Report on the 2017 Tucson Festival of Books

Thanks to JJ Wilson for sharing his thoughts on this year’s Tucson Festival of Books!


Another year, another blockbuster. Once again I missed out on a couple of big names – Colson Whitehead and Michael McGarrity – but there was plenty of consolation in seeing some lesser-known, bright young (and not-so-young) things.

Adrienne Celt

Adrienne Celt

I was really looking forward to seeing Adrienne Celt as she’ll be appearing later this year at the Southwest Festival of the Written Word. Adrienne, a novelist/cartoonist, starred on an excellent panel with Reed Karaim and Karen Brennan. She was funny and humble and talked lots of good sense.

Karaim is a journalist as well as a novelist, and he had interesting things to say about how his journalistic writing habits affect his fiction. Journalists “don’t have much time for writer’s block,” he says, and they’ve learned to take themselves out of the story.

Karen Brennan was just hilarious – she reminded me of an old-time actress who’s seen it all and condensed it into a thousand one-liners.

Tim Z. Hernandez

Tim Z. Hernandez

I also had the pleasure of attending a session with Tim Z. Hernandez, author of All They Will Call You, a novel I cannot wait to read. Tim, along with Dan Chacón, interviewed me on Words on a Wire (here), and his new book is getting superb reviews. He’s one of those artist/performer/writers who grab your attention through humor, charm, and integrity.

Tim appeared alongside another writer/artist, Maceo Montoya, who spoke so eloquently about Chicanismo. Montoya mentioned that his Chicano students have been through High School and barely know a thing about their heritage.

With a combination of humor and gravity, these old friends riffed away, and it was a joy.

Talking of riffers, Juan Felipe Herrera, the Poet Laureate of the United States, joined Alberto Rios on stage for a beautiful hour of poetry, philosophy and laughter. Rios told great stories about the border at Nogales: how it was first erected from landing strips and how the Mexicans on the other side simply pushed them down so the strips would form a bridge over a creek. The message was … life goes on.

One of these two also quoted Ana Castillo’s admonition to writers: “Write what is tearing at our hearts,” a line I won’t forget.

Nathan Hale

Nathan Hale

The highlight for me was a kids’ session. That sometimes happens when you have an 8-year-old in tow. Nathan Hale is a cartoonist and storyteller with a difference. His difference is that he does both simultaneously, using software that allows him to project his drawings, live, to the audience as he’s telling the story. He does all the voices – in this case, Thomas Jefferson, Sacagawea, a French explorer called Charbonneau, and even a talking dog. It was history as we didn’t know it, and it was an amusing and inspiring hour.

Thanks, as always, to the organizers and sponsors. You do a remarkable job.

-JJ Wilson

Search Begins for Silver City Area’s Third Poet Laureate

Nominations are now being sought for the Silver City area’s third Poet Laureate, following Bonnie Buckley Maldonado’s tenure as the first and Elise Stuart’s as the second.

This honorary position is awarded to a person who has established a presence in the world of poetry, has demonstrated a commitment to the literary art form, and who embraces the opportunity to engage in civil discourse.

Candidates for the post may be either self-nominated or nominated by another person, and must be over the age of 21. Candidates must be residents of Grant County and must have exhibited demonstrable ties to the community. The person selected for the post will serve a two-year term based on the calendar year, with the option – granted in consultation with the Selection Committee – of extending the term to three years.

The main duty of the Poet Laureate is to promote poetry in the community. An additional duty may be to present an original commemorative poem at one or two public events as determined by the Southwest Festival of the Written Word and/or the Silver City Town Council.

To apply, please send a 1-2 page statement describing your qualifications, including publications and teaching experience; an outline of your plans for the role and how you will make a difference in the community; and 3-5 of your poems (which may be in English and/or Spanish). The process may also involve a short interview with the Selection Committee. All applications must be sent by April 17, 2017 to JJ Amaworo Wilson at or 4229 N. Swan St, Silver City, NM 88061. Please contact JJ if you would like more information.

Elise Stuart

Elise Stuart, second Poet Laureate

Bonnie Buckley Maldonado

Bonnie Buckley Maldonado