Wednesday, September 15, 2010

History of book festivals in Wyoming, part one

Before book festivals arrived in Wyoming in the 21st century, we had many localized book events. I remember the mass book signing at the Western Writers of America Conference in Cheyenne in (not sure of the year but I think it was 1999). The writers took over Barnes & Noble, which is the way it should be. Lots of books sold, too.

Wyoming Writers, Inc., always has a bookstore room and an authors’ signing as part of its annual conference. I’ve participated in at least one Wyoming Authors’ Day at the Central Wyoming College Library in Riverton – and there have probably been more. I was part of a huge author signing in Denver in 2006.

I’ve attended many book fairs, such as the one held annually by the Mountains & Plains Booksellers Association in Denver. There is a huge book fair at the annual Associated Writers and Writing Programs annual conference. The last one I attended was in Austin and was trapped for days in the massive book fair, missing such enlightening literary sessions as “Hemingway’s Tiny Penis and How It Made Him a Terrible Writer” and “Chick Lit – Scourge or Menace?” Instead, I bought books and met editors of presses and literary magazines which might some day print my stuff. I attended an intriguing publishing session entitled “Mike Shay’s Stuff Sucks, Which is Why We Don’t Publish it in Our Prestigious Journals.”

But book festivals are a different animal. Lots of writers and lots of books and lots of workshops with writers. Fun, too.

I was on the committee that helped plan the first Rocky Mountain Book Festival in Denver. I served as a volunteer emcee at the 1995 RMBF and planned a reading of Tumblewords writers from Wyoming and the rest of the Rocky Mountain West at the 1996 RMBF. As an emcee, I met and introduced historian Robert Massie, activist/actor/writer Russell Means and children’s writer Jack Gantos. If I remember correctly, the slide projector’s bulb burned out and we couldn’t locate another one, which put a dent in Gantos’s presentation. Fortunately, he’s a forgiving soul, and now is coming to Casper for his second stint at the Equality State Book Festival.

The third biennial Equality State Book Festival is Sept. 24-25 in Casper. I’m the only non-Casper person on the planning committee. Despite my long-distance status, I’ve been on the committee since 2004 when we began planning the first bookfest for fall of 2006. Yes, it took almost two years to put the first one together. We had grants to write, venues to secure and writers to contact. First, the money. I wrote a successful collaborative grant to the National Endowment for the Arts. Co-sponsors were the Wyoming Arts Council, my employer, and the Casper College Foundation. The NEA saw fit to approve $10,000. The foundation came through with some big bucks and we were on our way.

What happened next? Why are book festivals different from literary conferences? Does this blog make my head look big? Tune in tomorrow.

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