Who's who of authors will grace book festival

2012-02-05T00:00:00Z 2016-01-26T15:22:30Z Who's who of authors will grace book festivalAnn Brown Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 05, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Best-selling authors and recipients of top literary prizes lead the parade of 400 to 450 authors in the Fourth Annual Tucson Festival of Books.

Among them: Pulitzer Prize winners such as University of Arizona alumnus Richard Russo ("That Old Cape Magic" and "Empire Falls"). And prolific novelists such as T.C. Boyle ("When the Killing's Done"), Alice Hoffman ("The Dovekeepers") and Lisa See ("Dreams of Joy"), whose literary fiction swooped to the top of best-sellers lists.

The authors and 255 exhibitors' tents and booths will fill the University of Arizona Mall and adjacent lecture halls and meeting rooms March 10-11. A crowd of 100,000 people is expected for the community event.

"Book festivals are so much fun," said See, who is participating in Tucson's festival for the first time. From the person pushing a baby stroller to people in their in 80s, See said, book festivals bring like-minded people together.

Festivals are also an opportunity to see different books and hear or find a favorite author, said See.

The book festival has "a great reputation among writers," said Hoffman, who will be attending her second book festival. Authors like that the Tucson Festival of Books is well-attended and that there "is so much going on."

"It's also an opportunity to touch base with other great writers," said author and UA creative writing program professor Aurelie Sheehan.

Russo, attending the festival for the first time, said one of the reasons he wanted to be here was the chance to listen to and talk with Luis Albert Urrea, who will be the keynote speaker at the annual Author's Table Dinner March 9.

"It's great to have authors with national reputations and deep literary connections come here to share their work with our students and our community," said Sheehan, author of two novels and a short-story collection. The festival connects writers with passionate readers across the country.

To be able to sit and listen to a writer, to hear an author's work in his or her voice, gives you "a sense of their person, their character," said Sheehan.

Here's a glimpse at four authors whom you might want to get to know better during the festival:

T.C. Boyle

Tom Coraghessan Boyle always knew he was destined for greatness, so a name like "Thomas John" given by his parents just wouldn't do.

At 17 he ditched convention and changed his middle name to Coraghessan (pronounced "kuh-RAGG-issun"), a name extracted from his Irish ancestry.

Boyle just wasn't sure where that greatness lay.

When he entered the State University of New York at Potsdam after high school, he planned a music career, but failed his saxophone audition for the school's music program. He eventually wrote a play for a class and became enamored with writing.

He bounced around after college but ended up in the writers' workshop and M.F.A. program at the University of Iowa, from which he also received a Ph.D. in 19th-century British literature.

Boyle, known for wearing red Converse high-tops, fictionalizes unorthodox views of slices of American history and life: hippies, an illegal immigrant couple living near a hoity-toity Los Angeles neighborhood, his own substance abuse.

He views anything as a possible topic, he said from his home, a Frank Lloyd Wright house near Santa Barbara. His home and the research that surrounded its restoration were some of the source materials for "The Women," which retells the architect's life through stories of wives and mistresses.

Boyle returns to one of his favorite themes - environmental and ecological issues - with "When the Killing's Done," the story of a biologist and an animal-rights advocate with opposing viewpoints on what's best for the Northern Channel Islands near Santa Barbara.

The book was inspired by a newspaper article, which he still has on his refrigerator, with the headline "Eagles arrive as pigs are killed," referring to the reintroduction of the bald eagle on the islands and the eradication of the feral pig.

Boyle said the book ultimately asks questions such as, "Why should native species be preserved over others?" and "Who gets to decide the fate of these species?"

And here's a fun fact: He was married at the Yuma Territorial Prison.

Alice Hoffman

Readers expect Hoffman to conjure up magic, strong female protagonists and empowering feminist themes.

Her latest book is a bit of a departure: "The Dovekeepers" is an ambitious, multi-faceted story that traces the lives and interactions of six women at Masada during the Roman siege in the first century.

"I've written historical novels before … but this was a huge undertaking. Bigger. More complicated," said Hoffman while vacationing in Florida late last month. The book took her five years to write, she said.

"I didn't expect to write this book," she said, "but children lead you to certain places." Her son, an anthropologist, was in Israel on digs. She'd visited Israel before, but never Masada. A visit to the site was the inspiration for her book.

"For me, everyone has a voice … a unique voice," said Hoffman. In "The Dovekeepers" acknowledgments, Hoffman notes that the novel is meant to "give voice" to the women who participated in the Jewish struggle.

Richard Russo

Russo is often described as a writer of place whose vivid descriptions seem to make small towns a character in his richly detailed, textured novels.

Not so, said Russo. "I write of class."

He said his settings - usually based on his hometown of Gloversville in upstate New York - are so vivid because he's able to capture working-class rhythms. "Empire Falls," winner of the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, was set in a small town in Maine in which its mill, the once economic driver, closed.

