Tucson will become the capital of the literary world this weekend when it hosts the 14th annual Tucson Festival of Books.
300 authors, 300 presentations, 200 vendors, 125,000 people …
The numbers can feel overwhelming, but if you’d like to go — and aren’t sure where to even start — we’re here for you, Tucson!
Here is your guide to the free Tucson Festival of Books, which happens 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday-Sunday March 4-5.
What is it, exactly?
The Tucson Festival of Books is hardly a stiff, snobby gathering of bookworms. It’s a full-on street fair with food, music, entertainment and 31 stages featuring nationally-known authors. Even if you’re not a reader, there are plenty of things to do. At any given time during the day, only about a fourth of the people on campus are with the authors.
Where is it?
The festival footprint envelopes the entire eastern length of the UA Mall, from Old Main to Campbell Avenue. Vendors, food sellers, and various stages fill most of the green belt area. Buildings along the Mall, including the UA Bookstore and Student Union, are important parts of the festival, too.
The festival is lots of things to lots of people. Young people love the hands-on, interactive ways to experience science and nature in Science City. Younger kids can play games and meet picture book characters at the Children & Teens Festival. Thousands of us just like to wander the festival “midway,” browsing the 200 popup shops. Some of them even sell books.
Come with a plan
If you want to see bestselling authors on-stage (you'll find Linda Ronstadt, Bernie Sanders and more names you may recognize), study the festival schedule before you leave home. There are 31 author venues scattered from Old Main to Campbell and in buildings along the UA Mall. There will be lines. There will be turn-away crowds for some sessions, particularly in Gallagher Theater. Be ready with Plan B for those time slots you’d like to see authors.
… but don’t overplan
Don’t try to see four or five author sessions in a single day. Give yourself time between sessions to walk, wander and explore. If nothing else, you’ll need time to browse all the books. The UA Bookstore will have 35,000 volumes available for purchase. Vendors on the festival midway will have thousands more.
Get the festival app
Updates and alerts will be posted on the book festival app all weekend. It’s free and can be downloaded from your favorite App Store.
Wear comfy shoes
No matter what festival experience you choose, you’ll be hoofing it there … and back.
Park in a garage
Pick a garage, any garage other than the one on Second Street near the Student Union. It is reserved for authors and key festival personnel. Nearby garages will be open and charging $5 a day, which can be paid with a debit or credit card but not cash. Not-so-nearby garages, such the Highland and Park garages north of Speedway, will be free. Parking is also free in all UA lots, but good luck finding a space.
Grab a festival guide
A special section dedicated to the festival, published in the Arizona Daily Star, will be readily available on campus. You’ll need one, maybe two. They’re free.
Ask for help
Local volunteers staff information booths throughout the festival and they’re delighted to help first-timers navigate the event. They’ve all been there themselves.
Find the ILC
Many of the festival’s biggest authors will appear in the Integrated Learning Center, which is tricky to find. Look for the giant hole in the middle of the Mall, north of the UA Library. Now look down. That’s the entrance to the ILC. There are stairs at the north and sound ends of the large, open-air skylight.
The most confusing, perplexing and maddening word in the festival vocabulary is “tickets.” Fuhgetabout’em! Pretend they don’t exist!
Here’s the deal: Six of the festival’s 31 venues offer “free advance booking” vouchers for sponsors, donors, and (sometimes) a handful of patient people willing to brave the festival website.
Only one-third of the available seats in each of those six venues are reserved for those with tickets.
The rest are openly available, first-come, first-served. There will be lines, yes. Get in line early and you’ll get in. Word of warning: Gallagher Theater will probably fill for every session all weekend. Just sayin’.
Authors will move directly to book-signing tables after all festival sessions. Follow them there. They will sign your book. No more than three books per customer, please.
Come on Sunday
Sunday is the festival’s best-kept secret. Parking is easier, crowds are smaller, lines are shorter and the pace is slower on Sunday. It’s a whole different vibe. Only a handful of sessions will turn people away. There’s also this: authors such as Linda Ronstadt, Bernie Sanders, Gregg Hurwitz, Joseph Thomas and Melissa Marr will only appear on Sunday.