Winning Women

book fest features poetic headliner, honored humorist

Tom Giffey

Julie Schumacher, left, and Naomi Shihab Nye will both appear as part of the Chippewa Valley Book Festival.
Julie Schumacher and Naomi Shihab Nye (below) will both appear as part of the Chippewa Valley Book Festival.

Securing a visit by famed Palestinian-American poet Naomi Shihab Nye – whose list of published works and awards would fill an article unto themselves – was quite a coup for the 2015 Chippewa Valley Book Festival. Then a second coup landed in the organizers’ lap: In late September, Julie Schumacher, a University of Minnesota professor who’d been booked for the festival, became the first woman to win the annual Thurber Prize for American Humor. (Past Thurber winners include famous funnymen such as Jon Stewart, David Sedaris, and Calvin Trillin.)

The announcement of Schumacher’s award came as a delightful surprise for the festival, which each fall brings about 30 local, regional, and national authors to the Chippewa Valley for readings, forums, and workshops aimed at both readers and writers. (Schumacher will read from and discuss her book at 2:15pm Saturday, Oct. 17, at the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library.) Schumacher’s award-winning novel, Dear Committee Members, is written entirely in the form of letters of recommendation penned by a frustrated college professor. “You don’t have to be working in an academic setting to appreciate it,” notes Marsha Qualey, a volunteer on festival’s authors committee.

Likewise, Nye’s work “appeals to many types of readers,” Qualey adds. “She’s written children books, she’s a poet,” Qualey says of Nye. “She writes with a different lens than typical Midwestern readers are used to seeing with.”

Nye, a self-described “wandering poet,” grew up in St. Louis, Jerusalem, and San Antonio. Her volumes of poetry include Transfer, You and Yours, and 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East, while her most recent novel, The Turtle of Oman, was named a notable children’s book by the American Library Association. She will speak Thursday, Oct. 15, at UW-Eau Claire’s Schofield Hall.

Qualey advises that those interested in the festival, which runs through Oct. 22, should “look beyond the headliners.” Among the many gems on the schedule, she pointed to the Oct. 17 story time with Trisha and Steve Shaskan, during which the children’s authors will read and give kids time to create characters and sing; the Nadine S. St. Louis Memorial Poetry Conversation on Oct. 16, which will feature Wisconsin’s current and former poets laureate, Kim Blaeser and Max Garland; and the Oct. 22 Disabilities Forum, “Girls Like Us and What We Can Learn from Them,” with author Gail Giles.

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