This season's consumer shows are growing in budgets, authors and attendees.

STELLA! Aspiring Stanleys and Stellas shout it out at the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival

From California to Florida, springtime consumer book festivals are gearing up for another year of readings, discussions, the inevitable costumed children's characters and various celebrations of the written word. Most have now been established for several years and are continuing to build the reputations that allow them to attract both headline authors and midlist writers who may not have the marketing budgets to pay their own way. As these fairs grow in size and popularity, budgets are increasing, and the push to attract corporate sponsorship is stronger than ever. Even the Small Press Book Fair, which showcases independent presses, has attracted the backing of the New York Times for the first time.

One constant with which these festivals must deal is that old bugaboo -- the weather. Most spring festivals are held in the Sun Belt, when the climate is ideal. It d sn't make much sense to schedule an outdoor celebration in Las Cruces, N.Mex., during the summer months, when temperatures can surge above 100 degrees. In more northerly climes, festivals are retreating indoors or moving dates to later in the year. Even Bookfest99 in Palm Beach, Fla., has taken cover, after a rainy outing last year.

For publishers, these springtime festivals provide an easy way to reach a large number of readers directly, as well as giving a shot in the arm to an ordinary media-bookstore tour. 'Basically, these festivals help us in two ways,' says Marilyn Ducksworth, senior v-p for publicity at Putnam, whose author A. Scott Berg is appearing at both the Los Angeles Times and Palm Beach book festivals. 'It's a great way to build momentum if we're launching a campaign. Or it can give some legs to a campaign that's winding down, and keep an author in front of the consumer,' Ducksworth said.

One event usually scheduled for the spring is moving to the fall. The third annual Rocky Mountain Children's Book Festival in Denver, Colo., will be held either in October or November of 1999, closer to the date of the more general Rocky Mountain Book Festival. According to executive director Chris Citron, the RMCBF will be a separate event, but it has been shifted to the autumn to consolidate the organization and scheduling of the two festivals. For information, call (303) 839-8320.

Here's a preview of what's in store this spring.

The theme of the fifth annual Border Book Festival (March 7-14) in Las Cruces, N.Mex., is 'Our Bodies/Our Earth.' Program director and p t Denise Chavez said, 'We're really excited about this year's program. Many nature and environmental writers will be visiting us.' Events at this multicultural celebration of books, art, and music include a panel featuring nature writers Barry Lopez and Terry Tempest Williams. An all-day caravan will take visitors to talks by writers and scientists in the desert preserves outside Las Cruces. Southwestern authors feature prominently at the festival, including Leslie Marmon Silko, who will be presented with the fair's annual Premio Fronterizo Award, Simon Ortiz and Linda Hogan. Other events include an emerging writers program and a discussion of Writing Down the River (Northland), a collection of women's writing on the Grand Canyon. For info, call (505) 524-1499.

Also taking advantage of the beauty of spring in the Southwest is the Northern Arizona Book Festival (March 17-21) in Flagstaff. Now in its second year, this festival, like its neighboring Border Festival, also focuses on a host of multicultural offerings, underscored by its theme, 'Beyond Borders.' Writers have been invited from around the world -- and the enticement of spending time in canyon country in the spring has proved a big draw. The list of authors attending is monumental for such a young festival: Czeslaw Milosz, Michael Ondaatje, Dorothy Allison, Russell Banks, Anchee Min, Bharati Mukherjee, Grace Paley and Robert Pinsky. The festival is organized by the Literacy Volunteers of Coconino County and, as a result, literacy programs are a central fixture. When asked how a festival that has an attendance of 4500 could bring in so many big-name authors, director Pricilla Aydelott said proudly, 'We take really good care of them.' The festival is also involving local schools by busing in children, including those from Hopi and Navajo reservations, for weekday programs. 'It's our responsibility to educate people about these writers,' said Aydelott. Call (520) 556-0313, or visit www.

