winning book “To Kill a Mockingbird” brought new light to racial injustice, has sold more than 40 million copies worldwide, making it one of the most widely read American novels of the 20th century, HarperCollins reported in 2015.
Lee declined interviews in the late 1960s and did not publish another book until “Go Set a Watchman” was released last year. Lee died on Feb. 19. She was 89.
However private the author was, “To Kill a Mockingbird” endures, a standard reading in high schools around the country and frequently selected for city- and statewide reading efforts.
Marja Mills, author of “The Mockingbird Next Door,” which is the memoir of her relationship with Harper Lee and her sister, Alice, will lead a discussion on “Go Set a Watchman” at 10 a.m. Sunday, March 13.
Mills, a Chicago Tribune alum and a member of the team that won a Pulitzer Prize for a 2001 series about O’Hare Airport, moved into the house next door to the Lee sisters and spent 18 months getting to know them.
What to expect at the book festival: New insights on Lee’s life and writing.
Janice Kaplan had plenty to be happy about.
An accomplished career as a novelist and television producer, she interviewed big-name celebrities and was editor-in-chief of Parade magazine.
She had a nice husband and kids, too, but says, “like so many people, I wasn’t quite as happy as I should be.”
So she set out to ramp up her happiness.
“On a New Year’s Eve, I started to think about what might happen to make the coming year really terrific,” Kaplan says. “I realized it wasn’t the events but my own attitude that was likely to make the difference — so I challenged myself to see what would happen if I spent the year living more gratefully.
“The results were more dramatic than I could have imagined. I ended up with probably the best year of my life.”
She will share those results and her research-backed “The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life” at 11:30 a.m. Sunday, March 13.
What to expect at the festival: “I’m excited to share my experiences in Tucson — along with some funny anecdotes and compelling research. I’ve learned that gratitude can change the neural pathways in our brains that help us to succeed and also dramatically improve marriage, family life, careers and health ... .
“I’m so passionate about this book because I know that it can help everyone have their best year ever.”
A Stephan Pastis cartoon may have made you spit your coffee across the breakfast table.
Pastis, who draws and writes the popular and edgy comic strip “Pearls Before Swine,” which appears in more than 600 newspapers, including the Star, will be on stage at 1 p.m. Sunday, March 13.
Pastis’ anthropomorphic animals make silly and serious comment on adult themes, and Pastis isn’t shy about drawing parodies of other comics.
He’s also a children’s author. Pastis takes off six weeks in the summer from his comic strip to write his “Timothy Failure” series featuring a clueless yet overly confident detective and his polar bear sidekick.
What to expect at the festival: Pastis requested — he actually asked for — the Star’s David Fitzsimmons to moderate the session, so count on irreverence, laughter and tongue-in-cheek humor.
WHAT HAS TWO DAVIDS?
Think you know Tucson trivia?
Well, we’ll see when David Devine, author of “Tucson: A History of the Old Pueblo from the 1854 Gadsden Purchase” and Fitzsimmons team up to conclude the festival at 4 p.m. Sunday, March 13.
What to expect at the festival: “Folks who come to see our game show will have fun, learn about Tucson and have fun,” Fitzsimmons says. “Did I mention we’ll have fun?”
The fun will start when they create two teams made up of contestants from an audience that is there because it is desperate for tent shade, Fitzsimmons says.
“David and I will be the quizmasters,” Fitzsimmons says. “Since my name is David and David’s name is David, I thought it might help if I call myself ‘David,’ so contestants who address us by name will always be right.
“The two teams will have little bells that go ‘ding.’ Bedlam will be the order of the day, and hopefully, we’ll find out if Gadsden got a receipt with his purchase,” Fitzsimmons says.
“It takes an entire year to assemble this group, and it’s never easy,” says festival chairman Humenik.
“Since we invite the best, there is an element of luck involved,” he added. “We have been fortunate because, in eight years, our invitations rarely get rejected. And that’s an awesome feeling, because we do all of this for Tucson. We put a lot of heart into it.”