Wisconsin Book Festival Celebrates 20th Anniversary
The Wisconsin Book Festival marks its 20th anniversary this year, beginning with two signature upcoming events featuring James Beard Award-winning chef Kwame Onwuachi and best-selling author James Patterson.
Raised in the Bronx, Nigeria and Louisiana, former Top Chef contestant and now recurring judge Onwuachi will discuss his first cookbook, My America: Recipes from a Young Black Chef. The Culinary Institute of America graduate opened five restaurants before age 30, and is also a Zagat and Forbes 30 Under 30 honoree. His event is at 7 p.m. Monday, May 23, in Central Library’s Community Room.
Patterson will discuss his autobiography, James Patterson by James Patterson: The Stories of My Life, at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 15, in Overture Center for the Arts’ Capitol Theater. Guests will learn how a boy from small-town New York became the world’s most successful storyteller.
Thanks to a gift from the Cheryl Rosen Weston Estate, attendees of the both events will receive a free book at each event.
The Wisconsin Humanities Council started the Wisconsin Book Festival in 2001, but after a re-evaluation of its strategic plan, it approached the library to take over the event. In 2013, Madison Public Library — in partnership with Madison Public Library Foundation — assumed the festival’s ownership. Well-known authors with local ties, such as Pulitzer Prize winner and best-selling author David Maraniss, signed on to participate in the festival, and have returned time and again as new books are written.
“Before any of my books come out, I know that one place I most want to go to on tour is the Wisconsin Book Festival at the Madison Public Library, and any author who has been there even once understands why,” Maraniss said. “Year after year for 20 years it brings out the smartest, friendliest book-reading audience in the country.”
The library eventually transitioned the festival into a year-round event to provide more consistent opportunities for connection with authors, publishers, media and book lovers. It also gave the festival a flagship location for events when Central Library was rebuilt in 2013, and it boosted its efforts to feature a diverse lineup of participants that includes local and award-winning authors, many authors of color, LGBTQ authors and a wide range of literary genres.
“We’re incredibly proud to be our region’s source for free programs that give our community access to a wide range of authors and literary masters, from first-time local writers to acclaimed, award-winning authors and poets,” said Wisconsin Book Festival Director Conor Moran, who has provided festival leadership since the library took over the festival. “We love the role we play in being the place for voices — especially the underrepresented — to express their ideas and shape community conversations that deepen our knowledge and understanding, and intensify the desire to read and learn.”
The festival has built unique partnerships with both local and national organizations. A regular joint event with UW-Madison’s Program in Creative Writing showcases rising regional talent among students and fellows, facilitating important literary conversations. C-SPAN’s Book TV airs live broadcasts of festival programs during the fall festival celebration weekend to make them accessible to viewers nationwide. In 2021, the festival partnered with the library and UW-Madison’s All of Us research program (affiliated with National Institutes of Health) to host a series of events on health care-related topics.
When the pandemic began, the festival quickly adapted its programs to an all-virtual format and became a national leader in the book festival world, owning the digital space. It continues to offer some virtual programs via Crowdcast to meet the continued demand of many who found virtual programs to be more convenient for them.
Madison Public Library Foundation annually raises funds for the majority of the festival’s operational costs, including the director’s salary and travel expenses for authors. Over the years, the foundation has secured multiple grants from high-profile arts organizations like the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as sponsorships from local individuals, foundations and businesses.
The festival will announce the schedule for its annual fall festival celebration, which will take place October 13–16 at Central Library and other select Madison venues, in late summer. Visit wisconsinbookfestival.org for a current schedule of events, which is subject to change. Media interested in scheduling advance interviews with authors or in interviewing Moran for a story may email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The festival is funded with generous support from Signature Sponsor Marvin J. Levy; Presenting Sponsor Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation; Festival Patron Cheryl Rosen Weston Estate; Contributing Sponsors American Girl’s Fund for Children, The Bass Family, Friends of UW-Madison Libraries, Great Dane Pub & Brewing Co., MG&E Foundation, Stafford Rosenbaum LLP and University Research Park; Media Sponsors The Capital Times & Wisconsin State Journal, Isthmus, Madison365 and Wisconsin Public Radio; In-Kind Sponsor Park Hotel; and Event Supporter A Room of One’s Own. Learn more about funding and support for the festival at wisconsinbookfestival.org/give.
The festival has also enjoyed a strong, longtime partnership with A Room of One’s Own bookstore, offering event attendees the chance to purchase books through the store at in-person and virtual events, and it regularly encourages festival-goers to support local, independent bookstores.
About the Wisconsin Book Festival
The Wisconsin Book Festival presents about 100 local, national and international author events throughout the year. Follow the festival at wisconsinbookfestival.org, on its Facebook page, @wibookfestival on Twitter, or @wibookfest on Instagram.
About Madison Public Library
Madison Public Library’s tradition of promoting education, literacy and community involvement has enriched the City of Madison for more than 145 years. Some of its nine locations are open seven days a week, and the library welcomes nearly 2 million visitors each year. For more information, visit madisonpubliclibrary.org, the library’s Facebook page, @madisonlibrary on Twitter and @madisonpubliclibrary on Instagram.
About Madison Public Library Foundation
Madison Public Library Foundation mobilizes the Madison community to continuously improve, promote and support Madison Public Library. Learn how the foundation provides funding for Madison’s libraries and efforts like the Wisconsin Book Festival at mplfoundation.org, on the foundation’s Facebook page, @mplfoundation on Twitter and @mplfoundation on Instagram