Star lineup: experts on words, war and puzzles

2013-02-24T00:00:00Z Star lineup: experts on words, war and puzzlesAnn Brown Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 24, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The Second Amendment does not grant the right to bear arms - it affirms the right.

People wounded in war are wounded forever.

Writing is not limited to a select few.

These are few of the perspective-challenging ideas in the spotlight at the Star Pavilion during the fifth edition of Tucson Festival of Books, March 9-10.

The Star's lineup is built around five themes that dovetail with one another - civil discourse, social issues, biography, the craft of writing and humor - says John M. Humenik, Star publisher.

A puzzlement

Merl Reagle and his rapid-fire repartee will get the brain cells bouncing in the 10 a.m. March 9 opening session, "100 Years of Solvitude: The Crossword Puzzle and its 100th Birthday." Reagle is known for snappy and witty puzzles syndicated in 45 newspapers, including the Star.

Reagle, a Catalina High School alum, was 16 when he sold his first crossword puzzle to The New York Times. He plans to devote a small part of the session to the history of the puzzles. Then it's all mind-boggling word games and guffaws.

Initially the New York Times brass considered crosswords "a gigantic waste of time," says Reagle from his Tampa, Fla. home. The Times didn't add a crossword puzzle to its pages until 1942, he says.

Early on the puzzles - and the arguments that ensued - caused divorces, Reagle says. The crossword persevered. They were so popular that little dictionaries and pencils were put on the trains for puzzle-solving commuters, he says.

Reagle plans a Tucson-connected contest in the puzzle in the March 7 Caliente.

Soul searching

Research, research and more research into a subject's life is the essence to biography - the in-depth chronicling of a life, which has the 11:30 a.m. slot in the Star Pavilion each day.

"I set out to explore the life and the work exhaustively, and to document the evidence of the life and work every step of the way, says Penelope Niven, author of "Thornton Wilder: A Life," who will be speaking with her daughter, novelist Jennifer Niven, on March 9.

Wilder won Pulitzer Prizes as a novelist and playwright. The most familiar is "Our Town," a play that still resonates to audiences.

Niven, who tackles the topic "From Inspiration to Publication" at the festival, has written biographies of poet and biographer Carl Sandburg, photographer and painter Edward Steichen (Sandburg's brother-in-law) and actor James Earl Jones.

In her most recent work she says she had complete access to Wilder's papers, those of the Wilder family, and she quoted from the private papers and published works. Her extensive endnotes - 90 pages of them in the Wilder book - demonstrate the exacting research.

Among the details of Wilder's life, Niven says in an email "Thornton Wilder loved Tucson, and spent time writing there in what he called 'this wonderful desert air and penetrating sun light.' He also used and appreciated the University of Arizona library."

The next day in the same time slot a panel of biographers - Bob Spitz, author of "Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child," Jonathan Eig who wrote "Get Capone" and Douglas Brinkley, who's most recent book is "Cronkite" - team up on the "Craft of Biography."

The panel will most likely impart the power of biographies, how they are researched and the problems encountered when the subjects are no longer around, says Spitz from his home office in Brooklyn.

Spitz describes writing biography as a "very intimate process," 4 to 5 years during which the writer gets to know the subject at such a deep level that the writer knows what is true and not true. "You spend so much time getting to know them you can almost intuit anything that they say."

"That is utterly satisfying as a writer," Spitz says.

Explosive issues

Guns and wounded troops - two hot-button issues that affect millions of Americans every day - are vetted at 1 p.m. March 9 and 10.

Guns are here, have been here, will always be here. So we have to learn to live with them, as opposed to being killed by them. That is among the premises of Craig R. Whitney's, "Living with Guns: A Liberal's Case for the Second Amendment".

A former foreign correspondent and editor at The New York Times who retired in 2009, Whitney will speak March 9.

From his research, Whitney says he was surprised when he came to the conclusion that the Second Amendment was not granting an individual right, but it confirmed a right that already existed. Guns were part of everyday life in the Colonies, he says.

Likewise, guns have always been regulated - even in the Wild West. You couldn't wear a gun in Dodge City, Whitney says.

Whitney's book attempts to reconcile the right to own and use firearms with the right to be safe from gun violence and offers a set of solutions, including several being discussed in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shootings.

"I wanted to get dialogue going," Whitney says from his New York home. And "encourage liberals and conservatives to talk to each other to make the 400 million guns that we have safer."

David Wood will bring the aftermath of battlefield injuries to the book festival on March 10.

Advances in medical care and protective equipment mean fewer troops die on the battlefield. However, many wounded have "severe and complex" injuries, such as severed limbs, and return to the U.S. with traumatic brain injuries.

These physical and emotional scars affect the wounded and their families forever, he says.

Wood of the Huffington Post won the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting for his "Beyond the Battlefield," a 10-part series on the severely wounded of Iraq and Afghanistan, which was made into an ebook.

Wood spent months with wounded veterans, their families and caregivers as they struggled and learned to cope with and adapt to the realities of lost limbs, disfigurement, traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder and other life-altering, permanent wounds.

Wood, who had a long career as a foreign correspondent for print publications, also offers a perspective on digital journalism.

"In the basic news gathering, there is absolutely no difference" between print and electronic publications, Wood said from his home office in Silver Spring, Md., outside Washington D.C.

You think about what you want to find out about, listen carefully, and tell the story carefully, he says.

