Looking forward to (and behind the scenes of) the Twin Cities Book Festival

Interview by Ethan Marxhausen

Ever wanted to see all the best of what the Twin Cities lit community has to offer, but you weren't sure where to look first? Looky here: the 13th Annual Twin Cities Book Festival, sponsored by Rain Taxi, is happening this Saturday, October 12, on the Minnesota State Fairgrounds, and you damn well better not miss it. This year, Paper Darts will join more than a hundred local literary groups and dozens upon dozens of local and non-local authors to celebrate the Twin Cities' vibrant and uniquely interconnected lit community. This year's festival includes eight featured author readings, panels, a book fair, a children's pavilion, a local lit lounge, and so much book-based excitement you won't hardly be able to stand it.

I talked with Rain Taxi Editor and Festival Director Eric Lorberer about what we can expect from the festival this year, some challenges his team faced, and what exactly an event of this scale is doing for local literature.

Paper Darts: What was Rain Taxi's inspiration for organizing the first Twin Cities Book Festival in 2001?

Eric Lorberer: The lack of a book festival was our inspiration. We live in an amazing city for literature, but there wasn't a singular event to celebrate the community and all the great things people were doing. Book festivals weren't a new idea, they were happening all over the country, but for some reason there wasn't one here, so we started it up.

PD: Did you enjoy a lot of immediate support, or has it gradually built over the years?

EL: It was pretty grassroots in the early days—a lot of volunteers, a lot of people pitching in. Our work with the magazine and our reading series affords us a lot of connections, so we were able to invite some cool writers, but mostly it was just us doing what we wanted. Happily, it grew (and continues to grow) into something that gets larger support from various funders and sponsors who recognize both its cultural significance and its marketing outreach!

PD: To say that the Twin Cities Book Festival has become a major part of the Twin Cities literary landscape would be quite the understatement. How, specifically, do you think the festival has vitalized the Twin Cities lit community?

EL: I think the primary impact has been the “one big room” phenomenon: putting all elements of the book world—big and small, commercial and not, retailers, publishers, authors, and more—into one space for a day creates a giddy, almost surreal kind of celebration of the community. The other paradigm I think of is the snapshot: this community is thriving, but you rarely get to see it in one frame, so this annual event allows us to document that thriving year by year.

PD: Do you have a favorite moment from past festivals?

EL: Wow, there have been so many. Robert Creeley speaking from a chair two weeks after 9/11, soothing the audience. Denis Johnson singing songs based on his poetry, which he'd vowed not to even read anymore. That kid holding a tarantula in the Children’s Pavilion. I could go on and on.

PD: It must have taken some serious outreach effort to get all these wonderful bookish people together under one roof. Can you give us an idea of how you managed that?

EL: Rain Taxi's kind of all about outreach. All year long we're inviting authors that are maybe a little off the map, we're working with art galleries or organizations that people don't always think of as particularly literary, we're teaming up with other authors and publishers and booksellers to create events that are better than ones we could do on our own.

PD Mircea Cartarescu's work was only recently translated into English and is already getting lots of attention in the U.S. What does his attendance at this year's festival mean for the festival, for Rain Taxi, and for the lit community at large?

EL: We're thrilled to have him. It's easy as a reader or a student of literature to get stuck with the more traditional, market-driven cyclone of bestsellers and overhyped debuts. Cartarescu is a good example of someone who has devoted himself to his form, built a following, and we feel more people should know about the work he's creating. It's especially nice to celebrate literary merit that exists outside of our national boundaries, that comes to us in translation, that breaks new ground.

PD: This will be Nicholson Baker's second appearance at the festival. What are some things we can expect from him?

EL: He's one of our nation’s best innovative writers, and the really odd duck who achieves bestseller status when he breaks boundaries. There isn't a taboo Baker will shy away from, but he's no shock artist, either. It will be interesting to see how he presents his new book, which is a return to the narrator of The Anthologist. Last time he did a little dance...he surely has a few tricks up his sleeve for this round.

PD: Walking and reading and talking about books is hard work. Any chance a guy can grab a bite to eat at this thing?

EL: Heck yes! Last year we had a food concession out front and People's Organic serving up yummy food and coffee inside the exhibit hall. This year we'll have expanded food options as well as additional seating, so people can take breaks more easily and sit and chat with other festival-goers. So yes, lots of new room to rest and eat and relax.

PD: Can you tell us a little about what to expect when we visit the Local Lit Lounge? I hear a certain ex-wrestler/governor will be there.

EL: More authors, more room, and yes, more Jesse Ventura. The Lit Lounge is a place for authors to chat with each other (we'll have roughly three Minnesota authors with new books on hand every hour) as well as anyone who's interested. Plus an all-day Scrabble game, a chance to play a “game-novella,” a writer’s block quiz...

PD: Any prediction as to who will win the readers vs. writers Scrabble tournament?

EL: Here's the thing with writers playing Scrabble: they'll waste four turns and forego a triple word score so they can play some four-syllable word. Yeah, "myopia" is an impressive play, but they're never going to play "zits" just because it will nab them fifty points. So my money’s on readers. Prove me wrong, writers!

PD: Your work is far from over. What are some ways we can help you out in this year's festival, in addition to just showing up?

EL: Showing up is great! Talking to the exhibitors is also key. I'd encourage attendees to walk the aisles and find an author or publisher or some member of the literary community in Minnesota that they didn't know about before, and learn about them. Maybe budget a few dollars so you can buy a book, help support the literary life of our state. If you're looking for a more direct way to help out with the Festival, we're always looking for volunteers—there are instructions on our website—and if you want to help indirectly, you can always donate to Rain Taxi. We're a non-profit and we do this for the love of reading, but we do need fuel to keep it going.

The 13th Annual Twin Cities Book Festival is this Saturday, October 12, 10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m. at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. Get more information about the festival here, check out the schedule of readers here, and submit your volunteer application here!

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