Spring Arts 2021: Into Words? Check Out Virtual Festival of Books, Poetry, New Writer In Residence

Best-selling Arizona author J. A. Jance will deliver a talk at this year’s virtual Festival of Books about the nature of murder and crime-solving, both in detective stories and real life on Saturday, March 6.

Although this year’s Tucson Festival of Books will be virtual, there are still plenty of events taking place and dozens of authors hosting digital exhibits on their work. In addition to dozens of new writers, four “festival favorites” are returning this year: Mexican-American poet and novelist Luis Alberto Urrea, crime writer T. Jefferson Parker, mystery writer Thomas Perry, and Tucson’s own crime writer J.A. Jance.

“For planning purposes and the continued safety of our festival patrons and community, it makes the most sense to plan our 2021 festival as an online event,” said festival executive director Melanie Morgan last year. “This event allows us to pivot and provide wonderful online content in our current environment, while looking to the future and bringing the full festival back and better than ever to the University of Arizona campus—as soon as it is safe.”

Virtual events for the festival include Jance discussing “the nature of murder and crime-solving both in detective stories and real life” on Saturday, March 6, and strong female protagonists in Sunday, March 7. Michael E. Mann, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Penn State, will discuss how speculative fiction can raise public awareness about climate change on Saturday, March 6. Young adult writer Daniel José Older will talk about his process for creating fantasy adventures on Saturday, March 6. Nogales-born writer Alberto Álvaro Ríos will discuss “the power of place and community along the border” on Sunday, March 7. Tucson Weekly Executive Editor Jim Nintzel will talk with Washington Post Bureau Chief Susan Page about The Matriarch, her biography of Barbara Bush. This year’s Tucson Festival of Books takes place Saturday and Sunday, March 6 and 7. For a full list of events, visit tucsonfestivalofbooks.org

In other local literary news, the Pima County Public Library is hosting multiple events in the coming weeks. To begin, PCPL recently selected a new Writer In Residence, which is a local writer who teaches writing workshops and holds office hours for the community. For the spring semester, PCPL has selected Gregory McNamee, a local writer, photographer and journalist who has released multiple books on the culture and history of Arizona. 

McNamee’s selection marks the 11th writer in residence since PCPL started the program in 2016. The residence is open to authors of any genre, and previous writers in residence include Alice Hatcher, J.M. Hayes, Janni Lee Simner, Susan Cummins Miller and Tucson Weekly’s Margaret Regan.

Due to COVID, the writer in residence office hours will be conducted over Zoom in 30-minute blocks. McNamee will offer these one-on-one consultations every Tuesday from 9 to 11 a.m. and Thursday from 1 to 3 p.m. During his tenure, McNamee will also host two more virtual workshops: 

“The Nature of Fact” on Saturday, March 13 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and “Writing Nonfiction” on Saturday, April 10 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. 

The University of Arizona’s Poetry Center is also hosting a variety of online events and seminars. Upcoming events include “Writing the Poem No One Wants to Read (and You Definitely Don’t Want to Write)” hosted by writer Patricia Smith on Sunday, Feb. 21 and 28 from 3 to 5 p.m. “Staging the Poem” hosted by poetry critic for NPR’s All Things Considered Tess Taylor will go over how drama and context can help to concretely draft poems on Sunday, March 7 from 3 to 6 p.m. “Meaningful Machines: Introduction to Digital Poetry” is hosted by poet Lillian-Yvonne Bertram, and covers “computational poetry” and poetry generators, on Saturday, March 20 and Sunday, March 21. Prices vary. poetry.arizona.edu/calendar

Starting on Tuesday, April 6, the UA Poetry Center will also be hosting a free, online exhibition that pushes the boundary of what a book is: a deck of cards, a silk scarf? The Poetry Center argues these are books, and asks you to rethink your own definition. Running from April 6 through Saturday, June 26.

For those who’d rather read on their own, PCPL also recently announced their five most rented ebooks and audiobooks in 2020. Their most popular ebooks were Becoming by Michelle Obama, The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson, A Promised Land by Barack Obama, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens and Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout. Their most popular audiobooks were Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling, Becoming by Michelle Obama, Educated by Tara Westover, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens and Redemption by David Baldacci.

PCPL also announced their 44th annual Southwest Books of the Year list, which covers the best and most noteworthy titles published during the calendar year that are about Southwest subjects, or are set in the Southwest. Last year’s books include A Desert Feast: Celebrating Tucson’s Culinary Heritage by Carolyn Niethammer, In the Shadows of the Freeway: Growing up Brown & Queer by Lydia Otero, and On Swift Horses by Shannon Pufahl.

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