Where in the world would you go to celebrate a 20th anniversary? An Albuquerque book group picked the sixth annual Tucson Festival of Books.

One member tossed out the idea of the group’s venturing off to Paris (France, not Texas) to celebrate the milestone, says Judy Judkins, a member who has been to two previous Tucson book festivals.

A trip to Paris was a bit of hyperbole to inspire the group to do something special to mark the date, explains Diane Fisher, founder of the all-woman reading group that meets monthly. The group homed in on the book festival because of Tucson’s geographic proximity and the fact that the festival was all about the group’s purpose and favorite thing — books.

James Cooney, 92, also will be headed to Tucson from Des Moines, Iowa, for his sixth book festival and to visit his daughter Mary Cooney, a Star copy editor. He says he makes it a point to visit during the book festival.

“I’ve never been disappointed,” he says.

Here is a peek at some of the things that they and about 120,000 other bibliophiles, casual readers and curious can expect at the sixth annual Tucson Festival of Books, March 15-16 on the University of Arizona campus.

Star power

Cue the “Downton Abbey” theme song and let images of Highclere Castle, dazzling early-1920s costumes and the English countryside play in your mind.

Rebecca Eaton, executive producer of PBS’ “Masterpiece Theatre,” which includes the wildly popular British period series, will be the keynote speaker at the Author’s Table dinner, held the evening before the two-day festival. Emmy award-winner Eaton wrote the recently released memoir “Making Masterpiece: 25 Years Behind the Scenes at Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! on PBS.”

Also at the dinner, the master of blue-collar, everyman realism, Richard Russo will receive the festival’s Founders Award, which recognizes the lifetime achievement of an outstanding festival participant. Russo earned his degree trifecta — bachelor’s, master’s in fine arts and doctorate — at the University of Arizona, and received the 2002 Pulitzer Prize in fiction for “Empire Falls.”

Russo joins the heady company of previous Founders Award recipients: the late Elmore Leonard, who received the first award in 2011; Larry McMurtry, Diana Ossana and R. L. Stine. Festival stalwart Leonard, who died last year, will be acknowledged during the dinner, says Bill Viner, a festival founder.

Presenting authors are selected by festival’s Author Committee’s genre subcommittees, Viner says. The committee tries to gather a diverse group of first-time and best-selling authors in a variety of genres. Importantly, Viner says authors must be willing to share their knowledge and experience, which includes taking part in workshops.

Eaton, for example, will participate in three sessions — a discussion on making “Downton Abbey,” the “Aftermath of the Great War” and “Making Masterpiece” — during the festival. Likewise, Russo will team up with Craig Johnson and Anne Perry for “A Little Dickens,” to talk about the impact of Charles Dickens, the father of the modern novel. Russo will also discuss memoirs and join Luis Alberto Urrea for a conversation with an audience.


An especially strong cadre of authors will add insight and challenging perspectives on current events and news, Viner says. Some of these authors and their recent titles include:

  • Dan Balz
  • , Washington Post correspondent, “The Battle for America 2008” and “Collision 2012.”
  • William D. Cohan
  • , “The Price of Silence: The Duke Lacrosse Scandal, the Power of the Elite, & the Corruption of Our Great Universities.”
  • Bill Dedman
  • , who received the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting, “Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune.”
  • David Finkel
  • , who won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting, “The Good Soldiers” and “Thank You For Your Service.”
  • Kenneth Stern
  • , former CEO of NPR, “With Charity for All: Why Charities Are Failing and a Better Way to Give.”
  • Michael Weinstein
  • , chief program officer of the Robin Hood Foundation, “The Robin Hood Rules for Smart Giving.”
  • Alan Weisman
  • , who taught journalism at UA, “The World Without Us” and “Countdown: Our Last Best Hope for a Future on Earth.”

In addition to authors selected by the festival’s author committees to appear in the festival’s workshops, panel discussions and presentations, many of your favorite and ready-to-be-discovered authors participate in the Authors Pavilion, a shared space where authors have a block of time to chat with readers and sell and autograph books.

The Authors Pavilion has expanded to about 240 spots — up almost 100 slots over last year — for authors to meet the public.

In addition, many authors will be signing books at some of the 300 or so exhibitors.


The festival builds on its reputation as a family affair with an array of authors, storytelling and activities to keep the kiddos entertained and to inspire lifelong reading habits.

The children’s area will host 62 authors/illustrators and three activity tents, says committee member Kathy Naylor. Some of the highlights:

  • Story Town, perfor
  • med by early-literacy resource Make Way for Books, brings children’s characters and stories to life in the Tent for Tots, one of the three children’s activity areas. The other two tents will have hands-on activities.
  • There will be a Storytelling Stage with professional storytellers and the Story Blanket, where authors and illustrators will meet with small groups.
  • Teens will interview authors in the Teen Author area.
  • Children’s illustration/writing contest awards will be presented at 10 a.m. March 15 in the children’s Entertainment Stage. Writing winners’ works will be published in an anthology and the winning illustrators pieces will be displayed in the Friends of Western Art tent.
  • Looking for the free-book tent? It has a new location: West Patio of the College of Education.

