The Chicago Tribune Printers Row Lit Fest celebrated its 30th anniversary by drawing a record-breaking crowd of 125,000 under sunny skies to the Windy City’s historic Printers Row neighborhood in the Loop this past weekend. This year’s two-day event was sponsored by the Chicago Tribune Media Group. Among the 300 regional and national 300 authors present were James Patterson, Stuart Dybek, Marlo Thomas, Walter Mosley, Sara Paretsky, Lidia Bastianich, Gabrielle Zevin, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Colson Whitehead.
The festivities kicked off Thursday evening with the Near South Planning Board, which conceptualized in 1984 a plein air book festival, honoring this year Chicago native son Dybek with its annual Harold Washington Literary Award. The award was given to Dybek at a gala fundraiser dinner, with the proceeds going to Chicago’s “Authors in the Schools” program. Dybeck, who attended the very first Printers Row festival in June 1985, officially opened the festival Saturday morning with a discussion about the history of the book festival with Near South Planning Board founder Bette Cerf Hill and former Printers Row program director Mary Davis Fournier.
Patterson received this year’s Chicago Tribune Young Adult Literary Award for his contributions to the genre.
This year’s book festival was an explosion of arts & culture for people of all ages. As always, the festival featured author talks, panel discussions, workshops, cooking demos, music, children’s programming, and poetry readings and slams. It also featured 150 small presses and booksellers selling new, used, and antiquarian books. In honor of the 30th anniversary, the festival included special programming spotlighting the past, present, and future of Chicago’s vibrant literary scene: flashback events featured MTV personality and author Al Hunter; Chicago’s Second City troupe of players performed a special reading adapted from the 1985 film, “The Breakfast Club;” and the Old Town School of Folk Music performed “Wiggleworms.”
"It was amazing," Victor David Giron, publisher of Curbside Splendor, a locally-based press, wrote in an email. Curbside ran the Small Press Mega Tent during Printers Row; it housed several other small presses besides Curbside Splendor, including McSweeney's, Paris Review, Bookforum, and Featherproof Books.
"We sold $2000 worth this weekend, about 200 of our books. The other presses at our tent all sold well," Giron noted, "A large buying crowd all weekend, aided by perfect weather. Great to so see so many people eagerly buying books,"
The first Printers Row Book Fair, which was held the third weekend in June, 1985, featured 41 vendors selling mostly used and antiquarian books. It drew 6,500 people. In 2002, The Chicago Tribune bought the book from the Near South Planning Board and renamed it the Chicago Tribune Printers Row Lit Fest.