Clark Whitehorn is the executive editor of Bison Books, an imprint of the University of Nebraska Press. Below he shares his experience on being a part of the Tucson Festival of Books that took place on March 12-13 in Tucson, AZ.
I can’t imagine a better place to emerge from Covid travel lockdowns, shutdowns, and virtual meetings than the Tucson Festival of the Book. Sunshine, the beautiful University of Arizona campus mall, and a mile-long row of tents up either side of the mall celebrating all things literary! Book stores, antiquarian book sellers, literacy advocates, and a host of other book enthusiasts made March 12 and 13 two of the best days of the year in Tucson, but what I loved seeing more than anything else were the university presses proudly representing authors and their commitment to brilliantly told regional stories. Just a few booths away, the University of New Mexico and Katherine dominated a corner with their historically strong Southwestern list while down the mall from us a bit the University of Arizona occupied a massive circus tent with their many titles proudly displayed, and Abby, Kristin, and Savannah cheerfully and energetically engaging with the enthusiastic crowds.
For us, the treat was having four wonderful authors—Wynne Brown (The Forgotten Botanist), Lisa Hendrickson (Burning the Breeze), Amy Haddad (An Otherwise Healthy Woman), and H. Alan Day (The Horse Lover)—spend many hours signing books and celebrating the University of Nebraska Press’s return to the Festival after a five-year absence. A number of UNP/Bison Books authors who live in Tucson came by as well, including Mike Stark (Chasing the Ghost Bear), Bob Riel (Quest of the Presidency) and Carolyn Niethammer (I’ll Go and Do More & American Indian Cooking).
The presence of the state university presses reminded me once again how important these presses are to the preservation and narration of local history, culture, and flavor. With relatively little fiscal support, the western university presses have committed themselves to telling the multi-cultural, multi-lingual, and multi-faceted stories of the West through the voices of indigenous peoples, women, cowboys, soldiers, explorers, trappers, traders, children, and others who have enriched our understanding of place and process. Moreover, this commitment to regional storytelling has had a direct mental or emotional impact on residents from the states represented by their presses. Repeatedly, I heard someone exclaim, “Look, honey, it’s Nebraska!” and two or three people would cross the crowded mall walkway to visit the Nebraska/Bison Books booth. They might be snowbirds fleeing a cold Nebraska winter or ex-pat Nebraskans who now live in Arizona, but to a person there was a fierce pride in having “their” press represented at the Festival. They bought books, they discussed life in Sidney or Ord or Omaha or Wahoo or some Nebraska place that forever shaped their world view… and ours. Repeatedly, visitors at our book exhibit reminded me that “home” travels. Your feet may reside in the Sonoran desert, but who you are gets tattooed into your soul by the grasslands and literary heritage of the Great Plains, and we were delighted to have had a chance to bring a tangible feel of home to all those who feel ownership in the press and its literary output.