… Scott Simon, Joy Harjo, Luis Urrea and other highlights of the Tucson Festival of Books Author’s Table Dinner
Sometimes, the dinner ticket that drops in your lap feels like manna from heaven. Especially if it’s a ticket to the Author’s Table Dinner at the Tucson Festival of Books, and you’re an author who happens to be in town.
My friend and client Lesley Lupo (author of the wonderful, forthcoming children’s book Surf ‘N Seeds), hosted four workshops I facilitated the past two weeks in Arizona’s finest city, where I’ve visited and taught for the past 10 years. She offered me a ticket to what is already shooting around the literary world as a very big function: the Author’s Table Dinner for a book festival that, in its second year, drew 400 authors and more than 50,000 people.
What an event. A different featured author sits at each table. We were honored with New York Times bestselling author Elisabeth Hyde, who has written In The Heart of the Canyon and The Abortionist’s Daughter, among others. I commiserated with several others, among them Luis Alberto Urrea, the bestselling author of The Hummingbird’s Daughter and Nobody’s Son (a GREAT memoir), and the creative inspiration and a guiding light of The Hummingbird Review, the literary journal I now edit, and which is published by my friend, the author-poet Charlie Redner (Down But Never Out). (Did I mention that the Tucson Festival of Books’ logo this year was a hummingbird – isn’t serendipity awesome?)
Luis’ book tour Tweets are nearing legendary status among the countless thousands who have read them; how he packs his ebullient personality into 144 characters or less, I’ll never know. He also draws crowds. They had to turn away people from his event at the festival. I’m sure the University of Arizona’s fire marshal was freaking out, but the massive turnout knew what it wanted.
I also met and briefly chatted with one of my all-time favorite poet-authors, Joy Harjo, the author of How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems (among others). Joy is not only one of contemporary literature’s wisest and most eloquent writers, but also one of the world’s most beautiful souls. Her “Eagle Poem” is epic – check out the musical version on YouTube and see why. While speaking with Joy, I kept mentally merging two of my favorite opening poetic lines: Joy’s “To pray you open your whole self…” and Indian yoga master Paramhansa Yogananda’s “Make me thine eagle of soul progress…”
If the Muse herself donned a human form …. well, she has. Joy is the living song, dance and verse of what is beautiful about each and every one of us, if we would only accept that.
Then there was the featured speaker at the 1,000-person (at least) dinner, Scott Simon. In an evening of personal favorites, let’s add Scott: he’s been my favorite National Public Radio correspondent since his riveting on-site reports from the besieged Sarajevo in the early 1990s. The host of NPR’s “Weekend Edition Saturday,” he’s also a best-selling author.
Scott gave a wonderful half-hour talk on storytelling, but it was his close that will forever live with me – and which closes today’s blog post. He shared a story of how his father, a Chicago bookstore owner, once told him that a picture is worth a thousand words. Scott respectfully differs (what writer wouldn’t?). In so doing, he demonstrated just how meaningful a thousand words can be. He said that, when you stitch together the Lord’s Prayer, Twenty-Third Psalm, Gettysburg Address, first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, climactic paragraph in Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and the final entry in Anne Frank’s Diary, you have a thousand words.
Enjoy a day of writing and/or reading, a thousand purposeful words at a time.