Festival of books to welcome Jewish authors

2011 Tucson Festival of Books (James S. Wood Photography)

Top-notch authors from Tucson and around the United States will descend on the University of Arizona campus March 10-11 for what’s been called the “Best Book Festival Under the Sun.” The Tucson Festival of Books has grown exponentially since it debuted in 2009, attracting 100,000 book lovers in 2011, and is now touted as one of the nation’s top book festivals, along with those in Miami, Chicago and Los Angeles. Tucson’s festival is entirely volunteer-run, and has donated $500,000 to local literacy organizations.

The TFOB will feature 250 exhibits and 450 authors of all genres — from Pulitzer Prize-winning history to crime novels, memoirs to young adult fantasy, fiction best-sellers to health.

This year’s book extravaganza will be the biggest so far, says Bill Viner, one of the festival’s founders. Added this year will be at least five Science City pavilions from the UA College of Science’s Bio5 Institute, which does collaborative research in biology and technology. To celebrate science literacy, the festival will offer interactive exhibits for adults as well as children, says Viner.

To commemorate Arizona’s Centennial, there will be an added focus on panels with local authors. And to feed the expected crowds, there will be additional food vendors this year.

As always, many Jewish authors will participate in the festival. Tucsonan Janni Lee Simner will discuss her latest book, “Faerie Winter,” a post-apocalyptic fantasy tale, the sequel to “Bones of Faerie.”

“I love how the book festival brings out people from every part of our community,” says Simner, “and I love how it’s books we’re coming together over. It’s an honor to be part of it — as well as a lot of fun!”

Amy Weintraub, author of “Yoga for Depression,” says she’s looking forward to introducing her new book, “Yoga Skills for Therapy: Effective Practices for Mood Management,” at “my hometown book festival.”

Coming from further afield is Youngstown, Ohio, attorney Daniel B. Roth, co-editor of “The Great Depression: A Diary,” based on his father’s day-to-day accounts of life during the 1930s. Bank closings, bread lines and foreclosures were all topics the elder Roth wrote about, along with “problems as president of Congregation Rodef Sholom in Youngstown, Ohio, including having to reduce the rabbi’s compensation as part of the temple’s cost-saving measures,” says Roth.

Atlanta author Melissa Fay Greene will talk about her new book, “No Biking in the House Without a Helmet,” a memoir about adopting one child from Bulgaria and four from Ethiopia, adding to the four children she and her attorney-husband already had. Greene is the author of “The Temple Bombing,” a 1996 National Book Award finalist for nonfiction, about an attack in 1958 by white supremacists on Atlanta’s oldest synagogue, whose rabbi was an advocate of integration.

“One of the joys of criss-crossing the country on book tour is connecting with Jewish audience members and Jewish communities all over America: the warmth! The home hospitality! The let’s-introduce-my-daughter-to-your-son schemes! The games of ‘Jewish geography!’” Greene told the AJP.

Tucson’s Jewish community “has been so involved with the festival,” notes Viner, “from the steering committee to the volunteers to the authors to the sponsors.” When Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction writers such as Richard Russo and John Sandford come to Tucson, he adds, you know the festival is a success.

[Full disclosure: AJP Associate Editor Sheila Wilensky is on the TFOB history/ memoir/biography author committee. Her daughter, Brook Wilensky-Lanford, author of “Paradise Lust: Searching for the Garden of Eden” will be on the “Eden Seekers” panel on Saturday, March 10 at 4 p.m. Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon of Temple Emanu-El will moderate the panel. For more information, visit tucsonfestivalofbooks.org.]