Shakespeare, Poe and national parks will be among the highlights of the eighth Tucson Festival of Books set for Saturday and Sunday, March 12 and 13, at the University of Arizona.

The two-day family-oriented community celebration of reading, writing and literacy brings together established, best-selling and emerging authors to discuss compelling topics and raise money to support literacy.

The festival will feature an estimated 400 authors, and 130,000 people are expected to attend the workshops, book signings, panel discussions and other festival activities.

“We are really proud to put on this festival — now one of the largest book events in the country — for free,” says author Jennifer Lee Carrell, who co-chairs the festival’s authors committee with Helene Woodhams, a supervising librarian at the Dusenberry-River Branch of Pima County Public Library.

“We want it to delight, surprise and engage everyone, and open as many minds as possible to new and exciting ideas,” says Carrell, author of narrative nonfiction “The Speckled Monster” and thrillers “Interred with their Bones” and “Haunt Me Still.”

This year, the festival is collaborating with the Poe Big Read, the First Folio visit, and the National Parks Service centennial.

“We hear a lot about the fragmentation of our social fabric because cable and the Internet give us so many choices when it comes to stories, news and politics: choices that reinforce themselves by offering us more and more of what we like and agree with, and less and less of alternative ideas and viewpoints,” says Carrell.

“Widely shared stories and perspectives, however, are necessary to any civil society. The particular stories might change, but the need for them doesn’t,” she says.

“They’re part of what makes us an ‘us.’ Focusing on a few major themes and reading topics is a way of offering our audiences a set of stories to share, a way of making some Tucson-wide book clubs, if you will.”

Among those stories will be the Bard’s First Folio, Shakespeare’s collected works edited by his friends and fellow actors and published in 1623. The folio arrives at Arizona State Museum Feb. 15 and leaves a few days after the festival.

“Only 233 copies remain in existence, and only about 40 of those are complete. It is one of the most valuable books in the world,” says Carrell. The folio is the only reliable source for 20 of Shakespeare’s plays (a little over half of them), and remains one of the best sources for all 36 plays that it includes.

The festival will offer one children’s event and four adult panels on Shakespearean topics, including Tucson’s Andrea Mays, whose best-selling book, “The Millionaire and the Bard,” tells the story of how the folios were created and Henry Folger’s hunt for them in the 20th century. Guided tours from the festival to the museum to see the folio will be offered.

The Lindley Lopez Literary Circus will perform Shakespearean-themed “A Mid-Summer’s Night Circus” both days of the festival.

The festival also will connect with Tucson’s Big Read featuring Edgar Allan Poe.

The Big Read, presented by Literacy Connects through a National Endowment of the Arts Big Read Grant, encourages the community to share a good book or the work of a great poet. There have been readings and activities, such as taking selfies in front of the Poe mural in the UA Poetry Center since the kickoff in October, and the screening of the 1961 Poe-based horror classic, “The Pit and the Pendulum.”

“Since we can’t feature the author himself, we’re focusing on authors who dare to bring Poe to life as a character, or revel in his general atmosphere of the eerie,” Carrell says.

In addition, the Western National Parks Association will be marking the national parks’ 100th anniversary, and authors like Douglas Brinkley, author of “Rightful Heritage: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America,” will discuss the nation’s parks.

The three community tie-ins will complement the festival’s usual emphasis on Arizona authors and Southwestern topics, and best-selling and emerging authors, while piquing and expanding interests, and inspiring lifelong reading habits.

dinner always a hot ticket

The authors dinner is expected to be one of the hottest tickets in town, quickly snagged by sponsors and Friends of the Festival.

Sonia Manzano — Maria from “Sesame Street” — will be the keynote speaker and J.A. Jance will receive the Founders Award, which recognizes the lifetime achievement of an outstanding festival participant.

Jance joins previous Founders Award recipients: the late Elmore Leonard, who received the first award in 2011; Larry McMurtry, Diana Ossana, R.L. Stine and Richard Russo. Last year, members of the cover band of big-named authors, the Rock Bottom Remainders — Amy Tan, Mitch Albom, Dave Barry, Scott Turow, Ridley Pearson, Alan Zweibel and Greg Iles — received the award.

