Last Monday I went to the “launch” of the Second Annual Colorado Book Festival. I went as an observer as opposed to being the active participant that I was for the first annual event.
The chairman introduced the head of the library which was a cosponsor for the festival, a local television personality who is a meteorologist and who conducts an on air book club, and the main speaker, a lexicographer from the University of Colorado who has just published a book with the venerable Oxford Publishing Company. The audience was wonky and loved the subject of cliches. I was dying to talk about foreign policy and politics.
What happened? Why had I “dropped out?”
There were many reasons but looking back I could attribute it to one in particular: a difference of opinion about what the Colorado Book Festival should be.
I drew my inspiration for my philosophy from watching CSPAN 2’s Book TV every weekend during which time they visit book festivals all over the country, in Mississippi, in Tuscon, in Ohio, in Brooklyn. Each city holds interviews and presentations that reflect where they live but that also expose the national audience to ideas that made them unique. For example, I recall watching the Mississippi Book Festival one week where one of the panels featured acclaimed historian Jon Meachem who grew up in Mississippi and the subject of the panel centered around race relations today. Why, I thought to myself couldn’t Denver talk about some of their esteemed authors both past and present and about the colorful history that makes Colorado unique? Why not taut the
contributions that it makes to the national scene?
Many of my ideas were, in fact, put into place. Among the presentations were ones by our governor who had just written a book about his rise in politics, a University of Colorado professor who had recently won a Pulitzer Prize for her study of Native Americans, the authors of a book about the Aurora mass killings a couple of years ago, and a well known novelist who writes about the West.
The members of my committee assembled panels with topics about business writing, poetry and sports. None of them concerned current slants on these massive genres.
There were many disappointments, most notably, a lack of publicity, but more importantly the lack of of concern for the history and legacy of our State as it relates to the rest of our country. I had offered a list of criteria on how to base the committee’s selections to no avail. A raffle was of greater interest as were the logistics of the children’s corner.
So is it going to be better this year with a more aggressive chairman who is not that interested in sophisticated reading either, but does know how to promote and organize?
If the launch is any reflection, the festival will probably draw lots of people who love to read and that’s a good thing. It just won’t move them to seek a higher bar. It won’t stimulate them to reach beyond what they already know and it won’t open any doors to challenge themselves. And it certainly won’t give them an insight into the national scene. As Colorado has been criticized in the past, it will remain in awe of the outside world but with no clue on how to interact with those beyond their city.
I comfort myself with the fact that we’ll have more booklovers. Even though to me it’s a contest to get better and gain more attention from other parts of the country, those surrounding me are content to just have a festival. I suppose I’m better off not being so judgmental.