The Tastiest Wordplay Dishes, Delivered to You
This Saturday marks the finale of virtual Wordplay. We had events ranging from author panels to story times to happy hours, and each one was so insightful and delightful, I wish I could watch it all over again.
"But wait!" I exclaim as I raise my pointer finger, a perfect imitation of the Shamwow Guy. "I can!"
Putting on a five-week virtual festival with less than a month of notice had its challenges, a major one of which was timing. We wanted Wordplay to be as accessible as possible (catch that $0 price tag), but given work/kids/general anxiety, we knew there wouldn't be a one-time-fits-all solution. So we made the investment to have all of our events recorded.
To make the enormous archive that is Wordplay 2020 more palatable, I've broken our events up into bite-size groupings that will hopefully appease your literary appetite while being conscious of time restraints. So pour yourself a beverage, order delivery from your favorite local dive (tip your driver!), and settle in for the main course.
Author Claire Comstock-Gay, AKA Madame Clairevoyant, graced us each week with a reading for another Wordplay author and a discussion of their book, culminating in a session focused on her own work. Tune in for an introduction to an array of excellent books and how they reflect their authors' star charts.
- UnCHARTed Territory feat. C Pam Zhang, Capricorn and author of novel How Much of These Hills is Gold
- UnCHARTed Territory feat. Clare Beams, Leo and author of novel Illness Lessons
- UnCHARTed Territory feat. Alexis Coe, Aquarius and author of George Washington biography You Never Forget Your First
- UnCHARTed Territory feat. Jenny Zhang, Capricorn and author of poetry collection My Baby First Birthday
- UnCHARTed Territory, with the madame herself
For Your Entertainment
Raise your hand if you just want something to pull you out of your quarantine-day-fifty doldrums. *Looks around.* Yeah, that's what I thought. Want to be spooked? Laugh? Tune out to music? Feel like you're brunching with the babes again? We've got it all right here for you—and you won't even have to put on real pants.
- Spooky Story Time with Ben Percy: grab a flashlight, turn out the lights, and huddle together to listen to Percy read from his newest book, Suicide Woods, a collection of short thrillers, horrors, and spooks
- Hoppy Hour with Samantha Irby: if you're looking to awwww at bunnies, laugh until you cry, and possibly cringe from second-hand embarrassment, this quick reading from Irby's newest book, Wow, No Thank You, is for you
- Poetry House Concert with Brian Laidlaw and Ashley Hanson: Laidlaw, a poet-songwriter, and Hanson, vocalist-instrumentalist, collaborate for a joint poetry reading and concert, all from the comfort of your couch
- Debuts Brunch: highly anticipated debuts Kawai Strong Washburn, Gabriel Bump, Brandon Taylor, Rita Woods, and Dennis Staples gather to chat about their books over the most important meal of the day
Most of my favorite books right now are those that recognize and honor something. Not necessarily books that are primarily happy or optimistic but books that are a salute, even if in a complex manner. That's what each of these titles is, a celebration:
- of a good drink: Happy Hour with Alison Roman and Emma Straub
- of collaboration: Nick Flynn in Collaboration with Guy Barash & Rachel Eliza Griffiths
- of magic: Spellbound Squads
- of personal space: Space and Privacy
- of self-love: The Loft's Wordplay and Montclair Literary Festival Combine Forces to Present: Try a Little Tenderness
Any author is inspiring just by merit of writing a book, but these women—the authors and subjects of these featured book, alike—show what it means to aspire to greatness and inspire others to do the same. Let their sessions shine a little light during the pandemic dullness.