If you don’t score a ticket to the authors dinner, you can hear Manzano during her sessions, “Growing Up Latino, Coast to Coast and on the Border” and “Becoming María: From the South Bronx to Sesame Street.”

Likewise, Jance will participate in “Hot Off the Press,” “Southwest Women of Mystery,” “Writing with Another’s Voice” and “The Deadlier Sex.”

Kids’ stuff

Costumed characters, interactive activities with authors and storytelling are among the playful events that will engage and entertain kids (and their parents).

Some of the kid-and parent-pleasing authors set to appear include:

  • Reel to real: With a Goosebumps film starring Jack Black as
  • R.L. Stine
  • released in October, kiddos may want to see the real Stine at the festival.
Oh-wow science

Packed with more than 100 hands-on activities and 50 participant booths, Science City at the book festival aims to spark curiosity and interest in science, promote STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — and demonstrate how science impacts and interacts with daily lives.

Science City, co-hosted by the UA’s College of Science and Bio5 Institute, is divided into thematic “neighborhoods” and stages that focus on areas of science and technology.

This year’s feature neighborhood is Science in Art, says Lisa Romero, who co-chairs the Science City executive committee with Elliott Cheu, associate dean of the College of Science and physics professor.

The focus of the neighborhood is how the worlds of science and art intersect to provoke thought, wonder, creativity, beauty and discovery, says Romero, senior director for communications and public affairs at the Bio 5 Institute, a research collaboration based at the UA.

Romero also notes that the Science of Food will have its own neighborhood with hands-on activities and demonstrations.

A few Science City highlights:

  • In line with the festival’s Shakespeare emphasis, science writer
  • Dan Falk
  • and
  • Chris Impey
  • , an author as well as a professor and deputy head of the UA astronomy department, will discuss “The Science of Shakespeare: A New Look at the Playwright’s Universe.”
  • The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum will offer a live-animal show each day of the festival.
  • Nonfiction children’s book author
  • Mary Kay Carson
  • , who’s written more than 50 books for kids about wildlife, joins
  • Kevin Bonine,
  • director of education and outreach at Biosphere 2, and
  • Alaina Levine
  • , author of “Networking for Nerds,” in discussing “Science Careers: Finding your Niche in Nature.”
  • Dr.
  • David G. Armstrong
  • , a UA surgery professor, will discuss “The Augmented Human: How Technology is Changing What Makes UsUs?”
  • Many of the UA labs and science departments will open their doors for tours and open houses, including the Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab, and demonstrations on 3D printing and scanning will take place at the UA’s Main Library.

Find up-to-date information on the Science City website, sciencecity.arizona.edu and follow Facebook at facebook.com/tfobsciencecity. On Twitter: @TFOBScienceCity

The cuisine scene

What’s that yummy smell? Well, it could be wafting from the Culinary Stage, where a lineup of authors and chefs will be cooking, says Don Luria, chairman of the festival’s culinary committee.

On the menu:

  • Rita Connelly
  • ’s book, “Lost Restaurants of Tucson,” includes a description of Cafe Terra Cotta that features its stuffed prawns, which was on the menu for 23 years. Luria’s wife, chef
  • Donna Nordin,
  • will demo that dish, and their son,
  • Michael Luria,
  • will be the moderator. The tasting table will include representatives of several of the lost restaurants.
  • Joanne Weir
  • — you might recognize her from TV — is a James Beard Award-winning cookbook author, international cooking teacher and chef who has a passion for home cooking.
  • The culinary committee also is hosting a dinner that will feature recipes from the books of the festival authors. All of the culinary authors will attend the dinner and change tables after each course. Each guest receives a cookbook of one of the authors, explains Luria.

The dinner bell rings at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 12, at Skyline Country Club. Cost is $135 per person, $65 of which goes to culinary scholarships and literacy nonprofits.

“The dinner has always sold out,” says Don Luria. Email Luria, dsluria@gmail.com, for more information and reservations.

Start planning

It’s not too early to start planning how to experience the Tucson Festival of Books. Find the list of festival presenters at TucsonFestivalofBooks.org

The presenters are listed alphabetically and by genre with venue, a short bio, photo and work.

Contact Ann Brown at abrown@tucson.com or 573-4226. On Twitter: @AnnattheStar