Editor’s Note â¢ This article is part of 150 Things To Do, a draft report and newsletter exploring the best of Utah. Click here to subscribe to the weekly 150 Things newsletter.
Christian McKay Heidicker doesn’t just read his books aloud. He executes them.
It’s a Saturday afternoon at the North Branch of the Weber County Library in Ogden, and the Salt Lake City resident addresses a room of about 20 people, many of whom are mothers with young children. . His voice and movements come alive as he reads his latest book, “Scary Stories for Young Foxes: The City”. The public is captivated by its reading, threaded on every word. (Heidicker’s new set of tales is a companion to his Newberry Honor book, âScary Stories for Young Foxes,â and other things that âbumpâ into the night.)
The September 25 Heidicker reading was part of this year’s Utah Humanities Book Festival, which began in September and runs through October. Featuring dozens of authors who write everything from fiction to non-fiction to poetry, this year’s events bring readers together – and face to face with writers – across the state.
Heidicker said the Book Festival is a chance to speak with people he would typically never connect with.
âMy readers are really generous with their attention and questions, and it’s very rewarding,â he said.
Find a community on and off the page
Now in its 24th year, the festival has grown over time from a one-day or weekend event to a “two-month literary event marathon,” said Willy Palomo, program manager. from the Utah Humanities’ Center for the Book.
Upcoming events will feature writers such as:
Terry Tempest Williams, writer and environmental activist. (October 7, 6 p.m., Brigham City Museum of Art & History)
Tara Westover, New York Times bestselling author of “Educated,” a memoir about leaving your survival family to pursue a formal education (October 9, 6 p.m., Zoom conference call)
The Chicano poet Antonio LÃ³pez, author of âGenteficationâ, his first collection of poetry. (Oct. 15, 7 p.m., location to be specified)
The statewide festival runs until October 30. For a full program, visit the Utah Humanities website.
Palomo said local partners decide which books to highlight in their communities, and then he helps coordinate with the authors.
The significance of the festival is different depending on where the Utah events are held, he said. The context of a particular community is reflected in the book choices for each event. For example, a neighborhood could engage with nature by focusing on environmental literature; in another, the festival might aim to promote under-represented voices.
But no matter where a particular place focuses, âIt’s a joy to be able to walk through communities everywhereâ¦ and to have these conversations about books that matter to those communities,â said Palomo.
He added that the best part of his job is when book festival attendees are touched or enlightened or even troubled by what an author has brought to the table.
These experiences also improved his own life, he said. âNow I’m going to travel the world differently because I know something new. “
Planning and promoting the festival is not without challenges. Palomo said that sometimes people who work in the humanities are not immune to wanting every event to attract “football stadiums” full of people, so it can be disappointing to see only a few people attending a game. event.
However, “I think there is something really valuable about having a smaller conversation sometimes,” he said. Smaller events increase “the degree of vulnerability” as well as the opportunity to “get to know people” that you might not have encountered otherwise.
COVID-19 has also had an impact on the festival. Last year it was completely virtual, Palomo said; this year there has been a mix of virtual and in-person events.
“Yes [virtual options] that’s what people are comfortable doing programming like this with, so that’s what we’re going to do, âhe said. “And then some communitiesâ¦ really need an in-person component to even get people out.”
Either way, Palomo said virtual options will never go away after this year. Technology has allowed the festival to connect with international writers they otherwise could not afford to feature, he said, and it has also enabled rural communities to participate more.
Additionally, he said it provides more options for people with disabilities and those who are just too busy to attend live events.
âIf you’re a busy parent who can’t go out to a little bookstore or whatever at nightâ¦ you can still get a glimpse of what we’re working on,â Palomo said.
The festival hasn’t been able to live-stream all of the events in person this year, but it’s something they are working on going forward, he added.
A good book can change you
Palomo said he hopes that in any community, people will walk away from the Book Festival events after falling in love with literature and new storytellers.
In particular, he hopes teens learn how books can help them navigate the world.
“The importance [for teens] is to understand what a great tool is [books] are to get you through life, âhe said.
Books are also a way of setting an example, Palomo said. Research shows that growing up in a family of readers increases the likelihood that children will be readers as well.
And there is no limit to what the books can contain. The Book Festival makes a point of including all types of works, from traditional novels to cowboy poetry.
Palomo recognizes that reading has a bad reputation âwhen you frequently read the wrong thingsâ.
âThere are books that match your interests, that are told in a way that [you] up, âhe said. “It is simply a question of finding [them]. “
Editor’s Note â¢ 150 Things To Do is a reporting project and weekly newsletter made possible through the generous support of the Utah Tourist Board. Subscribe to the 150 things newsletter here.