13 Can’t-Miss Wisconsin Book Festival Events

By Amy Mertz

The Wisconsin Book Festival’s annual fall celebration is taking place from Oct. 19 through Oct. 22. Presented by the Madison Public Library in partnership with Madison Public Library Foundation, the weekend includes 55 free events. Most events will be held at the public library’s Central Library but others will be at partner sites, including the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, the Wisconsin Historical Society and the Arts + Literature Laboratory.

Festival director Jane Rotonda notes the majority of the featured authors are women, nearly half live in Wisconsin and 20 are BIPOC. Here are some highlighted events that Rotonda is looking forward to. For information on times and locations of all events, visit wisconsinbookfestival.org.

Thursday, Oct. 19

“The Supermajority” by Michael Waldman

Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice and a former presidential speechwriter, offers an incisive analysis of how the Supreme Court’s new conservative supermajority is overturning decades of law and reshaping American politics. Waldman explains how the court has gained so much power over Americans’ lives with so little connection to the public will.

Ginseng Roots” by Craig Thompson

Author and cartoonist Craig Thompson grew up in a rural farming community in central Wisconsin, weeding and farming ginseng. Thompson’s comic book series explores class divide, agriculture, holistic healing and the 300-year long trade relationship between China and North America.

Featured at the event will be the final issue of the series, which sprawls across rural Wisconsin and reflects on aging parents, changing America and where to find a sense of belonging. Thompson will also have an interactive discussion with Will Hsu, president of Wausau-based Hsu’s Ginseng Enterprises.

Friday, Oct. 20

“The Devil’s Element” by Dan Egan

In this major work of explanatory science and environmental journalism, Wisconsin-based, two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist Dan Egan investigates the past, present and future of phosphorus — what has been called “the oil of our time.”

“River Spirit” by Leila Aboulela

This spellbinding novel from New York Times Notable Author and Caine Prize winner Leila Aboulela is about an embattled young woman’s coming of age during the Mahdist War in 19th-century Sudan. Aboulela will also have a conversation with UW–Madison assistant professor of English Ainehi Edoro. Edoro is a Nigerian writer, critic, academic and founder and publisher of the African literary blog Brittle Paper.

“My Life in the Sunshine” by Nabil Ayers

Nabil Ayers’ memoir is about a man’s journey to connect with his musician father, ultimately redrawing the lines that define family and race. The author has written about music and race for publications including The New York Times, NPR, Rolling Stone, GQ, and The Root.

Saturday, Oct. 21

“Owner of a Lonely Heart” by Beth Nguyen

From award-winning Madison author Beth Nguyen comes a powerful memoir of a mother-daughter relationship fragmented by war and resettlement. “Owner of a Lonely Heart” is a deeply personal story of family, connection and belonging — as a daughter, a mother and a Vietnamese refugee in America.

“Promises of Gold” by José Olivarez
In this groundbreaking collection of poems, José Olivarez explores every kind of love — self, brotherly, romantic, familial, cultural. Whether readers enter this collection in English or via the Spanish translation, these extraordinary poems are sure to become beloved for their illuminations of life and love.

“The Death of Public School” by Cara Fitzpatrick
Written by a Pulitzer Prize-winning education journalist, this book follows the recent history of education movements in America and is a cohesive study of America’s path to increasingly politicized — and privatized — education.

“Mapping the Darkness” by Kenneth Miller

You’ve probably wondered, “Why do we sleep?” and, “How can I sleep better?” “Mapping the Darkness” shares the story of the scientists who originally set out to answer these two questions in the 1920s and 1930s. Readers will walk away with a comprehensive understanding of sleep and why it is crucial to our health and wellbeing.

“Witness” by Jamel Brinkley

Former UW–Madison Program in Creative Writing Fellow Jamel Brinkley asks, “What does it mean to really see the world around you — to bear witness?” In 10 stories set in contemporary New York City, a range of characters — from children to grandmothers to ghosts — live through the responsibility of perceiving and the moral challenge of speaking up or taking action.

“He/She/They” by Schuyler Bailar

With a relatable narrative rooted in facts, science and history, CAA Division I swimmer and trans rights advocate Schuyler Bailar helps restore common sense and humanity to a discussion that continues to be divisively co-opted and deceptively politicized. Myth-busting, affirming, compassionate and fierce, “He/She/They” is a crucial, urgent book that forever changes the conversation about gender.

Sunday, Oct. 22

“Eve” by Cat Bohannon

With boundless curiosity and sharp wit, Cat Bohannon covers the past 200 million years in “Eve” to explain the science behind the development of the female sex. “Eve” is not only a sweeping revision of human history, it’s an urgent and necessary corrective for a world that has focused primarily on the male body for far too long.

“Starter Villian” by John Scalzi

The latest novel from one of the most popular science fiction authors of his generation is a lighthearted story with a likable fish-out-of-water protagonist and a lot of very smart cats. There’s also a dolphin labor dispute, some truly awful tech bros and a volcano island lair. Who could resist?

View the full schedule of events online at wisconsinbookfestival.org.

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