This year will mark the 37th year that the Printers Row Lit Fest has graced the charming streets of the South Loop. Among some of the city’s best preserved historic buildings, book worms can come to bask in the greatness of the Chicago literary scene — from Saturday, Sept. 10 to Sunday, Sept. 11, 10am – 6pm.
What began in 1985 with a handful of booksellers has grown to encompass five blocks of Printers Row — between Dearborn Street and Ida B. Wells Drive — with some 100 book sellers and vendors as well as 5 stages for literary performances. An expansion Lit Fest Founder Bette Cerf Hill said “has exceeded my expectation … I am delighted.”
While attendees are able to peruse the various outdoor tents filled with rare or niche literary treasures and other goods, there will also be more specific programming. Live readings and spoken word performances; literary events and panels with authors; even a Poetry Foundation tent committed to two full days of poetry-related activities.
The event coincides, as it does every year, with the honoring of the latest recipient of the Harold Washington Literary Award — presented by the Near South Planning Board to “diverse and stimulating authors who address issues of contemporary life and whose literary achievements include a significant body of work that has touched the public mind and imagination” — on Sept. 8. This year’s winner is none other than poet Natasha Trethewey — a Pulitzer Prize winner and two-term United States Poet Laureate, as well as the penman behind many accomplished works, including a New York Times bestseller.
Each year’s winner is decided upon by notable authors and academics who can best testify to each nominee’s attributes and whether they are fit for the honor. Trethewey — who will share her honor with the commemoration of the 100th birthday of the late Mayor Harold Washington — will be added to the long list of recipients who came before her, resting beside names such as Gwendolyn Brooks, Kurt Vonnegut, Susan Sontag and many other literary legends.
In conjunction with the award, Trethewey will also headline the Fest — though specifics on programming are yet to be announced. But attendees can rest assured that whoever they come to hear read or whatever literary rarities they are after, they can find it and more at this historically important fest — that was the first of its kind in the Midwest.
“We’re not a very old city, so the few things we have that are old [like Printers Row] that are still functional and have real historical significance — I think we should celebrate that. … That actually is the whole point of Lit Fest, is to bring people out and celebrate. Make a festival out of books, reading and literature,” Cerf Hill said.
The festival — sponsored chiefly by Wintrust, and presented by the Chicago Public Library and WBEZ, among many other local organizations — is suited for all people of all ages. With events geared specifically toward kids as well — like the Steppenwolf Theatre-organized workshop for teens looking for a creative outlet for their storytelling.
“We see a whole community come together for the purpose of having books at the forefront, having and encouraging writing to continue to predominate society … that’s what’s important about this festival,” said Bonnie Sanchez-Carlson, President and Executive Producer of the Fest.
The event is and will always be free to the public, encouraging curious minds to come and go as they please. For programming specifics and additional information, please visit the Printers Row Lit Fest website.
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Margaret Smith is a Chicago-based writer and editor with a passion for socio-political storytelling about their community. They are a graduate of Columbia College Chicago.