Friday, June 18, 2010

Printers Row Lit Fest

Last Saturday I went to the Printers Row Lit Fest for the first time, which is this great festival that's held every June. It's like writer heaven because there are booksignings and discussions, authors' panels on writing, poetry slams, etc., etc.

I went because I got a free ticket to hear one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, speak at the Harold Washington Public Library. I love going to authors' events; I go to as many of them as I can. I always end up acting like a groupie every time I approach one of my favorite authors for an autograph; either I become shy and speechless or I start gushing. But who cares if I embarrass myself in front of the authors! I should think they'd be FLATTERED if I trip over several people in my eagerness to get my picture taken with them. (Side note: I wasn't pushing anyone out of the way when I tripped; I was just, er, hopping up and down because I was so excited and I couldn't keep my balance.)

Pritzker Auditorium, where Anne was speaking, was packed, but I managed to get a good seat near the front. There were at least three people who introduced her, or rather, each person introduced the next person, until they finally got to Anne. Does anyone notice how this is a common thing at events like this? Or maybe I was just impatient to hear one of my favorite authors give her speech.

And she was wonderful. She was very calm and relaxed, probably because she's done stuff like this hundreds of times. I, on the other hand, would probably bring a bunch of note cards with me, which I would subsequently either lose or mix up and then start saying different parts of my speech at the wrong times; then I'd probably turn bright red and run screaming off the stage or start all over or just FREAK OUT altogether, or...

She teased some of the audience members who came in late. She said, "Oh, come on in, you can sit in the front, right next to all the other late people." She talked about her son, Sam, who is now almost 21 and has a 10-month old son and lives in San Francisco. She talked about her new book, Imperfect Birds, and how she came up with the idea to continue the story of the character Rosie, who had appeared in two of her other novels.

As she talked, it made me realize how writers who give speeches like this one don't typically impress their audiences with music, complicated tricks, dance moves, or film clips. All they have are their words. And that's more than enough, as long as their words engage their audience and leave them with something new and interesting to think about. And Anne was able to do that throughout her entire speech and the Q&A.

While I enjoyed her answers to people's questions, I couldn't help noticing how almost every person who asked a question felt the need to COMPLIMENT her first. Like, "You've done such a good job with..." and "I've always enjoyed..." In a way it makes sense that they would do that; they wouldn't say something like, "I liked all of your books EXCEPT the one where..." or "GET OUT! We thought that Oprah was going to be here!" But at other events I've been too, the audience members weren't always so effusive in their praise of the author. I kept thinking about my days as an undergrad, when some students in my classes would always compliment the professors before asking them anything, as if they thought it would increase their chances of getting an A. But Anne didn't seem to mind; she was very good-natured about it.

Afterwards, I stood in line to get her autograph and my picture taken with her. When I went up to her, I wanted to tell her how much her writing meant to me. I wanted to say that Bird by Bird was a book that I had read and reread. I almost wanted to be like one of those audience members who kept complimenting her, and maybe even go a step further and offer to pick up her dry cleaning or vacuum her house, just to show how much I appreciated her work and wanted to do something for her in return. But I didn't. I usually hold myself back from doing at least half of the things I want to do, because I'm trying not to make people uncomfortable with spontaneous outburts (at least, not as much).

Does that ever happen to you? When you meet authors that you admire, do you suddenly feel shy about what you want to say to them, or do you tell them how much their work means to you? I'm sure they'd love to hear it, and I have managed to say it before. One of the greatest moments of my life was when I told Amy Tan how much it meant to me to meet her in person, and she gave me this big smile and said, "Why, thank you!" And I was so thrilled that she actually acknowledged me.

I walked around Printers Row after that, and found a bunch of vendors selling books and collectors' editions. And as I made my way through the crowds, examining book covers and flipping through the pages, I felt a quiet happiness that I hadn't felt in a long time. For just a little while, I was able to escape from my reality, and just be around books and the people who love them. I used to go to festivals like the Printers Row Lit Fest all the time, but lately I've been so caught up with work and school that I haven't had time. But that day made me realize how important it is to take time out for the other things in my life that are important to me and make me happy.


  1. I ve been fortunate enough to be able to "chat" with my favorite writer through blogger. But i wouldn't know what i'd say to him face-to-face. Propably i'd mumble sth in bad English and, I don't know, behave like a retard.

    Take care!

  2. i can't say i've ever had the opportunity to meet or chat with a favorite author :/ i can only imagine how amazing it would be though! of course jane austen is also dead...LOL

  3. ...I've spoken with several of my faves via email and chat. Some of the top shelf writers fail to provide much in the way of advice, but sometimes you get lucky. If approached in the correct manner, book signings can be a more personal encounter, especially if you're investing in their work.

  4. Hi nerstes,
    That's cool that you were able to talk to your favorite writer through blogger; the cool thing about blogging is that it opens up so many new opportunities to meet new people.

    Hi catherine,
    Oh, meeting Jane Austen would be awesome! I wonder if a seance would work... :)

    Hi Elliot,
    I'm envious that you got to speak to your favorite writers through e-mail and chat. I've thought about sending an e-mail to one of my favorite authors, too, but I think it would be a really long e-mail because there's so much I'd want to say.

  5. Sounds like you had a wonderful time.
    I'm sure the authors appreciate you reaction as they enjoy meeting their fans/readers.
    Being around books is relaxing -- I can truly relate! :)

  6. Hi notesfromnadir,
    It was wonderful. And I love being around books; it's why I go to bookstores every week.

  7. haha! a jane austen seance...hmm...

  8. Wow, you're so lucky to have heard her speak!

    I'm SO like you - I'm always afraid that I'll put people off or come across all stalker-like that I hold back. I probably manage to appear aloof, unfortunately.

  9. HI Talli,
    I wish I could appear aloof. Usually I just appear nervous. I know they're regular people, but the fact that I admire their work so much puts me in awe of them.

  10. I'm thrilled to hear you had such a positive experience at Printers Row Lit Fest this year and really appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts about the festival with your readers.

    Hope to see you next year at Printers Row!

    All best,
    Amy Guth
    Digital News Editor, Books
    Chicago Tribune

  11. Hi Amy,
    Thanks for commenting on my blog! And it was a great experience at Printers Row Lit Fest! I'd recommend it to anyone. I'm definitely going to go back next year.