- Facing Demons featuring Stephanie Danler and Erin Khar, produced in partnership by the Loft’s Wordplay and the Portland Book Festival: Danler and Khar discuss their past addictions and what it took to overcome them and turn them into art
- Olympic Training: Live Talk and Workout with Gold Medal Winner Jessie Diggins: Diggins gives a look into overcoming an eating disorder, becoming an Olympians, and what her actual workouts look like
- Role Models: A Conversation for All Ages: Karine Jean-Pierre (Moving Forward: A Story of Hope, Hard Work, and the Promise of America), Jennifer Steinhauer (The Firsts: The Inside Story of the Women Reshaping Congress), and Sylvia Acevedo (Path to the Stars: My Journey from Girl Scout to Rocket Scientist) discuss women trailblazers who are changing the game
Kids and Teens
Don't get me wrong, these sessions are meant for any and all viewers, but this course was especially curated for children, preteens, and young adults. Along with a brief reading from each book, they'll get to hear how their favorite authors come up with ideas and make them come to life on the page.
- Story Time with Jonathan Stutzman and Heather Fox: join as Stutzman, author, and Fox, illustrator, read aloud from their hilarious picture book Llama Destroys the World
- Loft Wordplay and Mpls.St.Paul Magazine Book Club with Kate DiCamillo: DiCamillo gives a reading from The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and answers all of your questions about your favorite rabbit
- Middle Grade Roundtable, featuring Max Brallier (the Last Kids on Earth series), Kacen Callender (King and the Dragonflies), Omar Mohamed (When Stars are Scattered), and Jaqueline West (The Collectors series)
- Teen Scene, featuring Debbi Michiko Florence (Keep It Together, Keiko Carter) and Sayantani DasGupta (The Chaos Curse)
- YA Round Table, featuring Melissa de la Cruz (The Queen's Assassin), Len Vlahos (Hard Wired), and Deborah Wiles (Kent State)
- Black Girl Magic, featuring Junauda Petrus (The Stars and the Blackness Between Them) and Ashley Woodfolk (When You Were Everything), moderated by Patrice Caldwell (A Phoenix Must Burn: Sixteen Stories of Black Girl Magic, Resistance, and Hope)
Mysteries, Conspiracies, and Cover-Ups
Take a break from your favorite murder podcast to check out these four events, each focusing on a fictional or historical whodunit. In the case of the former, you'll learn how to create a riveting mystery on the page, and in the case of the latter, you'll learn how these investigators followed their leads to uncover unbelievable stories.
- Jack El-Hai Investigates a Minnesota Tragedy: the true story of the disappearance of three Minnesota brothers and the unsolved case that remains
- NBCC Co-Presents Charles Finch Interviewed by Laurie Hertzel: Finch, author of the Charles Lenox mystery series, discusses his newest book, The Last Passenger
- The Loft Literary Center and Wisconsin Book Festival Present Matt Goldman and Allen Eskens: acclaimed mystery writers Goldman (Dead West) and Eskens (Nothing More Dangerous) are joined by the Mystery Writers of America, Midwest Chapter
- Conspiracies and Cover-Ups: A Conversation with Mara Hvistendahl and Jan Stocklassa: Hvistendahl (The Scientist and the Spy: A True Story of China, the FBI, and Industrial Espionage) and Stocklassa (The Man Who PLayed with Fire: Stieg Larsson's Lost Files and the Hunt for an Assassin) discuss international cover-ups, conspiracies, and murder
What does it mean to see yourself reflected in the world? To cross boundaries and borders and find your likeness? How do you combat distraction, disappointment, stereotypes? How do you weave together cultures, the past and the future, perception and reality? These though-provoking sessions explore each of these questions.
- How To Be: A Conversation with John Freeman and Casey Schwartz: Freeman (Dictionary of the Undoing) and Schwartz (Attention, A Love Story) discuss connection and the need to be around people
- National Book Foundation at Wordplay: Laila Lalami and Randy Ribay: National Book Award finalists Lalami (The Other Americans) and Ribay (Patron Saints of Nothing) discuss family, love, and identity
- Charles Yu in Conversation with Bao Phi: Yu (Interior Chinatown) and the Loft's author/poet Phi examine the artistic landscape of a world indoctrinated with Asian American stereotypes
Sometimes, the most effective way of calming your brain is to listen to someone else's beautiful words. These sessions, focused on and championing poetry, are a mental deep breath, an ode to the lovely things in life.
