Audrey Grahame and Jeff Raden: Finding love at Lit Fest

Certain questions must be asked before you get serious with someone.

"Do you want to live in the city or the suburbs?"

"Do you want kids?"

"What's your religious affiliation?"

And, of course: "Do you like books?"

So began Audrey Grahame's email to Jeff Raden. "Do you want to go to the Lit Fest?" she asked.

Jeff said yes.

Little did she know that they would spend 14 hours at the festival that day. Or that they would be married at the Lit Fest two years later. Or that they would return with their 17-month-old son three years after that.

Audrey and Jeff's love began on, though coincidentally they had just missed meeting each other twice before.

"I lived in Mount Prospect for eight years. I moved out right before Audrey moved in," Jeff said. "We went to the same college (Northern Illinois University) a couple years apart."

"We were in the same program," Audrey and Jeff said in unison. This was the first of many thoughts they would finish together.

At their first festival together, they wandered the stalls. Audrey bought the letters A-Z in wooden type blocks. They took in some poetry readings, though the specifics are hazy.

"I was just so focused on him," Audrey said. "His ability to carry on a conversation was one of the things that drew me to him. I had been on so many dates that were like interviews, where you had to think of a good question to ask and a good answer to have, but with him I kept thinking, 'Man, this guy can naturally converse.'"

"It was a great place to go on a first date because at every booth you can find something to talk about," Jeff added. "You see a travel book and then you start talking about where you've been."

They wandered over to the Blues Festival, which happened to be on the same weekend that year, and they had dinner at Hackney's. They also shared their first kiss.

"As we were walking in the train station, he stopped in front of me and gave me an excellent kiss," Audrey said. "All these people were walking around us. It was pretty romantic."

A little more than a year later, over bowls of chili and bags of Fritos at a friend's barbecue, Jeff proposed to Audrey.

Audrey said yes.

Then they began the hunt to find a unique wedding venue. They didn't want to have the wedding that everybody has: the church, the catering, the banquet hall — it wasn't them. A little more than five weeks before the 2009 Lit Fest, Audrey had a "eureka!" moment. Why not get married at Lit Fest?

"At first I was thinking we would just grab a justice of the peace and a couple of witnesses and sort of get married guerrilla style at the Lit Fest," Audrey said. "But I didn't want the festival's organizers to get upset or for us to end up in jail on our wedding day, so I called and the Tribune was more than welcoming. They gave us a little space and everything. It was awesome."

Their wedding was attended by 40 close friends and family members — and countless strangers. "In some of our pictures you can see people staring at us with a look of pure confusion on their faces," Jeff said.

"After the wedding, a guy came up to us ... and gave us two books and said, 'Here's your first wedding present.'" Jeff said. "They were a Michelle Obama comic book and another book about Michelle Obama."

The newly married couple went back to the type block stand that they had visited two years earlier. Audrey picked out the letters for "Mr. and Mrs. Raden." When she went to pay, the stall owner told her there was no charge.

It was the pair's second wedding present.

About a year and a half after that, the couple welcomed Daniel Anton Raden into their family. At this year's Lit Fest, the 17-month-old blond was all smiles, apparently enjoying the Fest's hustle and bustle.

This year Audrey bought the type block "S" and letters for the word "the."

Like a literary baby's first holiday ornament, the letters marked Daniel's first Lit Fest and the family's transformation from "Mr. and Mrs. Raden" to "The Radens."

Love lesson: It's easy to forget about the places that were important when you were dating. Consider a day, or weekend, to revisit the spots where you fell in love.

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