Love Letter to the Tucson Festival of Books – Holly Schaffer

Holly Schaffer at the Arizona State Museum Library, University of Arizona

Dear Tucson,

I love you. And I love books too.

Let’s just get this out up front: I’m a bibliophile. I always have been and I always will be. But it’s okay. It’s nothing to be ashamed of (okay the stacks of books overrunning my shelves may be a little embarrassing, but it’s worth it).

I’m going to take a stab and say I’m not the only bibliophile in Tucson. Wanna know how I know? 4 words: TUCSON FESTIVAL OF BOOKS.

Let’s roll back the clocks . . . March 2009. Many, many volunteers (myself included) had worked countless hours begging authors from around the country to come and take part in the first annual Festival. “But Tucson is a book-loving city,” I can hear the volunteers saying (pleading) with publicists from such well-known companies as Random House and Simon & Schuster. And thank goodness we stuck with it.

I knew from the second my husband dropped me off on the mall the morning of Saturday, March 14 to work the University of Arizona Press booth that all our work had paid off. Throngs of people at 9 a.m. grew into a crowd of more than 50,000 by the end of the second day.

That’s not a typo. 50,000 BOOK LOVERS GATHERED IN TUCSON over one weekend to celebrate authors, literature, literacy, and the reading/writing community. Over the past five Festivals (held every March at the start of UA Spring Break), this annual event has continued to spread its wings, attracting 120,000 in 2013.

Holly Schaffer UA Press Publicist Arizona State Museum LibraryOkay, okay . . . back to the point. I love Tucson. And I love books. And that includes the Tucson Festival of Books. It would be impossible to enumerate in one simple love letter ALL the amazing things that make the Festival the fourth largest in the nation. So allow me to use some trusted bullet points to do the job:

  •  The Festival features more than 300 presentations, 200 exhibitors, and countless opportunities to meet authors, poets, screenwriters, and journalists. Panels are created by teams of volunteer book-lovers who are incredibly passionate about various subject areas, which means that Festival attendees are sure to get the best of all genre worlds from mystery and romance to science and outdoor adventures and everything in between!
  • All proceeds from the Festival are directed toward improving literacy rates in Southern Arizona. In fact, since its launch in 2009, the Festival has contributed $900,000 to local literacy organizations.
  • Science City! Basically a world within a world at the Festival, Science City gives attendees an opportunity to immerse themselves in engaging hands-on activities, lab tours, science talks, and dynamic performances. Visitors of all ages are invited to ignite their senses with the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of this amazing pavilion. Organizations participating in this year’s Science City include the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter, the UA Wildcat Water Lab, Sky Island Alliance, and the Marine Awareness and Conservation Society – just to name a handful.
  • Fun for the whole family. And I mean FUN. Storybook characters wandering the paved walkways, a tent for tots with story performances, puppet theatre, felt board fun, and so much more. I really can’t think of a better way to spend time with the family while encouraging a love of reading. The Festival is a must for families!
  • It’s an all-hands-on-deck community event. More than 2,000 volunteers take time out of their lives to assist. Over the course of two days (and even more when you count the folks who act as volunteer drivers providing author ground transportation to and from the airport) Tucsonans act as food court hosts, entertainment support, author escorts and moderators, among many other jobs. It’s truly amazing to see so many people come out year after year to keep this amazing event going.
  • Bus scholarships, generously provided by Fiesta Bowl Charities and Citi Bank, are made available to schools and children’s organizations to assist in providing student transportation to the Festival. Need I say more?

Holly Schaffer, UA Press Publicist at the UA AZ State Museum LibraryI could keep going, but really . . . do I even need to? After five years, the Festival is Tucson. People travel from out of town to attend; the UA Mall is packed solid for two days; the sun shines gloriously on tents full of books and smiling authors and readers; the food court swells with families eating, laughing, reading; the culinary tent inspires people to try new foods and drink (while filling their shelves with the best new cookbooks out there); and workshops throughout the weekend help aspiring writers become the best they can be with programs focused on research, editing, the craft of writing, promotion and on and on.

Tucson, I love you. You are quirky and wonderful and hot as hell and beautiful. And you are a book loving town. And, really, as far as I’m concerned it doesn’t get much better.

Oh – one quick thing before I go. If you didn’t already know this, the Festival’s website is live NOW! Check it out – this year they’ve made a color-coded genre grid with an option to create your own customized Festival schedule.

Love, your friend,


Holly Schaffer is the Publicity Manager at the University of Arizona Press. She’s volunteered on the Tucson Festival of Books Author Committee since its inception in 2009. She’s currently reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro. A first-time mom, Holly is most excited about attending this year’s Festival with her 18 month-old son Elliott. When she’s not enjoying some fresh air and story time in the kid’s area, you can find her working at the University of Arizona Press booth.

Holly and I met in the Arizona State Museum Library on the west end of the University of Arizona mall. Built in the 1920’s, with hand-turned woodwork and bookshelves, an intricate hand-painted ceiling, and long arched windows, the library is a throwback to an earlier time and place. Our thanks to the librarians who were so welcoming. The library is open regularly to the public.
Check the website for times. You can find more photographs from our time at the library on Love Letters to Tucson’s Flickr page.

Bibliophile? This post from 3 Story Magazine might delight you or distress you – Book art from a Tucson newcomer Laura Hennessy.

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