- Literary Stretch Break with Rick Barot, author of The Galleons
- Literary Stretch Break with Major Jackson, author of The Absurd Man
- Danez Smith on Blackness, Friendship, and Solitude, author of Homie
- Literary Stretch Break with Lara Mimosa Montes, author of Thresholes
- Queer Brown Desire, with poets Natalie Diaz (Postcolonial Love Poem), Jake Skeets (Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers), and Roy G. Guzmán (Catrachos)
The environment, the opioid crisis, investigative journalism, and international relations—these sessions are sure to quench your thirst for interrogative fiction and hard-hitting nonfiction.
- Loft Wordplay and Virginia Festival of the Book Host Deb Olin Unferth and Jeff VanderMeer: Unferth (Barn 8) and Vandermeer (Dead Astronauts) break down how the politics of and research about the environment informs their work
- Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope: Pulitzer Prize–winning husband and wife duo Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn discuss the opioid crisis and politics in working-class America
- Truth Worth Telling with Scott Pelley: 60 Minutes host Pelley talks about his career and the challenges of journalism during a time of rampant misinformation
- Literary Stretch Break with Poupeh Missaghi: join author of Trans(re)lating house one, a novel about a woman's search for stolen artwork in the aftermath of Iran's 2009 election
Not that it's news, but being a woman in society can be . . . challenging. Be it in a workspace, a relationship, or just walking around on the street, we encounter hurdle after hurdle. And it can be depressing. And suffocating. And infuriating. These works don't tamp any of that down; they write into it, exploring those feelings, and applaud women who do something about it.
- Rage on the Page with Amber Sparks and Laura van den Berg: these two short story writers give their due to angry women
- Writers on Writers & Lovers: Lily King in Conversation with Peter Geye: among other topics, King breaks down what it takes for woman to be taken as seriously as a man
- Coworking Whodunit with Andrea Bartz and The Coven: Bartz and Minneapolis coworking space The Coven talk the societal response to successful women and women-only spaces
A Toast to Family
Just in time for Mother's Day. It's been a trying time to be a parent (or so I've heard—my two fancy rats haven't given me much feedback lately): homeschooling, entertaining, trying to help your child cope while figuring out how you're going to cope. Each and every one of you deserves to indulge in your food or beverage of choice and relax to the soothing sounds of parenthood being championed in all of its messy, exhausting glory.
- Celebrating dad: Dads during Social Distancing:
- Celebrating mother-daughter relationships: A Chat with Emily Gould and Curtis Sittenfeld
- Celebrating mom and her many identities: Mpls St Paul Magazine and the Loft's Wordplay Book Club: Edan Lepucki's Mothers Before
Translation and Language
With our impromptu platform stretching across the globe, we were thrilled that our lineup included both authors and translators and that we were able to sit down and discuss the dual art forms of writing and translating, conversations that were able to encompass language and communication as a whole.
- Works in Translation: Icelandic Fiction: author and translator discuss the process of perfecting the novel in English as well as Icelandic
- Translated Works: A Bilingual Presentation with Sara Mesa and Katie Whittemore: an English-Spanish reading and dicussion of Four by Four
- Literary Stretch Break with Raymond Luczak: presented in both spoken English and American Sign Language
Illustrators, visual artists, and people who enjoy watching how something is made, this course is for you. It's got a little décor, a little cultural exploration, a little competition. Be ready for creative inspiration to strike (or to completely overhaul your work space, whichever).
- WFH Views with Hilary Leichter: short-short stories in conjunction with the authors' home-working spaces
- Let’s Get Visual: Gene Luen Yang and Minh Lé: the multicultural identities of heroes (those with magic and those without) and how they comes to life on the page
- Illustrator Draw-Off with Brooklyn Book Festival: only one can win—and you get to be the deciding factor