Debate This! Jen at the Wisconsin Book Festival


You gotta love it when low expectations get blown out of the water.

Last night was my final event for the Midwest portion of the book tour. And except for a stellar event at Harry Schwartz in Milwaukee (that I still need to write up), the people in the Land of Nice were a bit preoccupied to come to my readings. In Ann Arbor, MI it was easy to blame it on the first presidential debate. In Fort Wayne, IN it was easy to blame it on the Vice Presidential debate. I didn’t have any excuse at all in Winnetka, and we were shocked beyond belief to only have 18 people at the Savvy Traveller. If you didn’t know, The Savvy Traveller is the biggest and best travel book store in the country.

So when I was stuck in traffic leaving Chicago and heard that it would be another debate night, a non-enthusiastic thought actually crossed my mind…should I call them to make sure they still want me to come?

A Room of One’s Own is a feminist bookstore in lovely Madison, WI. Last year the feminist bookstores in Portland, OR and Eugene, OR were a few of the weaker links in the tour for Sand in My Bra. But that doesn’t mean that all women’s focused bookstore events have low attendances. I had one of my best events last year at Charis Books in Atlanta, GA.

Anyway, I let the thought pass as quickly as it had come, and drove as fast as I could. And I barely made it. I walked in ten minutes before show time and found that there were actually people there. Sandy and Sashe gave me a warm welcome, and I was quickly reminded that this event was a part of the Wisconsin Book Festival. How could I forget? I had really wanted to be a part of it and convinced the coordinator that I would be a great late addition. They had done publicity up the wazoo, and guess what? It worked. Of course it did.

The seats filled up while I asked my hostesses dumb questions like “Is it ok to read stories with men in them?” or “What about stories that make fun of religion?” They just laughed at me as if this was part of my shtick.

When we walked into the other room, all the seats were filled, and the entry hall had filled up, too. We got out more chairs, and crammed them all in as they kept coming. All in all we had 50 people. For the size of the store, it felt like 100. And were they ever ready to have a good time!

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It was a particular treat to find out that the parents of one of our contributors were in the audience. Have you read Wendy Soref’s Senegal story called, “Where the Size of Your Butt Matters?” It’s a great one, and so I read it to them. Wendy is off on a Teach for America program in Arkansas.

The coffee maker tried to upstage me with her bean grinding, but I put her in her place and read Susan McComb’s “Blind Faith,” Wendy Soref’s story that I just mentioned, and my favorite, “Waiting for the Big O” by Felice Prager. They kept laughing through Katherine Roger’s epilogue”Tick. Tick. Tick.” When nobody had any questions, I read them part of Ellen’s story from Sand, and it seemed like they were laughing every other line. Damn this was fun! I think I get more entertaining with a larger crowd. We’re spouting out in our intro that laughter is the best medicine, but shite, I think laughter is a drug. Making strangers laugh is quite adrenaline rush.

Thanks to Jim Benning at World Hum, Frank Bures had heard about the event and stopped by. What a treat! Frank has quite the bio….and I can’t wait to read his work.

Rolf’s interview with Frank is a little old. Since then he’s done a bunch including getting his World Hum piece into America’s Best Travel Writing 2004.

Jim and Rolf have been praising him for ages. But Frank, why didn’t you tell me that you were having your own event at the Book Fest?!

Best American Travel Writing 2004, 2:30- 3:30 p.m., Dancing Grounds Café (next to Avol’s Bookstore on Gorham)
Travel writer and independent journalist Frank Bures reads from his sad, funny essay “Test Day,” about life in Tanzania, just published in The Best American Travel Writing 2004. Bures has also lived in and written about Thailand, New Zealand and Italy for publications like Tin House, Salon.com, Audubon and Wired. He is currently working on an alternative guidebook for life overseas.

So yes, the event at A Room of One’s Own was a blast. And the turn out was exceptionally good because there were so many other local events going on. Before the night was out, the report came back that our event for Whose Panties Are These? had gathered more people than Edmund White’s event. That is something! But I was happy enough that Madison already know who they were voting for.

Thanks, Madison!