First annual literary festival comes to Evanston to celebrate local authors


Nathan Richards/Daily Senior Staffer

The Evanston Public Library is involved in the city’s first literary festival, which starts May 11. The festival is meant to highlight the literary community that exists in the city.

Rachel Yang, Reporter

The first annual Evanston Literary Festival kicks off next month to celebrate the city’s rich literary history and community.

The festival, which starts May 11, is a collaboration among Chicago Book Expo, Evanston Public Library, local bookstore Bookends & Beginnings, Northwestern’s Creative Writing Program and Northwestern University Press.

There will be around 20 events held during the festival, said John K. Wilson, a co-organizer of the event and the Chicago Book Expo, an annual literary fair. Key events include readings and discussions by local authors, such as Garry Wills, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and NU professor, and Stuart Dybek, a nationally acclaimed writer and a Distinguished Writer in Residence at NU, as well as by Evanston Township High School students. A teen writer’s workshop will also be offered.

Wilson and Lynn Haller, another organizer of the festival and the Chicago Book Expo, said they wanted to branch out of Chicago and thought Evanston’s vibrant literary community made it the perfect location.

“(Writers) seem to be on every corner and every street,” Wilson said. “There are writers of all different kinds, from professors to poets self-publishing their work. It’s an incredible variety of literary activity in Evanston, and we want to try and shine a light on it.”

The two also said Evanston was appealing because it is a close-knit community and is more accessible compared to Chicago, where established and larger events could cause smaller, burgeoning programs to “fall through the cracks.”

But the introduction of the festival to a new community doesn’t come without its challenges. Both of the co-organizers and Nina Barrett, the owner of Bookends & Beginnings, said it was  difficult to put together the festival in a relatively short amount of time, as most of the planning did not begin until late February.

Haller said she wished there had been more time to establish relationships with literary organizations in Evanston, since she and Wilson have not held anything in the city before. However, she said she wanted the festival to occur in May to coincide with NU’s Spring Writers’ Festival, giving the organizers a chance to work with the university.

Wilson said the centerpiece of the festival is NU’s event, hosted annually by the English department. This year, it features a panel with well-known writers such as Roxane Gay.

“Northwestern is an important part of (the literary community),” Wilson said. “You have a large number of people who are interested in literary culture … as well as people who choose to live in Evanston … because they like the presence of Northwestern.”

Despite these challenges, Barrett said she was impressed with the organizers’ professionalism and ability to plan the festival in such a short time.

Overall, the organizers’ goal of the festival is to increase the visibility of the literary community in the city.

“I feel like Evanston has always been very good about celebrating the visual arts,” Barrett said. “But I feel like we have now this power to do the same kind of thing with the literary arts.”

Barrett also said she hopes the festival will make people realize the importance of being part of a literary community.

“This experience of community is something that exists in a different form online,” she said. “There’s nothing that can replace being in the room and we shouldn’t forget that.”

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