The Tucson Festival of Books is coming back in full force

Bill Finley Special to the Arizona Daily Star

The Tucson Festival of Books has finalized plans to offer a full-scale book-a-palooza next spring, its first fully-formed festival since 2019.

With a $1 million budget, TFOB is set to be held the weekend of March 3, 4 and 5 at the University of Arizona.

“We want to pick back up where we left off in 2019,” Executive Director Melanie Morgan said. “We’ve needed to be creative the last two years. Things have looked different because they needed to be. Now we want to get back to the arc we were on before.”

Before 2020, that is when the festival was canceled because of a newly emerging COVID-19 pandemic.

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In 2021, it was staged online only. Earlier this year, it was again held in person, but planners purposely scaled it back out of caution.

In almost every respect, from the number of authors and food courts to the size of the footprint itself, the program last March was about 25% smaller than it had been.

For 2023, planners hope to introduce 300 authors across all popular genres. There will be 300 author presentations on 33 festival stages scattered across the entire east side of the university. Attendance, it is hoped, will return to the 130,000-140,000 range that flocked to the festival from 2015-2019.

When seen through the eyes of a festival attendee, Morgan said the most visible changes will probably be in the two zones most popular among kids: the Children & Teens area and Science City.

“With all the uncertainty around the pandemic, and since children couldn’t be vaccinated last time, we needed to move things around and spread things out to ensure distancing,” she said. “We eliminated some of the areas where we’d done hands-on activities that made things so much fun. We’re re-doing the layouts in those two areas now so kids can be kids again.”

The “Book Nook Tent,” an activity area for older toddlers, will again be offered by the Tucson Children’s Museum and the Stocker Foundation.

The Nature and Environment Stage, sponsored by the Western National Parks Association, will be back, located on the university’s east mall in Science City.

Interactive science spaces for kids will return. Food and beverage options will be increased. Readers and their favorite writers will no longer be separated by Plexiglas in the signing areas.

Moving back to the future will not come without challenges, Morgan said. One big concern: costs. It ain’t 2019 anymore.

According to government statistics, retail prices have increased 15-20% in the last three years, and some items — such as airfares — have risen more than that.

“A 2019 budget won’t work in 2023,” Morgan said. “Costs have gone up a lot, especially in some of our most important areas, but we’ve always hit our marks before. Our volunteers are amazing.”

Speaking of volunteers, another festival challenge will be re-enlisting the once-robust army of 2,000 volunteers. Between the long hiatus and lingering fears about the pandemic, dozens of volunteer shifts went unfilled in March.

“I don’t think people realized we were ‘hiring’ again,” Morgan said. “Our festival is driven by our volunteers. We need you!”

Learn more about volunteer opportunities at tucne.ws/tfobvol.

FOOTNOTES

  • Students and staff at Salpointe Catholic High School were stunned by the devastating fire there this summer, but the school is now hearing from friends it didn’t know it had. Four weeks ago, in this space, Bookmarks launched a community book drive to replenish an English department library lost in the fire. Tucsonans have responded by donating more than 700 books to the school. “We’re overwhelmed,” Salpointe President Kay Sullivan said. “Thank you, Old Pueblo, not just for the books, but for showing our students the power of giving… and giving back.”
  • The Martha Cooper Library on Catalina Avenue in midtown Tucson will close for 18 months beginning Nov. 20. A major reconstruction project is planned, with a re-opening set for Spring 2024. Once the Cooper Library closes, borrowed books may be returned to any other Pima County Public Library location.
  • Mostly Books, the independent bookshop on East Speedway, celebrated its 34th anniversary on Sept. 13. When sisters Bobbe Arnett and Tricia Clapp first opened their doors, Mostly Books was one of 50 independent booksellers in Tucson. Now there are seven.
  • The annual Literary Awards Writing Contest sponsored by the Tucson Festival of books is well underway, program director Meg Files says. Judging will be conducted in fiction, nonfiction and poetry. Prizes of $1,000, $500 and $250 will go to the top three submissions in each genre, with an entry deadline of Oct. 31. For additional information, visit tucne.ws/tfoblit.

Browse previous Bookmarks columns and keep up with news from the Tucson book community by following Bookmarks Arizona (@BookArizona) on Twitter.

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