Organizers of Bookfest99 (March 19-21) in West Palm Beach, Fla., learned that spring d sn't always mean fine weather. The festival has moved back to the South Florida Exposition Center after last year's complications in downtown Palm Beach. Parking was a concern, as was the outdoor site. 'It rained,' said executive director Robin Spillias. 'It was not as good a location as we had anticipated.' To help entice attendees, Bookfest99 has dropped admission from $5 to $3. The festival's school program already has reservations to bus in 4000 students and has another 12,000 on a waiting list. This year's authors include George Plimpton, James Patterson, Robert B. Parker, A. Scott Berg and Jeff Shaara. Spillias has tried to gradually build the fair's reputation, noting that 'in time, we'll get the blockbuster authors.' The 10th Bookfest will feature more panel discussions, with appearances by literary agents and editors such as Wendy McCurdy, senior editor at BDD. Call (561) 471-2901, or visit

The Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival (Mar 24-28) is dedicated to the playwright and the city he once called his 'spiritual home.' Now in its 13th year, the festival produces most of its literary and dramatic events at Le Petit Théâtre du Vieux Carré in New Orleans French Quarter. This year's 'Weekend Named Desire' includes an appearance by Kim Hunter, who won an Oscar for her performance in the 1951 film A Streetcar Named Desire. Authors appearing at the festival's Literary Conference include Edmund White, Clyde Edgerton, Julia Cameron and Lee Smith. Other events include a staging of an early Tennessee Williams play, The Seven Descents of Myrtle, as well as p try readings, an expanded Cooks and Books program, literary walking tours and an exhibitor's book fair. Prices for the events range from $375 for the full literary conference to such free events as the festival's ever-popular finale: the Stanley and Stella Shouting Contest. Aspiring Kowalskis can test their lungs as they reenact the famous scene from Streetcar. Women contestants are encouraged to reverse roles and yell for Stanley. Call (504) 581-1144, or visit

National Book Award winner Alice McDermott is the headline author for the fifth annual Virginia Festival of the Book (March 24-28) held in Charlottesville, Va. More than 150 programs will take place throughout the city, and this year's festival has increased its children's programming to encompass the week prior to the festival. Festival-sponsored tutors will participate in Motheread/Fatheread seminars, in which both children and parents are involved in adult literacy teaching. Authors attending this year include Allan Gurganus, Sharyn McCrumb, David Baldacci, Rita Mae Brown, Tami Hoag and Rita Dove. The festival will also continue its tradition of premiering a film with literary associations. This year will see the debut of Ross Spears's documentary Prophets and P ts, the second film in his trilogy about writers of the South. Call (804) 924-3296, or visit

As the centerpiece of Small Press Book Month, the 11th annual Small Press Book Fair (March 27-28) takes place at the landmark General Society of Mechanics &Tradesmen in midtown Manhattan. Some 200 independent publishers are expected to exhibit. Visitors will hear readings by noted small press authors and participate in papermaking and letterpress printing demonstrations. The fair also presents its annual Poor Richard's Award to a person who has made important contributions to independent publishing. This year the legendary Barney Rossett, founder of Grove Press, will be honored. The fair also spotlights one famous author who was involved with small presses-this year's selection is Louisa May Alcott. An exhibit on her life and a spotlight on New England small presses will showcase the importance of independent publishers in American literary culture. The fair has secured the corporate sponsorship of the New York Times, which is providing advertising prior to the fair. For more info, call (212) 764-7021, or visit

The second annual Arizona Book Festival (April 10) in Ph nix has built upon on the success of its inaugural year. 'We didn't know what to expect,' said Dallas Roper Sermugard, book festival coordinator, referring to the festival's first year. 'Our goal was 25 exhibit booths, and we ended up with 75.' After 3000 visitors last year, she expects the festival will draw 5000-10,000 visitors this year. The festival has discovered an intriguing and efficent approach to coordinating author appearances. Arizona museums, libraries, and groups like the Desert Rose Chapter of the Romance Writers of America were asked to invite and coordinate their own author appearances. This helped the festival, with a limited budget and staff, attract such writers as Diana Gabaldon, Clive Cussler, Rudolfo Anaya, James Welch, Leslie Marmon Silko and J.A. Jance. True to its name, the Arizona Book Festival is organizing book-related events throughout the state in the form of 'Book Bucks' grants to rural communities. Call (602) 257-0335, or visit http://aztec.asu/ahc/festival.html.

