At the Utah Humanities Book Festival, high-school student Kylee Carlin is eager to ask her favorite author, Jay Asher, what inspired him to write the young-adult novel "Thirteen Reasons Why," the book that changed her life.
Kylee doesn’t quite know what to expect from the annual event. In fact, until last year, the 17-year-old student at Weber School District’s alternative Two Rivers High School was bored by books. "I just thought books were all about history, they weren’t too amusing," says Kylee, who lives in West Haven.
The 16th annual Utah Humanities Council Book Festival sponsors events throughout the state, with a two-day kickoff weekend at Salt Lake City’s Library Square, 200 E. 400 South, on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 28-29. Events will include daily concerts, a poetry slam, a rare-books roundup and scores of author talks and panels. For a complete schedule and alphabetical listing of author talks throughout the city and state, visit utahhumanities.org/BookFestival.htm.
Runners interested in joining Harvard professor Daniel E. Lieberman (“The Barefoot Professor”) on a run Friday, Oct. 4, should make a reservation at www.nhmu.utah.edu/run-daniel-lieberman. Check-in is at the museum at 7:30 a.m., with the run beginning at 8 a.m.
But after a friend left "Thirteen Reasons Why" at her house, Kylee picked it up and plunged into the gritty world of young -adult fiction. "Just because of one book, it’s got me to a whole new place," she says.
Asher’s book tells the story of what happens after a teenager, Clay, finds a box of cassette tapes recorded by Hannah, a classmate whom he had a crush on. On the tapes, Hannah explains the 13 reasons she took her own life.
At the time, Kylee was having suicidal thoughts. "I wasn’t having the best life," she says. "I thought everything was just horrible. I read that book and it helped me to think about other options."
Now, she’s a reader who plows through a new book or two every week, 12 or 13 books on her own during the summer. She’s re-reading Asher’s novel for the 13th time. And thanks to her former English teacher Cassie Cox, she’ll get the chance to meet and interview Asher during his session at the annual book festival (1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, Main Library fourth-floor conference room).
For four years, Cox has been holding reading competitions for her students, with winners receiving the opportunity to have dinner with prominent Utah and national writers. "Thirteen Reasons Why," a New York Times best-seller, is one of the most popular books at her school, which prompted Cox to strike up an email conversation with Asher two years ago in the hopes of eventually arranging a Utah visit.
Cox, in collaboration with Weber State University and the Humanities Council, invited Asher as one of the 120 regional and national writers on the lineup for this year’s book festival. More than 2,000 people are expected to attend the two-day kickoff event at the Salt Lake Main Library on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 28 and 29.
This year, organizers have planned food truck stopovers, a poetry slam and concerts to spark more of a festive atmosphere to Library Square. Singer-songwriter Kate MacLeod’s concert (4:30 p.m. Sunday, Library Square), will boast a literary theme as she performs songs from her soon-to-be-released "Kate Macleod at Ken Sanders Rare Books," which was recorded in August 2012.
The Salt Lake City events are part of the festival’s month of readings and events in 17 cities throughout the state, which drew nearly 16,000 people last year. The sheer range of the author lineup sets the month of events apart. This year’s visiting writers include literary lights such as poet C.D. Wright (whose 12th collection, "One With Others," won the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award) and novelists Sena Jeter Naslund (who earned mainstream recognition with "Ahab’s Wife") and Bernhard Schlink (of the luminous, challenging "The Reader"). Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Paul Harding ("Tinkers") will speak at 7 p.m. Oct. 15 at the Orem Public Library.
A handful of festival authors have more of an activist bent, such as writer-photographer Paola Gianturco, whose "Grandmother Power: A Global Phenomenon" focuses on women who are changing the world for their grandchildren, and analyst Ward Wilson, who will talk about his book, "Five Myths About Nuclear Weapons," in an Oct. 17 speech (7 p.m., Main Library auditorium).
