Here's What to Expect From All-Virtual Tucson Festival of Books

laptop and phone with bookshelves in the background

Many things about 2021's Tucson Festival of Books will be the same as they have been in recent years.

Attendees will get to hear from esteemed authors, ask them questions and buy their books. They'll be able to peruse the offerings of dozens of local organizations and businesses. Their children will be able to experience interactive events with children's book authors.

But one thing will be very different this year: Attendees will be able to do all of that from their couches as the festival goes all-virtual for the first time since it began in 2009. The Tucson Festival of Books returns for its 12th year on March 6 and 7, a year after the 2020 festival was cancelled at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Every year since it began, the festival has taken over the University of Arizona Mall for one weekend in the spring, with the university and the Arizona Daily Star as sponsors. This year, the mall is a COVID-19 vaccination site.

"The Tucson Festival of Books is known for bringing really high-quality experiences to the community, and having it be very interactive," said Melanie Morgan, the festival's executive director, adding that organizers plan to keep those characteristics intact in the virtual format.

Attendees will be able to access festival events on the Tucson Festival of Books website, where a quick tutorial will explain how to navigate the festival online. Links will take visitors directly to different areas of the festival, such as the list of vendors, author sessions and more.

Festival events will be broadcasted with Crowdcast. Though some sessions have been pre-recorded due to authors' time constraints, many are live, and attendees will be able to use Crowdcast's chat feature for an interactive experience, similar to a live Q&A. Morgan recommends attendees with questions send them early in the session to increase the odds that they'll get answered.

Attending authors that many may recognize include Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Anne Applebaum; suspense novelist Dean Koontz; and "Fight Club" author Chuck Palahniuk. Local authors include Lydia Millet and Luis Alberto Urrea, a festival mainstay. Lisa See, an award-winning novelist, will receive this year's Founders Award.

The festival's list of presenting authors also features members of the University of Arizona community. They include:

  • Susan Crane, a professor in the Department of History and author of "Nothing Happened: A History," will participate in a talk about what and who make history, and why some stories are left untold.
  • Lydia Otero, an associate professor emeritus in the Department of Mexican American Studies, will discuss their most recent book, "In the Shadows of the Freeway: Growing up Brown & Queer."
  • Valerie Trouet, a professor of dendrochronology in the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, will share the most impactful discoveries in the study of tree rings. Her book, "Tree Story," was published last year.

"We chose to really focus on our author sessions, which is what a lot of people are really excited about, and a lot of our partners are the same partners that we have been using in the past," Morgan said.

One such partner returning this year, Morgan added, is Worlds of Words in the university's College of Education, which holds one of the world's largest collections of children's literature. Kathy Short, director of Worlds of Words and a professor of teaching, learning and sociocultural studies, has long led the planning of children's events for the festival, Morgan said.

"We look to her for guidance on really cutting-edge children's materials that are coming out, and she has planned a fantastic set of sessions for children and teens this year," Morgan said.

Those sessions include author interviews, a tour of a LEGO master's studio and a live science experiment.

Those who attend the festival as a one-stop-shop for their year's worth of reading materials are still in luck – the University of Arizona BookStores is returning as the event's official bookseller with online sales.

Even though the festival's virtual format this year was born out of necessity during the pandemic, Morgan said there are some silver linings that came with doing everything online. It increases accessibility for those who may not feel comfortable attending in person for a variety of reasons, she said.

It also takes the guesswork out of deciding between events that are happening at the same time; attendees can simply go to one session live and then watch the recording of the other afterward. Online attendance also made it logistically possible for certain authors to present at the festival.

Even when the festival returns to its in-person format in the future, Morgan said, the virtual sessions are likely to remain and complement the physical festival.