Tish Fobben is UNP’s direct response manager and likes running long distances for the heck of it.
One of Nebraska’s many rites of spring is the Nebraska Book Festival, which is free and open to the public. Sponsored by the Nebraska Center for the Book, Humanities Nebraska, Nebraska Library Commission, Omaha Public Library, UNO’s College of Arts and Science, and Nebraska Cultural Endowment, this year the festival was held on April 24th and 25th.
After our marketing department spent Thursday and Friday moving offices, my colleague Emily Giller and I trekked to the sunny Thompson Alumni Center at University of Nebraska at Omaha on Friday night to set up UNP’s book exhibit. Though the exhibit hall did not officially open until Saturday morning, we hosted a few friendly visitors, who previewed the books before heading to the festival’s opening presentation by Don Welch, a native of Nebraska and winner of the Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry.
On Saturday morning my colleague Rob Buchanan joined me and we did our best to entice browsers with our promotional micro-fiber cloths (for cleaning glass surfaces) and a raffle to win $100 worth of free books. On this gorgeous yet ferociously windy Saturday I found myself grateful to be indoors, protected from the pollen and surrounded by good books and good books people. The workshops started at 9 a.m. with Karen Shoemaker leading a session called “Stories into Literature” and Tosca Lee heading up one called “Creating Unforgettable Characters in Fiction.” The traffic in the exhibits hall got off to a slow start, but the people who came were very engaged with all the vendors, which included Backwaters Press, Barefoot Books, Jeff Barnes and Paul Hedron, Bookworm, Brighthorse Books, Cableone (Barbara Schmitz), Fine Lines Publishing (David Martin), Nancy Isom, Morris Publishing, the Nebraska Writers Guild, University of Nebraska Press, and Wayne State Press.
Throughout the afternoon visitors were able to attend readings from a host of authors, including Lucy Adkins, David S. Atkinson, Becky Breed, Paul Dickey, Marcia Calhoun Forecki, A. E. Fairfield, Nancy Isom, Lisa Kovanda, Kent Krause, Tosca Lee, Kelly Madigan, John Price, Jim Reisdorff, Marge Saiser, Mary K. Stillwell, Brian Thomas, Benjamin Vogt, Darrell Wendt, and Eileen Wirth.
Three of the presenters were UNP authors: John Price (Not Just Any Land: A Personal and Literary Journey into the American Grasslands); Mary K. Stillwell (The Life and Poetry of Ted Kooser); and Eileen Wirth (From Society Page to Front Page: Nebraska Women in Journalism). I personally enjoyed hearing Price read from his new book, Daddy Long Legs: The Natural Education of a Father (Trumpeter, 2013), in which he recounts rescuing a praying mantis outside a restaurant at his young child’s request. His wonderfully wry memoir was precipitated by a “heart event” at age thirty-nine that caused him to reevaluate the trajectory of his life.
Just as I find it nearly impossible to resist snacking when seated near food for long stretches of time, I could not resist the siren call of the books from our fellow exhibitors, particularly the lush covers of Barefoot Books across the aisle. An independent children’s publisher started by two mothers in 1992, Barefoot Books now has offices in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Oxford, UK. Their covers compelled me to take a closer look and I walked away with three books for my daughter. From Omaha’s leading independent bookstore, the Bookworm, I bought a copy of Price’s Daddy Long Legs along with books for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
While browsing the other exhibits I also discovered a summer camp for creative writers (from fourth graders to adults), held at Beveridge Magnet Middle School in Omaha and directed by David Martin of Fine Lines. There were other independent publishers on hand as well, such as Backwaters Press and companies who offer self-publishing.
The festival concluded on Saturday night with a presentation by the Seven Doctors Project, a Nebraska Writers Collective program that assists physicians, healthcare workers, and members of the broader professional community in the exploration of the creative process through the study and practice of creative writing.
With our bitterly cold winters and hot, muggy summers, Nebraska is a climate well-suited for reading and writing—cozy indoors throughout the winter or and refreshing outside during the nicer months. I suspect there are a lot more folks who would enjoy the festival workshops, readings, and vendors in future years as Nebraska is making a name for itself as a center of culture and history on the Great Plains.