An Interview with: Vegas Valley Book Festival

Books In Common, along with Vegas Valley Book Festival co-chairs Patty Mar Simmons and Anne Sprague, arranged this year’s headline authors (to be announced soon!). Books in Common recently interviewed committee member Joseph Langdon about the annual book festival:

Would you tell us a bit about your program? How long has the Vegas Valley Book Festival been serving the Las Vegas area, how did it get started, and how has it changed over the years?

The 15th annual Vegas Valley Book Festival will take place in October 2016. A partnership between the city, the library district, and community businesses and cultural organizations, the festival, which is always free, supports a broad community of readers and writers. The festival has grown rapidly in its short history, now showcasing dozens of writers in numerous panels and readings, as well as multiple keynote presentations. 

The event now draws more than 13,000 visitors, making it one of the larger festivals in the country. Black Mountain Institute contributes to the festival by sponsoring a closing keynote address by an acclaimed literary writer. 


What did you learn from last year’s program that is helping you this year?  What are you changing, what worked well?

The biggest change we made was moving up the time of the closing keynote. Previously, we had a gap between the end of the book fair and the start of the keynote, but we found it better to just roll one right into the other.


What advice or tips can you share with us about hosting a large-scale literary event?

Having a strong leader is crucial, especially as literary folk are sometimes not the most organized. It’s important to have someone who can leverage technology, whether it’s an online workflow system or just a shared spreadsheet, and — critically — get everyone to use it and stick to it.


What authors have worked best for your community, and why?

The ones that work best are good public speakers and have a strong stage presence. T.C. Boyle, in particular, was a captivating reader. Even the best material on the page won’t translate to a live audience if it isn’t presented well.


Do you have any examples of bridging diversity in a community by coming together around a book?

Luis Alberto Urrea’s Devil’s Highway is a nonfiction account of migrants lost in the Mojave Desert, quite near Las Vegas. Immigration is, of course, an important and often divisive issue in this region and it was great to have a truly humanizing portrait of real people who get lost amid political abstractions.

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