At the kickoff weekend in Salt Lake City, young-adult and children’s novelists will also be well-represented, from Asher to Kate DiCamillo ("Flora & Ulysses"; 3 p.m. Saturday, Main Library auditorium), and Utah’s Sara Zarr ("The Lucy Variations"; 1 p.m. Sunday, Main Library auditorium).
And in keeping with the festival’s aim of bringing together readers and writers, there’s also a talk by former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, promoting his book "Finding Allies, Building Alliances: 8 Elements That Bring — and Keep — People Together" (co-written with Rick McKeown; 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Main Library auditorium).
In one of the festival’s most offbeat events, readers are invited on a run with Daniel E. Lieberman, a professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard, known as "The Barefoot Professor" and author of "The Story of the Human Body." He’ll be speaking at the Natural History Museum of Utah (reservations are full; 7 p.m., Oct. 3), and will lead a barefoot run the next day.
“Grandmother Power: A Global Phenomenon,” Saturday, Sept. 28, 1:30 p.m., Salt Lake City Main Library auditorium
Paola Gianturco found the topic for her fifth book of photojournalism while talking to women in Kenya. To break the ice, she casually asked about their children, and she heard answers like this: “Two, and five adopted.” “Three, and nine adopted. “Five, and 15 adopted.”
That’s when she realized these women were raising their grandchildren, who were orphaned in the AIDS epidemic.
Gianturco began reporting on a worldwide movement of activist grandmothers, which she says is mostly unheralded in the United States. She talked to rural Indian grandmothers who are learning how to be engineers so they could return to their villages and install solar power. She talked to Argentine grandmothers who are part of a storytelling corps of literacy volunteers in local schools.
At book events in the year since “Grandmother Power” was released (powerHouse books, $49.95), she has listened to women in her audiences discussing local issues, such as organizing to combat gun violence in Colorado, or genetically modified seeds in Oregon.
What are the issues Utah grandmothers are most concerned about? Gianturco hopes to find out at Saturday’s talk.
The author is also promoting another level of activism with her book, as she is donating 100 percent of her author’s royalties to the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign. The effort links Canadian grandmothers with African grandmothers raising AIDS orphans.
Ken Sanders and Tony Weller
Rare Books Round-Up, Saturday, Sept. 28, 1 p.m., Library Square
Inspired by Ken Sanders’ appraisal duties for “Antiques Roadshow,” the two booksellers join forces to talk about the value of books in what Sanders promises will be a “comedy tag team.” Or more seriously, a platform for storytelling.
“I’ve been wheeling and dealing books since I was 14 years old,” Sanders says. “And when you’ve done it that long, you know stories, you know stuff.”
Sanders says he gets nervous whenever he hears, “I’ve got a really, really, really old book.” “The more times they say ‘really,’ the more trouble I’m in.”
Attendees are invited to bring in literary treasures for appraisal, but Sanders cautions that value depends on more than the book’s age. “Every book ever printed since Gutenberg had a first edition,” Sanders says. “I don’t care what book you have, or how valuable it might be, if it isn’t in very good condition, the value is largely gone.”
Concert, Sunday, Sept. 29, 4:30 p.m., Library Square
Set aside books that inspire films. For Utah-based singer-songwriter Kate MacLeod, a more novel idea is how a plot point or scene in a book can inspire a song.
She has been writing songs inspired by her reading for some 30 years, and plans to release a collection of 13 literary-inspired songs. The CD, recorded at Ken Sanders Rare Books, will be available at her concerts before its December release date.
Book lovers might want to guess at MacLeod’s inspiration ranging from novels such as Audrey Niffenegger’s “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” which prompted her song “Love In and Out of Time,” to nonfiction such as William Least Heat-Moon’s “Blue Highways.”
Local readers might want to re-read Teresa Jordan’s Wyoming range memoir to better appreciate MacLeod’s song with the same title, “Riding the White Horse Home.”
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