Authors, book lovers and a group of 203 spontaneous dancers helped celebrate the written word in all its forms Saturday and Sunday at this year's Chicago Tribune Printer's Row Lit Fest.
Approximately 250 authors participated in more than 100 free programs during the 27th annual fest, among them Colm Toibin ("The Empty Family"), Terry McMillan ("Getting to Happy"), Meredith Baxter ("Untied") and Jonathan Alter ("The Promise: President Obama, Year One").
Rick Kogan, a surprise "flash mob" of dancers sporting bright blue "Make Your Mark" T-shirts took over Lil Lit Park as part of an effort to raise awareness about literacy levels in the city. Also popular was Saturday night's Lit After Dark — the slightly wilder side of Printers Row — which featured poetry slams and storytelling.
Dispatches from the festival follow.
— Courtney Crowder
Colm Toibin, Saturday: Bald in a dark suit, with the thousand-yard glare of a Bond villain, Colm Toibin corkscrewed in his chair, turned to the audience and explained that before he wrote "Brooklyn" — his 2009 novel, a former One Book, One Chicago selection for the Chicago Public Library's reading initiative — "I was aware of Brooklyn as a place that people went to, that wasn't Manhattan." His point was, the place was less important than the fact that its main character wrestled with leaving home — Toibin's native Ireland, in this case.
He spoke with Irish novelist Belinda McKeon at the Harold Washington Library on Saturday morning about their homeland (only small if you measure it, he said), and why dislocation is at the root of his writing, quite literally. The short stories of his recent collection, "The Empty Family," came to him the way ideas for short stories often do — when he's somewhere random, living in a dull city or staying in a subletted apartment, "among other people's furniture," and a stray memory or image that "was no use" resurfaces and "moves from idea to rhythm." Writing a novel, on the other hand, he explained, "requires quiet and continuity and a time ahead that is all yours."
— Christopher Borrelli
The Hearty Boys, Sunday: After hosting the festival's Good Eating Stage all weekend, the Hearty Boys finally got their chance to cook Sunday afternoon for a standing-room-only crowd that watched with mouths watering and minds thinking: "I'll have what they're having."
Three days after celebrating their civil union together, Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh — caterers turned restaurateurs (Hearty in Lakeview) and cookbook authors ("Talk with Your Mouth Full") — turned out a tarragon melon lemonade ("I just wanted something light and summery with vodka," McDonagh explained) and a lobster pot pie (with lemon zest to give it "more of a summery feel," Smith said). Their cheerful messages: Great food and drink are more about the right ideas and ingredients than hard labor. People should start drinking gin again. And it's OK to buy frozen puff pastry, though making your own lobster stock may very well be worth the effort.
— Mark Caro
Edward McClelland and Rebecca Janowitz, Sunday: In a panel on President Barack Obama's Chicago roots, author Rebecca Janowitz described him as a product of Hyde Park"s tradition of "well-educated, self-confident, critical" African-American activists and agitators. Meanwhile, journalist Edward McClelland painted the future chief executive as a community activist who mastered "social networking" and had designs to become mayor even as he ingratiated himself with the Richard M. Daley administration.
— Greg Kot
Natalie McNeal, Sunday: Natalie McNeal wiped out $21,000 in debt — car loans, credit cards and student loans — in just two and a half years. The former reporter for the Miami Herald and author of "The Frugalista Files" was on hand Sunday with Tribune personal finance columnist Gail MarksJarvis at the Trib Nation tent for a freewheeling and no-holds-barred discussion about how McNeal (originally from south suburban Chicago) realigned her life to be "frugal and fabulous."
It started in 2008 when McNeal declared January a "no buy" month, which meant she couldn't spend money on anything but essentials "instead of treating shopping as a sport." No hair or nail appointments, no clothing purchases, no nights at the movies or restaurants. "I finally learned to cook at home," she said, and wound up saving $400 that month, "which was like a million dollars to me." Now a full-time blogger, McNeal said she still does a no-buy month once a year. "The key is to really want it to happen," MarksJarvis noted, "because it's painful."
— Nina Metz