Wisconsin Book Festival celebrates Black history

Hailey Griffin , Arts Editor

From hosting events with authors like Dantiel Moniz, Ladee Hubbard, Emily St. John Mandel and Heather McGhee, to celebrating Black History Month and collaborating with the UW Creative Writing Program, the Wisconsin Book Festival will offer a lot of opportunities to the Madison community this year.

When choosing presenters, Wisconsin Book Festival Director Conor Moran doesn’t only search for people who have affiliations with the University of Wisconsin-Madison or with Wisconsin in general.

“We want to see the big national names, but also, like anywhere, we have wonderful people doing the incredible work here as well,” he said. “So, we do exist to showcase those people, Wisconsin authors, but we’re not limited to just being a local author festival.”

Although the Wisconsin Book Festival doesn’t solely seek Wisconsin native authors, their relationship with the University of Wisconsin’s Creative Writing Program has assisted them in finding authors to speak at the festival in the past.

“We’ve had kind of a working relationship with the program of creative writing for a long time, and one of the things that has become a staple of the Wisconsin Book Festival, or has become a staple before the pandemic, was that their graduating MFAs would have a reading as part of the festival,” said Moran.

“Their writing fellows would also have a reading as part of the festival, and so some of the events of last fall kind of coalesced into a series called “Wisconsin Wednesdays,” and that has brought together writers who had a connection to the UW in some way.”

On Feb. 17, the Wisconsin Book Festival will feature presentations from Dantiel Moniz, University of Wisconsin alumnae and author of the recently debuted collection of short stories, “Milk Blood Heat.” Ladee Hubbard will present alongside Moniz, discussing her second book, “The Rib King.” Each author’s book touches on subjects that strike forth important conversation such as race, class, privilege, womanhood and human connection.

In the following weeks after the Feb. 17 event, the festival will feature Heather McGhee on March 2. McGhee will talk about her book, “The Sum of Us,” which discusses the effect that racism has on the American economy and how American citizens can come together and construct the vision to combat inequality.

Moran wants to continue discussions pertaining to diversity and racial equity in the future. “It means a lot to us to continue this event, and so we’re hosting ‘The Sum of Us’ as programming, and we will continue to look for other authors to bring…to Madison and the Madison community throughout 2021 to kind of continue that work,” said Moran.

Now that several of the Wisconsin Book Festival events will be held online this year, people will have more access to learning about these topics than what was possible before the pandemic. Moran has already seen the unintended positive impact that has arisen from online events, and he hopes that more people will come to see each event for themselves.

“I think once people come to one, they’ll really enjoy it and come back. The reason I do this job is because I went to a couple of readings when I was in college, and I was like, ‘Oh, this is so different from other cultural expressions…you should check it out,’” said Moran.