Wendell Berry heads all-star Wisconsin Book Festival lineup
According to Wisconsin Book Festival Director Alison Jones Chaim, signing award-winning author/activist Wendell Berry as the 2009 festival keynoter was a matter of good timing.
Though planners had invited Berry twice in previous years, interest in the issues he addresses has grown recently. "In Wisconsin and in the nation, we're starting to hear more conversations take place around food and farming and conservation and the land ethic," Jones Chaim says.
The Kentucky writer, known for his poetic criticism of politics, industrial economies and corporate farming, has generated much enthusiasm for this year's festival, with few tickets to his October 11 keynote remaining. That doesn't surprise Jones Chaim, who says the agrarian author's appeal reaches far. "We all know Wendell Berry for his strong writing in poetry, in essays and in fiction," she adds. "He's unique in that he has influenced so many people, across the genres."
Berry, who Jones Chaim says both lives and writes courageously, inspired the theme for the 2009 fest, Courage. Though themes are rather new to the event, she considers courage a topic that will help focus conversations without being so narrow that it prevents authors with a compelling new book from participating. "There are so many different facets of courage," she explains, "from the quiet courage needed to trust and communicate with other human beings to the bold courage it takes to go against the status quo, to stand up against the pressures of economic growth and global politics."
Those who miss out on tickets to Berry's talk will find many other events from which to choose. The October 7-11 festival features five days of readings, lectures, panel discussions and book signings. On this year's docket is an all-star lineup of authors, many with Wisconsin ties, including Lorrie Moore, Michael Perry, David Rhodes and Jane Hamilton, among others. Moore and Perry will appear together, as will Rhodes and Hamilton.
Jones Chaim says she enjoys determining author pairings for the festival: "A lot of the pairings I make are very gut level." In the case of Moore, the University of Wisconsin professor who writes literary fiction, and Perry, the comic memoirist, musician and small-scale farmer, the match seems natural to her. "They're two of Wisconsin's treasures, so why not put them together? Why shouldn't their fans overlap?" she asks. "They're both really articulate writers, both have a kind of sardonic, self-depracating, and maybe sarcastic humor, and I think there's a lot to be done in terms of exposing people to different writers than they might be used to."
After Moore's and Perry's joint presentation, Michael Perry and the Longbeds will take the historic Orpheum Theatre stage for the 2009 Wisconsin Book Festival Party.
Jones Chaim also looks forward to bringing together Jane Hamilton and David Rhodes. The festival marks Rhodes' first appearance in Madison since the issue of his latest novel, Driftless. After achieving early success as a writer in the 1970s, Rhodes stopped publishing after he was involved in a serious motorcycle accident. "He had published three critically acclaimed novels, and then he was off the grid for three decades, but he never stopped writing. We're lucky to have him at the festival," Jones Chaim says.
To make the most of their experience, festival goers should either obtain a copy of the program or print out the grid posted on the festival Web site and map out an event strategy. The Web site also has an online sorting tool allowing people to find events by date, venue or by certain topics. Bookmark the Wisconsin Book Festival site to keep up with all that's planned for this exciting literary event.
The festival is presented by the Wisconsin Humanities Council.