The Tucson Festival of Books is like a patchwork quilt: separate, distinct pieces of varying designs and textures are stitched together to create a sweeping, singular composition.

The festival’s literary-focused pieces — authors, activities, entertainers, presentation venues and vendors — come together 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, March 11-12 and blanket the University of Arizona Mall.

Some of the pieces — like columnist Maureen Dowd, novelist T.C. Boyle, U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera and other best-selling, noted authors headed to the third-largest book festival in the nation — come to the forefront.

However, it takes many authors from across the genre spectrum to complete the festival quilt. Here’s a look at some of the pieces.

Plenty of mystery

The mystery genre “will give the festival-goer the chance to see familiar faces and get to know new authors,” says Chris Burke, who heads the festival’s mystery committee. “To me this is what TFOB does best.”

  • The first-time authors coming include Mette Harrison, whose popular young adult books include “The Princess and the Hound” and “Mira, Mirror.” “For Time and All Eternities” is her newest adult mystery and is part of the Linda Wallheim series.
  • Hester Young‘s debut mystery, “The Gates of Evangeline,” was a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2015. The sequel, “The Shimmering Road,” is set in Tucson.
  • Ausma Zehanat Khan, who has a doctorate in international human rights law, was editor-in-chief of Muslim Girl magazine. Her first novel, “The Unquiet Dead” won crime fiction’s 2016 Barry Award for Best First Novel.

Some of the familiar faces in the mystery genre include Michael McGarrity, John Sandford and Craig Johnson, Burke says.


While having the U.S. Poet Laureate and first Chicano laureate of the nation stands out, Tyler Meier, who heads the UA Poetry Center, says Arizona’s inaugural Poet Laureate Alberto Ríos will be reading from his new book “A Small Story About the Sky.”

Ríos and Herrera will be on the panel, “Because We Come from Everything: Poetry and Migration,” which explore the relationship between the imagination and language.

Other poets include Monica Youn, whose “Blackacre” was on the long list for the 2016 National Book Award and Dana Levin, whose “Banana Palace” is a humor-laced look at a dystopian future, says Meier.

College lineup

The UA College of Social and Behavioral Science is among the groups sponsoring its own stage.

“We are extremely excited about our diverse and engaging lineup of authors and panels this year” says Danielle Bishop, the college’s outreach coordinator. Among the speakers and presentation on the college’s stage:

  • Ander Monson edited a new collection of essays, “How We Speak to One Another” and will offer a session featuring the authors reading from their essays and discussing their shared themes, says Bishop.
  • Jeff Chang, executive director of the Institute for Diversity in the Arts at Stanford University will be interviewed by Maribel Álvarez, director of the Southwest Folklife Alliance — think Tucson Meet Yourself, and discuss his latest book, “We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation.”
  • Johanna Skibsrud and Alison Deming will read from their collections of poetry out this year.
  • Raquel Rubio Goldsmith and Celestino Fernández, two of the editors of the recent UA Press book “Migrant Deaths in the Arizona Desert, will present their work with authors Anna Ochoa O’Leary and
  • Robin Reineke
  • , in a session moderated by Álvarez.
  • The National Institute for Civil Discourse will sponsor the appearance of Arsalan Iftikhar, a popular global media commentator who will discuss his latest book, “Scapegoats: How Islamophobia Helps Our Enemies and Threatens Our Freedoms” in an interview with Carolyn Lukensmeyer, the executive director of the institute.

In addition to Dowd, current-issues authors include Sam Polk, who wrote the memoir, “For The Love of Money,” after he realized he’d lost himself in an obsessive pursuit of money, getting angry with a Wall Street bonus of $3.75 million — because it wasn’t enough, says Ginia Desmond, who heads the current issues, politics and social science committee.

Desmond, a writer and producer, will join Michael Tolkin for a session on screenwriting panel. Tolkin’s first screenplay to be produced was the 1992 satire “The Player” with Tim Robbins, for which he won the Writers Guild Award and was nominated for an Academy Award. He is a consulting producer and writer for the Showtime series “Ray Donovan” and his new novel is “NK3.”

Also on the panel, is local neurosurgeon Allan Hamilton, who has been the medical consultant for 150 episodes of “Gray’s Anatomy” and all of “Private Practice.” A horse trainer, Hamilton is the author of “Lead with Your Heart: Lessons From a Life with Horses” and “Zen Mind, Zen Horse.”

Love is in the air

Looking for a little romance? It’s at the book festival.

  • Darynda Jones, who blends romance and suspense as well as sci-fi, has two series, The Charley Davidson Series and the Darklight Trilogy. Her newest is “Eleventh Grave in Moonlight” in the Charley Davidson Series.
  • RaeAnne Thayne, a former journalist and editor, has written 49 books that have been translated into 18 languages and sold in over 50 countries. “Snowfall on Haven Point” is a recent title.
  • Jennifer Ashley, who has traveled the world and now lives in Phoenix. Ashley uses the pseudonyms Ashley Gardner and Allyson James. Her books include “Pride Mates,” “Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage” and “Stormwalker.”

Music, dance and frivolity will complement the authors, panels and presentations.

There will dancing from around the world. Folklorico; belly dance; Irish dance; folk dancing from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Greenland, Iceland and Finland; Chinese folk dance and lion dance are among the international hoofers on the agenda.

And martial arts, percussion, song and dance fuse within the Afro-Brazilian arts of Capoeira and Samba de Roda at the festival.

As for music, a trombone ensemble, an accordion duet, an Old West style musical revue with can-can dancers as well as country-Western, jazz swing and bebop, and that old time rock ‘n’ roll will take the stage.

The 30-40 faculty, staff and graduate students from the UA sing a variety of music styles including Broadway, classical, jazz, contemporary and more.

You can also tune in to the Star’s David Fitzsimmons presentation of “The Arroyo Café Old Pueblo Radio Hour” which celebrates the Tucson Festival of Books special guests, mystery writer J. A. Jance, and award-winning author Luis Alberto Urrea. The delightful old-time variety show will be taped for broadcast on Arizona NPR 89.1, in front of a live audience.

“It’s rumored Ms. Jance will be asked to sing for her supper at the Arroyo Cafe and Luis will tell a magical tall tale or two,” says Fitzsimmons.

The show stars Mindy Ronstadt and the One Bill Band, Lindsey McHugh, Marty Bishop, all the Arroyo Café players and host, Fitzsimmons.

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