With more than 100,000 visitors, the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books (April 24-25) in Los Angeles is one of the most colossal literary gatherings in the country. More than 300 authors and 300 exhibitors are expected to flock to the UCLA campus for the fourth annual L.A. Times Festival. The author list d sn't disappoint; this year's festival features A. Scott Berg, T.C. Boyle, Ray Bradbury, Barbara Taylor Bradford, Bebe Moore Campbell, Deepak Chopra, Nikki Giovanni, David Guterson, Charlton Heston, Tony Hillerman, Esmeralda Santiago, R.L. Stine and Alice Walker, to name a few. The huge crowds didn't dampen the enthusiasm of the festival's book-loving visitors, reported festival coordinator Gloria Lopez: 'Everybody enjoys themselves. Even when they were standing in line for four hours to get a book signed, people weren't complaining.' An impressive schedule of discussions is also in the works, ranging from panels on Latino writing to historical fiction, from screenwriting to jazz. Co-founder and festival chair Narda Zacchino has watched the L.A. Times Festival grow in a short time and acknowledged that one of its challenges is to retain a human scale as it expands: 'We really want to keep it intimate.' Call (213) 237-5779, or visit

It may not attract 100,000 visitors, but the Oklahoma Cowboy P try Gathering (April 24) makes up in grit and humor what it lacks in size. Cowboy and -girl versifiers and musicians will descend upon the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City for a variety of readings and events. After a hiatus of two years (the last festival had the unfortunate distinction of occurring three days after bombing of the Alfred Murrah federal building), the Cowboy P try Gathering is back in the saddle again. Performers include such cowp ts as Wally McRae and Andy Wilkinson. Workshops, book exhibits and events for young cowhands all aim to prove that cowboy verse is more than mere doggerel. Call (405) 478-2250.

The Harvard Square Book Festival (May 10-16) has, in five years, become New England's largest literary event. 'I feel very lucky and excited to work with a festival that has such a strong tradition,' said the festival's new director, Heidi Brown, adding, 'And it's set in what's been called the most literate square mile in America.' This year, all of the events have been moved indoors, to venues around Harvard Square. Cambridge weather in early May can be troublesome, as last year's inclement weather proved. The festival won't have exhibitor space this year, and will instead shift its attention to author readings, children's events and panel discussions. As a result, the HSBF is working hard to attract more corporate donors. 'Sponsorship is going to be key this year,' said Brown, who formerly coordinated author tours and publicity for Lauriat's before taking the helm of the festival. More than 30,000 visitors are expected this year, and events in p try, children's books and cultural debate will continue. This year's author schedule isn't yet confirmed, but last year brought such headliners as Charles Johnson, Russell Banks, Gloria Naylor, Robert Pinsky, Richard Ford, Nicholson Baker, Cokie Roberts and Bill Bryson. Contact (781) 444-0878, or visit

The Printers Row Book Fair (June 5-6) in Chicago is making adjustments for the shift of BEA to Los Angeles this spring (Bookselling, Feb. 22). For the past four years, the Printers Row Fair has been held concurrently with BEA. This year, 'Programming is a challenge,' said the fair's program director, Mary Davis Fournier. 'We won't get that traffic of BEA authors. But on the other hand, booksellers will have the weekend free to attend and exhibit.' Since the fair has a solid 15-year reputation as one of the Midwest's largest book festivals, Fournier is confident she'll be able to attract plenty of headline authors. As many as 75,000 visitors are expected to browse among 150 exhibitors, 70 literary events, celebrity storytellers, cooking demonstrations and the awarding of the 11th Annual Harold Washington Literary Award. It's still early for a confirmed author list, but last year's writers included Alex Kotlowitz, Joyce Carol Oates, Adrienne Rich and Robert Stone. Call (312) 987-9896, or visit