Book festival connects Lawrence with the Fox Cities community

Bridget Donnelly

For the third consecutive year, the Fox Cities Book Festival provided an opportunity for book enthusiasts from the community to interact with more than fifty authors, coordinating readings, lectures, panel discussions and other outlets for writers to share their work.
Held in conjunction with National Library Week and National Poetry Month, the Fox Cities Book Festival spanned the week of April 11-18, hosting events at various venues throughout the region.
The book festival is self-described as “a community event organized and produced by volunteers,” and its mission, to connect both local and nationally known writers with readers and writers from the Fox Cities, has proved successful over the duration of its first three years.
Director of the Seeley G. Mudd Library Peter Gilbert served as secretary on the board for this year’s book festival and has been involved in the planning of the festival since its establishment.
Gilbert explained that Lawrence was integral in the book festival’s inception in 2008, as the festival corresponded with former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins’s invitation to speak on campus during the same week, making Lawrence’s events the core of that year’s festival.
Since then, Lawrence has been involved in the book festival in several capacities. Both faculty, including Edmund Kern, David McGlynn and Helen Boyd, and alumni authors Dwight Allen and Susan Sanvidge, have presented their writings at festival events.
Lawrence Director of Conferences and Summer Programs Lynn Hagee has also served on the board, recruiting students, faculty and community members to volunteer, helping to coordinate events and inviting people from the area to attend the festival.
Lawrence’s most practical contribution to the book festival has been its ability to host more well-populated events in its larger venues.
This year, Boyd and McGlynn participated in the festival.
Boyd gave a presentation at Harmony Café on her books “My Husband Betty” and “She’s Not the Man I Married,” while McGlynn joined local poet Cathryn Cofell and writer Rebecca Meacham for a program at the Appleton Public Library titled “How to Get Published,” which catered to an audience of community writers unfamiliar with the publishing world.
McGlynn commented that the book festival is “one of the principal and primary events in which Lawrence and the community come together.” He noted that “it draws people here” and “showcases both the town and the college” for the visiting writers and attendees.
Though the book festival’s events are spread across the Fox Cities area, hosting authors at locations in Neenah, Menasha, Kimberly and Kaukauna, McGlynn observed that the biggest events are still held in Appleton, and that therefore Lawrence is “a prominent landmark” and a “place where reading and talking about books makes sense.”
Two of the featured authors at this year’s book festival, Jane Hamilton and David Wroblewski, attracted crowds to Lawrence. To highlight Lawrence’s involvement in the book festival, Gilbert gave a “housekeeping” introduction for both authors, while McGlynn formally introduced Wroblewski.
Hamilton, author of award-winning novels “The Book of Ruth” and “A Map of the World,” began her talk, “The Journey from ‘Domestic Fiction’ to Comedy,” by referencing her personal connection to the university as the mother of a Lawrence alumnus.
Hamilton jokingly remarked, “You could be at ‘Dancing with the Profs’ tonight.” She also encouraged the audience to watch the “This Is Lawrence” video series, declaring, “I love the Lawrence YouTube clips!”
Though events held at Lawrence were not well attended by Lawrence students, they did draw sizeable crowds.
Two presentations, a pictorially enhanced lecture “Aama’s Journey” by Broughton Coburn and “Logomaniacs,” performed by Appleton’s Renaissance School for the Arts, were held in the campus cinema.
McGlynn acknowledged the potential to broaden Lawrence’s involvement in the book festival through increased use of the Warch Campus Center’s available facilities.
Though the book festival has not yet centered on a particular theme, McGlynn mentioned that an overarching topic such as “sustainability” could more effectively integrate the Lawrence community into the festival.
Hinting that such a thematic integration could prove successful, Novella Carpenter, whose book “Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer” is being read for this term’s “Community Read” seminar, attracted a full crowd at the Appleton Public Library, even after Carpenter delivered the same talk the previous day in Neenah.
Junior Maggie Waz attended this presentation, recalling that Carpenter “referenced the potential problems associated with having an urban farm and [writing] a successful book about it.” Waz noted that a number of other students and professors were in attendance.
Next year’s book festival is already in the planning stages, according to Gilbert. Though he admits that funding is always going to be an issue, the festival does not seem to be in any danger financially, owing mostly to its “fantastic community support.