University of Arizona BookStores will hold a breakfast with book characters March 15 and an American Girls event with Jessie Haas, the author of the Saige series, March 16.

If you miss the events — both are limited to 300 and always sell out— the storybook characters will be at the festival children’s areas both days, says Debby Shively, UA BookStores director. Tickets are $20 for each session. Registration begins Monday at uabookstore.arizona.edu

Haas will discuss “Chapter Books for Emerging Readers” and “Writing Groups: Challenges and Rewards” at the festival.


The UA Confluencecenter for Creative Inquiry, which is charged with establishing cross-cultural collaborations between the university and Mexico, brings the “Voices across Border” Author Pavilion to the festival for the first time. It’s set in the Stevie Eller Dance Theatre and Studio.

Javier Duran,  center director, says the venue will cater to the Spanish-speaking and -reading members of the community. Duran, who has a background in cultural literature, says he hopes the venue and the program will motivate young people to see literacy as a multilingual activity.

There will be one session entirely in Spanish, he says. Other sessions will be in English or bilingual and authors have the choice to read in Spanish or English. Among the panelists and key authors:

  • Carmen Boullosa
  • , Mexican poet and novelist.
  • Norma Elia Cantú
  • , postmodernist writer and a professor of English at the University of Texas-San Antonio.
  • Briceida Cuevas Cob
  • , Maya poet.
  • Carmen Duarte
  • , Arizona Daily Star reporter and author of “Mama’s Santos.”
  • Cristina Rivera Garza
  • , a Mexican writer who has won several prestigious awards.
  • Alberto Rios
  • , Arizona’s first poet laureate.
  • Ofelia Zepeda
  • , Tohono O’odham poet and UA linguistics professor.

The Science City universe is expanding. It is adding more space on the UA Mall east toward Campbell Avenue and accommodating more than 80 participants this year, up from just under 70 last year, says Lisa Romero, Science City spokeswoman.

Science City also will have a more visitor-friendly layout that will include neighborhood themes like the Science of Everyday Life, the Science of Tomorrow, the Science of You, and the Science of Natural World, as well as more hands-on activities, talks, authors, and demonstrations for science lovers of all ages, Romero says.

There will also be some festival newbies that include UA colleges and clubs that host talks and open houses to “showcase the amazing cross-section of science and technology happening right here on the UA campus,” says Romero.

Boldly going where no man has gone before at the festival, André Bormanis, the science consultant on three “Star Trek” series, discusses “Life on Other Planets” on the Science City main stage Sunday afternoon. (Vulcan ears or Klingon forehead ridges are not required to attend.) He will also be a guest the UA Physics Department open house.

Get updated information at the Tucson Festival of Books website and the Science City website, sciencecity.arizona.edu


Organizing and managing this bustling swarm of activities requires planning and people. Plenty of people.

Approximately 175 people serve on various committees that work throughout the year, says Bimi Huebner, a festival steering-committee member.

For the two big days, about 1,500 volunteer-time slots need to be filled with people helping out with author events, assisting at information booths, acting as food-court hosts, setting up before the festival and cleaning up afterward, transporting authors, helping with the various entertainment activities.

“Volunteers are the lifeblood of this event, says Huebner. “There would be no festival without them.”

Sign up to volunteer on the festival’s website where there are three tabs — Main Mall, Children’s Area and Pre-Festival — to guide you to a volunteer spot.

  • Follow your nose to the
  • Culinary Tent
  • where top chefs and popular cookbook authors will be heating things up — literally. (
  • Read more about the Culinary Tent and its participants in the Star’s Food section beginning Feb. 12.
  • )
  • If all those books and activity make you hungry, there’s no need to pack a lunch — there will be about 20 food vendors with snacks, sandwiches, sweet treats, drinks and other things.

Be a friend of the Tucson Festival of Books and you will get invitations for member-only events several times each year and you could rack up mementos and discounts from some exhibitors, sponsors and vendors. Tax-deductible donations help defray festival expenses so it can remain free and support literacy.

For information on becoming a Friend of the Festival or to make a contribution go to the festival website and click on “Friend of the Festival.”

An annual membership is $30 for an individual or $50 per household.

  • A festival representative can give your group or organization a free presentation about the festival. Go to the website to request a speaker.
  • Bus scholarships to help get students to the festival are available to schools and children’s organizations. Go to the website for more information and an application.

Contact reporter Ann Brown at abrown@azstarnet.com