Ann Arbor Book Festival returning, with new partnerships
The Ann Arbor Book Festival, happening June 22-30 this year, experienced a dark night of the soul recently, as the bad economy caused former funding sources—sponsors and grants alike—to run dry.
“(AABF) was in the red for a couple of years,” said longtime AABF board member, Pioneer High creative writing teacher, and Neutral Zone creative arts director Jeff Kass. “We’ve worked really hard for the last couple of years to get it little bit in the black.”
With this goal achieved, the AABF Board had a frank discussion about whether or not to move forward.
“That was a big conversation,” said Kass. “We’d finally zeroed out our debts, and so then the question became, ‘Well, should we fold up the tents?’ As an educator, especially in these times, I think the answer is no. Maybe now more than ever, it’s important that we come together as a community and make literary arts a priority. Over years, I’ve seen firsthand how young people grow through reading and writing, so it’s really important to cultivate a community that embraces them. And it goes beyond writing. It’s about engaging people in intellectual discussions. Not just soundbites and Tweets, but really talking about and understanding ideas.”
Kass called the latter arrangement a “natural alliance,” in the sense that AASF shares its timeframe with the Book Festival; strives to brings people in the community together to experience art; and, according to Kass, AASF executive director Robb Woulfe had been looking for opportunities for AASF to get involved with presenting more literary activities.AABF’s alliance with the Neutral Zone, meanwhile, is reflected by way of a screening (and discussion) of the youth poetry slam film, “Louder Than a Bomb,” on June 24 at 7:30 p.m. at the U-M Museum of Art, 525 S. State St. and a writing-intensive camp for teens June 26-July1 (at NZ).
But younger kids are invited to be part of the festival, too, via Show Me A Story: A Creative Children’s Play Space, scheduled June 25, from 10 a.m.-11:30 a.m. at North Quad’s Image CafÃ© (2345 North Quad), at 105 S. State St. Primarily, current U-M students will be overseeing activities at the site.
“It’s an amazing space,” said Kass. “There are several large screen HDtvs, and there will be scrolling electronic tickers running across the ceilings and whiteboard tables. So kids can take their poems and stories, and we can show them how use technical tools to develop those stories and present them in modern, visual ways. So they’ll be able to see their poems on the ceiling, and on the whiteboard tables, which is so different than the pencil and paper medium they’re traditionally exposed to in school.”
With these youth-geared activities, plus author talks, readings, a one-day conference, an authors’ breakfast, a 2-day institute for teachers, a street fair, and panel discussions (on topics like e-readers and education reform), this year’s festival seems to take steps toward Kass’ goal of diversifying its programs and appeal. (Yet what initially appeared a coup for AABF—the planned appearance of Adam Mansbach, author of the children's picture book parody "Go the F*** to Sleep," which enjoyed explosive success and pre-orders online before it was even released—sadly fell through due to a family emergency.)
“I want the festival to not just have the traditional workshops, and the same people who always come to those workshops,” said Kass. “ And we can’t just focus on old-school style books, because the landscape is changing, and should be heavily involved in all those changes. It raises questions like, ‘How do we maintain a literary culture? And what will one even look like in the future?’”
Some AABF activities—like the conference, camp, and authors’ breakfast—require registration (and charge a fee), while others are free. Attendees should visit the festival’s website for specifics.
And you might wonder what organizers hope to see at this year’s festival, in terms of a sign that they should keep fighting to keep the festival’s survival.
“To me, it’s not about making money,” said Kass. “It’s about trying to let people know that we’re still around, that we’ve formed these new partnerships, and that we hope to move forward and help cultivate a dynamic and engaging literary arts community in Ann Arbor.”