Russo grew up in a blue-collar household and came to the UA, where he received a bachelor's in English and his Ph.D. in American literature in 1980. He backtracked and earned a master's of fine arts in creative writing in 1981. Russo will also take part in events celebrating the Creative Writing MFA's 40th anniversary.

"I was a "small-town boy running away from a cold place that was full of winter and filled with dirty snow. ... I was full of 'go West young man,' " he said last month from his Boston apartment. He and his wife also have a home in Maine.

Even though he spent about 15 years here, you won't see Tucson in an upcoming Russo novel. "I always felt like a tourist or interloper in Arizona," he said. "The rhythm of life there is bizarre to me, different from other places."

Despite being a fish out of water culturally and politically, Russo said Arizona was good to him - he met his wife of almost 40 years - and Tucson has a soft spot in his heart.

He's taking a new literary path this fall, when his memoir will be released. It will be the first time he's written about his hometown and used its name. He's also working on a screenplay for Bill Bryson's "A Walk in the Woods," a memoir of walking the Appalachian Trail.

Lisa See

See follows the cardinal rule of writers - she writes about what she knows.

And then some.

Research is intrinsic to See's rich, deeply detailed exploration of Chinese culture and characters in books such as "Shanghai Girls," the tale of two very different sisters in 1937 Shanghai when it is bombed by Japan, and the follow-up, "Dreams of Joy." Critics praise her depth of knowledge that gives her novels authenticity as well as a sense of time and place.

"Even if you think you know everything, there's a lot you don't know," See said late last month from her home near Los Angeles.

See learned the pleasures and surprises of research while earning a bachelor's degree in the humanities at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

She spends a great deal of time in the UCLA library scouring published and unpublished manuscripts trying to put herself and the reader into her characters' shoes.

See grew up in a large Chinese-American family. Her great-great-grandfather came to the United States to work on the transcontinental railroad. Her great-grandfather was the patriarch of Los Angeles Chinatown. Her first book, "On Gold Mountain," traced her great-grandfather's journey.

See was grand marshal of this year's New Year's parade in Los Angeles Chinatown, which ended at the place where her grandparents had a family store. "It was so touching to be so close."

See has also written three mystery-thrillers featuring the team of David Stark and Liu Hula, and she wrote the libretto for the opera based on "On Gold Mountain."

Though an opera fan, she'd never written a libretto - and probably won't again, she said.

She began writing the libretto as she does writing a book - with research. She went to an opera shop in the Los Angeles area, bought three of her favorite librettos and studied them.

The difference was the team-effort approach with the libretto. With a novel, she's alone in her office, but with the libretto she would sit with the composer at the piano as he played music.

See is working on "China Dolls," which deals with Chinese-American nightclubs in the 1930s and '40s.

"Even though I write about the Chinese-American experience," said See, "what I am really writing about is mothers and daughters, friends, relationships and emotions that are universal."

Next Sunday in ¡Vamos!

Romance and mystery at the Tucson Festival of Books.

4th annual Tucson Festival of Books

• When: 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. March 10-11.

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

• What: About 450 authors, book discussions, workshops, literary activities for the entire family and food.

• Sponsors: The UA and the Arizona Daily Star. 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.

• Information: tucsonfestivalofbooks.org Follow the festival on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tucsonfestivalofbooks and go to www.twitter.com/tfob to follow on Twitter. Apps are also available on the website for iPhones and Android devices.

Find your favorite authors

Authors participate in the Tucson Festival of Books in several ways, which means if your favorite authors' schedules conflict, you may be able to catch them at other times, or see an author more than once.

"Presenting authors" were selected by the festival's author committee and appear in the festival's official workshops, panel discussions, demonstrations and presentations.

Authors also will be stationed at tables chatting with fans and signing books, appearing in the Author Pavilion tents or signing and reading at exhibitor booths.

Grab a highlighter: The best way to see the authors and participate in the workshops and other activities is to make a plan. Check the March 4 Star, which will feature a pull-out section that details the event - including lists of author presentations, signings and readings. There will be a map, too.

FIVE other authors not to miss

The number of authors is too long to list here - that's one of the purposes of the special section, which will have the complete list - but a here are few other authors who have fans doing mental cartwheels:

• Steve Berry, author of the Cotton Malone series and other thrillers.

• Sci-fi and fantasy writer Terry Brooks is the author of the Landover series, the Shannara series and the Word and Void trilogy. He also wrote the novelization to "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace" for George Lucas.

• Former journalist and syndicated columnist Pete Dexter, whose work includes "Deadwood," "The Paper Boy" and, most recently, "Spooner." He received the National Book Award for Fiction for "Paris Trout."

• Michael A. Hiltzik, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter and columnist for the Los Angeles Times, wrote "The New Deal: A Modern History."

• Larry McMurtry, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1985 novel "Lonesome Dove," co-wrote the adapted screenplay for "Brokeback Mountain." His latest novel is "Rhino Ranch," the fifth and final novel about Duane Moore, whose story began in 1966's "The Last Picture Show."

Contact reporter Ann Brown at abrown@azstarnet.com

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