The difference is space. Ink-and-paper publications have limited space, whereas in the online format the number of words is limited only by their ability to be compelling. "You don't want to wear out the reader," he says.

In addition, videograhers and graphic artists help tell the story in ways impossible on the printed page. He says dreary numbers became easily understood graphics that enhanced the stories.

Can we talk?

Sessions on making your voice heard at 2:30 p.m each day follow and dovetail with the emotional and controversial social issues .

Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer, executive director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse and author of "Bringing Citizen Voices to the Table," says "the public only wants to engage if they will be heard."

Yet public hearings and other forums are organized in such a way that they "train people to behave badly," says Lukensmeyer, who has headed the institute since June. She founded AmericaSpeaks, a nonpartisan nonprofit that helps citizens influence leaders in the nation's capital.

Many public hearings are reduced to shouting matches and personal attacks, while politics stagnate in dysfunction.

Lukensmeyer encourages "deliberative democracy" - basing discussions and decisions on a set of facts. She steers clear of party-affiliation labels and refers to "liberals" and "conservatives."

During her session, "The Crisis in Our Democracy: Making Your Voice Heard," Lukensmeyer says from the institute's Washington D.C. office that she will focus on what an ordinary citizen can do to influence the conversation and policy.

The following day, Humenik will moderate panelists Robert Esperti and Renno Peterson, authors of "Face to Face: Building Relationships through Conversation," in a hands-on session on framing meaningful discussion in a world dominated by tweets, texts and emails.

The craft of writing

Roy Peter Clark will complete the circle of reading and writing.

A writer's writer, Clark is the author or editor of 15 books, including "Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer," and he has taught writing at The Poynter Institute.

Doing double duty at the Star Pavilion, Clark will lead the conversation at 4 p.m. March 9 with the writers who took the top prizes in the Tucson Festival of Books first Literary Awards Competition.

"Too often in America, we treat reading and writing as these two radically different kinds of literacies," Clark says in an email.

"We think everyone should read. But we sometimes act as if only a special few can be members of the writing tribe. So I hope conversations with the contest winners will inspire others to try their hand at the craft."

Clark also starts March 10 with "a jump, jiving and possibly wailing workshop" at 10 a.m. "I promise that it will be the world's most entertaining writing workshop - ever," Clark says.

"I plan to pull out all the stops to illustrate the best writing strategies: including a little theater, a little poetry, a little music. I predict folks will be dancing in the aisles. I'm out to prove that writing can be fun, fun, fun - till your daddy takes your T-Bird away."

The last laugh

The Star Pavilion ends its festival line up as it began - with laughter.

Stephan Pastis, who draws and writes the popular cartoon strip "Pearls Before Swine," which appears in more than 600 newspapers, including the Star, wraps things up with "Pearls Freaks Out," at 4 p.m. March 10.

"I hope they just laugh," says Pastis from a stairwell of the Transamerica Pyramid office building in San Francisco.

Pastis's sweet and simple drawings of anthropomorphic animals belie the cartoon's complexity and edginess. The cute characters comment on adult themes. Some silly, some serious. And Pastis is not afraid to parody other comics.

Pastis says he keeps his cartoons relevant by entertaining himself and making himself laugh.

"I don't want to bore myself."

Next Sunday in Home + Life

Meet some of the headline authors at the Tucson Festival of Books.

If you Go

• What: Fifth annual Tucson Festival of Books.

• When: 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. March 9-10.

• Where: University of Arizona campus. Attendance and parking are free.

• What: The Star Pavilion is among the 450 authors, book discussions, workshops and literary activities for the entire family at the fest.

• Sponsors: The UA and the Arizona Daily Star. The University of Arizona Medical Center is the presenting sponsor. Net proceeds will promote literacy in Southern Arizona through the Tucson Festival of Books Foundation, a nonprofit organization.

• Bookmark it: Go to tucsonfestivalofbooks.org for more information. You can sign up to follow the festival through email newsletters.

• Social media: Follow the festival on Facebook at facebook.com/tucsonfestivalofbooks and go to twitter.com/tfob to follow on Twitter.

• Mobile: Apps are available for iPhone, Android devices and Kindle Fire.

• Plan it out: The best way to see the authors and participate in the workshops and other activities is to make a plan. Check next Sunday's Star for the comprehensive pull-out section that details the event and includes a map.

Share your tips

Tucson Festival of Books can be overwhelming, especially for those attending for the first time.

We're gathering tips on how to make the most of the festival that we'll publish in Caliente prior to the festival.

Share your tips at caliente@azstarnet.com and include your full name. Deadline is Thursday.

You can help

The book festival requires about 1,800 volunteers and can still use a few more. Go to the tucsonfestivalofbooks.org website for volunteer applications.

Five fun facts

• Merl Reagle and Roy Peter Clark are five-timers - they have participated in each of the previous book festivals.

• Stephan Pastis has a new - his first - children's book "Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made," which he will also be discussing at the festival.

• The National Institute for Civil Discourse at the University of Arizona was established after the Jan. 8, 2011 shootings. Former presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton are honorary chairs of the institute.

• Penelope Niven discovered a year ago, after extensive genealogical research, that she and her subject - Thornton Niven Wilder - are related. They share a grandfather several generations back, Malcolm MacNiven, who was born on Islay off the west coast of Scotland.

• Many of the authors at the Star Pavilion are doing other presentations at the festival. Check next Sunday's book festival section for the complete schedule.

Contact Ann Brown at abrown@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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