Monday, June 3, 2019

Dallas Festival of Books & Ideas – books were not forgotten!

What was I expecting from the increasing entanglement of the annual Dallas Book Festival with the Dallas Festival of Ideas? Over several years, the two events have moved closer together – to the point of sharing both a date and location in the Central Branch of the Dallas Public Library – a pairing that made for claustrophobia as inspiration. Due to personal scheduling conflicts, I can only speak of the book portion of the festival.

This year’s pairing, the Dallas Festival of Books & Ideas, spread the “ideas” portion spread over five days, all in separate locations. For the most part, the “books” portion, retitled “Summer in the City,” was confined to the past Saturday at the library. The omission of the word “books” from the library’s listing of events was slightly disconcerting, but writing and reading themselves were not slighted, and the separation of festival locations greatly reduced congestion and the sometimes-dueling overlap of author readings and panels of past book festivals.

Dallas Central Library branch
 I missed the bravura, nationally acclaimed author presentations of a few years ago, but still appreciated the diversity of Texas authors and interest groups – from “must-reads” by African-American authors (presented by The Dock Bookshop of Fort Worth); to presentations from the Jane Austen Society of North Texas; Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators; and Dallas Area Romance Authors. 

There were major attractions – children’s writer Laura Numeroff (If You Give a Mouse a Cookie); award-winning fantasy/horror writer Joe R. Lansdale (The Elephant of Surprise); Steven Davis and Bill Minutaglio’s nonfiction narrative of Richard Nixon’s fixation on LSD guru Timothy Leary (The Most Dangerous Man in America); historical fiction writer Melanie Benjamin (Mistress of the Ritz); and author of women-oriented Westerns, Melissa Lenhardt, whose latest volume, Heresy, has been described as a “queer, transgender, multiracial takeover of the Old West.” 

I also appreciated an emphasis on younger audiences, and people who might be less literarily conscious, reflected in discussions of fanfiction, the writing of science fiction and fantasy for children and teen audiences as well as adults (presented by the DFW Writers Workshop), exposure of young readers to the Sherlock Holmes canon (presented by local Holmes society, The Crew of the Barque Lone Star), and writing family histories, followed by performances by local teen rap artists.

And of course, the opportunity to sign up for the Mayor’s Summer Reading Challenge, with perks and prizes for readers from 1-100. If you missed this one, never fear, I’ll post later with more details, including how even kids too young to read can win!

If in all this, anybody feared that the Dallas Book Festival had left purely literary works left in the dust, WordSpace presented local poets B. Randall and Opalina Salas, and translators for local press Deep Vellum discussed their latest, selected poems of Goethe.

How the combined, intertwined festivals of books and ideas will work in the future remains to be seen, but here’s hoping the broadened festival base will attract – and keep – sponsors and visitors alike.

(Still to come, snippets and deliciously outrageous comments from the presentations by authors Davis and Minutaglio, Lenhardt, and the Crew of the Barque Lone Star.)