Last weekend’s inaugural BookFest St. Louis was such a success that talk of 2018’s event began before the last line of poetry was uttered at the closing event—the 100th anniversary celebration of T. S. Eliot’s Prufrock & Other Observations held at Dressel’s. Throughout the day book lovers brushed aside the unusually hot late-September weather and dashed from venue-to-venue enjoying as many events as they could manage from the jam-packed schedule.
There were approximately 40 prominent authors in town for BookFest, each participating in a reading or a panel discussion on topics as varied as poetry, weird, literary and science fiction. Miss Kopp’s High Tea with Amy Stewart (author of the best-selling Kopp Sisters mystery series) was held at Mary Ann’s Tearoom, and at 6 p.m. Saturday at least 100 people gathered on the sidewalk at Left Bank Books for the dedication of a bronze sculpture of William S. Burroughs, the installation of which completed the Central West End Association’s Writer’s Corner project (see photo above).
Friday night’s keynote event, “An Evening with Sherman Alexie,” was held at The Sheldon, the only BookFest venue not in the immediate neighborhood. I asked Cory Lovell, Left Bank Books’ event coordinator to describe the hundreds of Alexie fans in the audience:
“Very diverse. In age, race, socio-economic class, and ideology. There were radical activist artists who I know have been active in St. Louis since the 60’s, and junior high students who have taken a shine to their required reading project (Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian). There were so many kinds of folks and I think they all were there because they appreciate Sherman’s honesty. He explains tragic elements of humanity in a way that’ll make you crack a smile. Its rare. So people take notice.”
And notice they did—except for moments of raucous laughter that interrupted Alexie’s 1 hour & 45 minute performance, the audience was so engaged, you could have heard a pin drop.
BookFest St. Louis was a collaboration between Left Bank Books and the Central West End North Community Improvement District. LBB’s Kris Kleindienst, right, and CID Executive Director Kate Haher, left, are shown just before the William Burroughs dedication.
Others who threw their hearts and souls into the months-long planning were LBB’s Cory Lovell (mentioned above), Lauren Wiser, and a long list of other LBB staffers, CWENorthCID‘s Elisa Essner and Maggie McCarthy, and Enchanting Embellishment’s Ken Fowler.
Literary Fiction Panel II was held at the newly opened event venue The McPherson, 4715 McPherson. Panelists Whitney Terrell, left, author of The Good Lieutenant (named best novel of the Bush war years by The Guardian), Shanthi Sekaran, author of the acclaimed Lucky Boy, and right, debut novelist Gabriel Tallent, whose My Absolute Darling became an instant hit, discussed “crafting searing and relevant fiction that helps us empathize with parts of the American experience otherwise foreign to many of us…”
Charlie Jane Anders, left, author of Nebula-Award winning All the Birds in the Sky, and MIT Fellow and io9 founder Annalee Newitz , author of Autonomous shown leaving the William Burroughs event. The authors participated in the Science Fiction Panel which also took place at The McPherson.
Sculptor Vlad Zhitomirsky, creator of the William Burroughs statue, is photographed with Central West End Association board members, from left, Anna Cardot and Kate Walter, and CWEA Director Jess Batchelor.
The video shows sculptor Zhitomirsky unveiling the Burroughs statue. Burroughs joins T. S. Eliot, Kate Chopin, and Tennessee Williams on Writer’s Corner, each of whom resided in the CWE. Local author Carol Shepley, who spoke about Burroughs’ connection to the neighborhood and to Left Bank Books can be spotted in the video, as well as Erin Quick of the St. Louis Poetry Center.
Special thanks to the CWE North Community Improvement District and the Central West End Association for their generous contributions to make this project possible, to sculptor Vlad Zhitomirsky for his provocative representation of William Burroughs, and to the St. Louis Poetry Center for their sponsorship of this BookFest event.
At the dedication ceremony the Chanco Cruz Duo played jazz, while Brett Underwood, right, performed a reading of rare and out-of-print Burroughs poetry.
The BookFest Festival Zone (on McPherson east of Euclid) was open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday with live music, demonstrations, book sellers (The Novel Neighbor, Eagle Heights Press, St. Louis Small Press), local artisans, and not-for-profits (Missouri Humanities Council, St. Louis Public Library, We Stories, St. Louis Poetry Center).
A proud participant at the poetry challenge board in the Festival Zone is photographed above.
It was wonderful to see families participating in BookFest events or just out enjoying the neighborhood scene. On Saturday morning there was a Children’s StoryTime event, as well as a Middle Readers Meet & Greet at Schlafly Library. A Young Adult Panel at The McPherson brought together Sherman Alexie (An Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian), Nina LaCour (We Are Okay), and St. Louisan Zac Brewer (The Blood Between Us and Madness).
BookFest St. Louis was supported by a long list of generous sponsors including Left Bank Books Foundation, St. Louis Public Radio, St. Louis Public Library, The Chase Park Plaza, St. Louis Poetry Center, The Green Goose, Central Print and Lofts@Euclid.
Thanks to everyone who made BookFest St. Louis happen, including 100 generous volunteers. It was a stellar debut and garnered the positive attention the neighborhood—and all St. Louis—needed.