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Chilean novelist Isabelle Allende will kick off the state's biggest book event on Thursday in Madison with a discussion about life, love and social activism. Allende, speaking as part of the Wisconsin Union Directorate's annual Distinguished Lecture Series, is the first of more than 100 writers who will appear at this year's Wisconsin Book Festival, a yearly celebration that brings hordes of authors, publishers, books and book lovers to the capital.
The nearly five-day festival has achieved substantial staying power since the Wisconsin Humanities Council organized it in 2002 with seed money from the state. The festival attracted about 8,000 people that year; attendance has been around 10,000 each year since, festival director Alison Jones Chaim says.
"This is all I do all year," Chaim said, responding to a comment about the logistics of such a festival on the University of Wisconsin campus and its environs. "Now there's a great database, and we try to keep everything current and push a button at the end and hope a book festival comes out.
"We are celebrating the best of Wisconsin, and we are bringing some of the best writing in the country and the world to Wisconsin. It's great to have a place to show some of the exciting things that are happening in the state."
Among those Midwestern matter-of-pride events is a party to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Wisconsin Historical Society Press, and discussions on handcrafted books and graphic novels and stories for adults. It is the first time the festival will feature visual books for adults.
Visualists scheduled at the festival include Walter Hamady, a book artist and UW professor known for his fine handmade books; Chicago art professor Audrey Niffenegger (of "The Time Traveler's Wife" fame) who will present slides and discuss an illustrated book she's worked on for 14 years; and Harvey Pekar, an Ohio cartoonist who found a cult following when his graphic series, "American Splendor," was turned into a movie.
About 100 events are planned, with most of the programs on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. All the events are free they're underwritten by private funds and grants totaling about $100,000 though Allende's lecture at 7:30 p.m. at the Wisconsin Union Theater is a ticketed event.
Chaim said that this year the festival also is featuring more Wisconsin writers, especially those who won writing contests run by the Wisconsin Academy Review and the Wisconsin Council of Wisconsin Writers.
Some of the roughly 200 presenters include Milwaukee's poet laureate Marilyn Taylor, who will appear at three events; C.J. Hribal, Joan Silber; Myra Goldberg; Larry Baker; Dwight Allen; Elizabeth Berg; and Tony Earley, and Philip Gourevitch, among others.
The festivities end with the 150th anniversary celebrations at the Wisconsin Historical Society headquarters in Madison at 7 p.m. Oct. 17.
For more information, visit the festival Web site at www.wisconsinbookfestival.org or call (608) 262-0706.
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