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Arizona author Mari Herreras on the Tucson Festival of Books and writing in the Southwest

Book lovers of all stripes will make their way to Tucson this weekend for the storied Tucson Festival of Books.

The annual festival has been around since 2009, and each year its white tents take over much of the University of Arizona’s campus with authors, discussions and books galore. 

Mari Herreras has been involved in the festival for a long time and will be there this year, as well, with her own book this time. 

Interview highlights

So it sounds like you've gone to the Tucson Festival of Books for a long time. This year you'll be going as an author with your first book of poetry. I wanna just begin with kind of how that feels and what you're anticipating here this year.

MARI HERRERAS: Well, it, it feels incredible. I mean, I've been at almost every book festival and I was at the first one as a moderator for several panels. This time, it's, it's mind blowing. Not just because I'm bringing a book, you know, I have this book, but it's also mind blowing, being put in to me being put in panels with people like Simon Ortiz who to me is, you know, the grand maestro of poetry.

Tell us for those of us who have never been, tell us about this event. What's it like?

HERRERAS: Well, it's so cool because, you know, they have it, the first weekend of, well, not, and it's not always, but it's usually around the time that, the UofA students are on spring break. So right now be, you know, even a couple of weeks before it's gonna start a week before you go on main campus and all the white tents are getting set up. It's, it's kind of exciting to see that beginning of it happening that way. And it's basically for that weekend, that Saturday and Sunday, the book festival takes over campus. It's not just the things happening on the stages in the malls or in the tents. The there are rooms and spaces all around the mall and on campus that are hosting events for the book festival. So it's kind of, it's kind of cool in that, in that regard that, you know, this whole thing, celebrating books gets to take over campus for that weekend.

There are many genres that are discussed and celebrated at the festival every year. One of the big ones though is, is about sort of writing in the Southwest. So, tell us a little bit about that and about what it's meant to you over the years. How has it kind of contributed to or shaped your own writing?

HERRERAS: Well, I think, yeah, definitely the Southwest. But I would, I would really, I mean, first of all, I love, love these people so very much from our Pima County library. We have a incredible library system here in Pima County, And from the library system from the very beginning, the first book fest going forward, they've always had a huge tent called "Nuestra Voces." And it's a tent that brings Latino authors, Chicano authors, Indigenous authors of all different genres together. And many of them are local authors or regional authors and some are, are nationally celebrated as well. And I think that tent for me has always been important. I, I have participated in a couple of readings in that tent in the past and as a moderator. But just the fact that the library goes out of its way to make sure this tent is there. And it's, they have an active committee that is really there to, to celebrate these authors and make sure that they are really good, often localized conversations happening around literature. That's always been exciting to me. I love that tent so much.

And there are other things too, you know, we're in terms of Southwest, we have a lot of very Tucson-specific, Arizona-specific, looking at our natural resources and science as well as literature, which is pretty cool, too. There's a lot of science representation at the book festival.

So you were taking part in several events this time around and you're coming of course with your own newly published book of poetry. Tell us a little bit about what you hope to teach, hope to learn this year as you go to the festival.

HERRERAS: Well, besides, you know, maybe sitting next to Simon Ortiz, but, you know, I think that the topics are gonna be interesting at the, the different panels, I'm gonna be talking about, which is, you know, discussions around, place around identity. Those are gonna be two topics of two different panels. And I know my poetry tends to focus a lot on Tucson. Not every poem in the book does, but most of them do. And the other and identity as well, you know, I think identity can be super complex and for me, as someone who is half Mexican American, identifies as Chicana, it's definitely complex. And so that's a big part of my, my work.

And I think the other is the other one is going to be a panel focusing on Southwest books of the year award winners that are poets. And I was lucky to be put on the list this year. I wasn't in that top top echelon of choices on the Southwest books of the year. But I, you know, I don't care. I'm on the list. I'm very excited about that. ... And that's going to be a fun conversation.

But, you know, I think that sharing poetry in these kinds of spaces is important for poets. You know, nobody's paying bills, writing poetry, let's just put it that way. And you're lucky if you get invited to a couple of local readings a year or something. You know, there's just, it's really has its own audience and to have so much poetry presented at the festivals. It's always wonderful. I'm always, I always appreciate that. They do go out of their way to make sure that that's celebrated there. So I think, you know, in teaching or learning, I mean, to me, it's about, it's really about sharing poetry, reading it out loud to people to, in order to share that and, and sharing space with other poets. You know, we don't, we don't always get to do that either, which is cool.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.