Rain or Shine: Printers Row Must Go On!
My favorite festival of the year did not disappoint, even in the rain! I share my observations after six straight years of attending the Printers Row Literary Festival.
My favorite Chicago festival of the year is, of course, centered around books. And it’s not just the books from the big publishers. Many – if not most – of the booths you will pass at the Printers Row Lit Fest are filled with independent presses, booksellers, and writers themselves hoping to share their work with you. This festival is one where members of the indie literary community can gather to showcase their work to Chicago’s literary fans.
In fact, this festival is the reason I’ve come to know and love so many indie presses, bookstores, and authors. I believe this year marks six or so years in a row that I have attended. And the weather is typically boiling hot or pouring rain. This year met somewhere in the middle: We saw a little sunshine and a little rain, but somewhat damp books with curled up covers didn’t prevent book lovers like us from coming out and showing our support!
Over the years of attending, I’ve seen the festival go through some changes. It’s interesting to see how it has evolved – and some of it, I’m sure, was to make things more efficient. But nonetheless, there are some I’m a bit sad about. Here’s some changes I’ve noticed:
The elimination of the Printers Row Lit Fest Kickoff at the Union League Club of Chicago – For years, this was my absolute favorite event of Printers Row. It was a fantastic opportunity to meet writers face-to-face, in a more intimate setting. They’d have maybe 20-30 authors there, and you would get the opportunity to sit down for lunch with them. The authors were assigned tables and seating for the rest of the guests was first come, first serve. It was a bit competitive if you wanted to snag a seat next to a bigger name, but even if you sat at a completely random table with authors you hadn’t yet heard about, it was a great experience. I always left with at least three to four books, which I would then have signed by the authors after lunch. There was a table set up in the back where you could purchase the authors’ books, which was managed by indie bookseller, The Book Stall. I was sad to see it wasn’t happening this year, and I hope it comes back in 2019!
Fewer live lit and storytelling performances – I initially learned about many of the live literary and storytelling shows in Chicago through performances at Printers’ Row. They used to set up tents outside with small stages, and every hour or so there would be a reading, live lit show, or panel. The last two years I searched for “live lit” in their events, but I wouldn’t find anything. This year, however, there were a number of podcast recordings. I think that is cool too, but I do miss the live lit performances from groups like 2nd Story or Write Club. On the plus side, all the events are pretty much indoors now, which is a good thing with the unpredictable early June weather.
Elimination of Food/Beverage vendors – In addition to those tents where the storytelling events took place, the tents that served food and beer have been gone for a couple years now too. Perhaps these pieces drew some of the focus away from the books and authors? Still, I miss it just a bit!
Of course, there are many great things that haven’t changed, including the presence of many indie booksellers, writers, and publishers. And for me, the outcome of the event has been the same. I still come away with a new book to read that I hadn’t heard about yet (this year it is All the Dreams We've Dreamed), and I still walk through the booths, riding that buzz that comes from being among your people. It’s so great to eavesdrop on the literary conversations happening around you as people talk about the books they’ve read, or this book they’ve been looking for and finally found. And it’s inspiring to hear an author talk about his or her book, directly to the person who could be taking it home and reading it that night.
Regardless of the weather or the programming changes, Printers Row is still my favorite festival, and I look forward to many more years! (But maybe bring back the Kickoff event, pretty please?!)