Johnny-D-Boggs_rex_markI haven’t seen this many people on a college campus since I was making my way around the University of Texas in Austin for a Bruce Springsteen concert.

But this? This is spring break at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Everyone is supposed to be off campus partying.

Keep your feet, I warn myself. Being trampled is a nasty way to die.

I reach a line that snakes around a UA ballroom at a snail’s pace. No, that’s not right. A snail actually moves. A woman tentatively asks, “Is this the line to see Larry McMurtry?”

“No,” comes a terse reply. “It’s the line to the women’s restroom.”

The Tucson Festival of Books (March 9-10) brings them in. When I first appeared at the festival’s debut in 2009, I was thinking, “In this economy, who’s gonna show up at a book festival, other than the 450 authors and presenters?”

About 50,000 people came that year. I was amazed.

The next year, the estimate reached between 70,000 and 80,000. Last year, that number grew to some 120,000.

“As an author trying to build my audience, I like to go where the readers are, and there truly is no better place than the Tucson Festival of Books,” says Western novelist Steven Law, who plans to make his third appearance at this book-lovers’ dream in 2013. “I look forward to the rush of people looking for something new and a chance to meet the author and get a signed copy. When I’m not in my booth, it is fun to wander around to the other booths or numerous speaking events, some covered by C-Span’s Book TV, where I can hear from several big-name authors as they talk about their writing or the book business today.”

Big names. David Morrell, a.k.a. “Rambo’s daddy.” The great Elmore Leonard. Noted historians like Jeff Guinn, Robert M. Utley and Stephen Fried. Pulitzer Prize winners Philip Caputo and T.J. Stiles. Western icons such as Michael Blake and Larry McMurtry. Science Fiction/Fantasy legend Emma Bull. Mystery novelists C.J. Box andMichael McGarrity.

Usually, you can find Paul Andrew Hutton wandering around, if he’s not  prepping for another Book TV interview. Thomas Cobb will be there this year, promoting his great new novel, With Blood in Their Eyes. I first met Cobb at the original festival. Turns out, we’re both baseball fans. He pulls for the Chicago White Sox. I root for the Kansas City Royals.

As he puts it: “The Tucson Festival of Books lasts longer than the White Sox’s and Royals’ pennant hopes, draws a bigger crowd and has
better food.”

You can see why the crowd comes. Offering more than just books, this festival has food, music, entertainment and even a “Science City” for kids. Vendors—more than 250—are everywhere, selling rare books, new books, used books, my books, comic books, bookmarks, book services.

I advise you, if you plan to attend, get there early. Finding a parking place on any college campus has always been challenging. If you want to hear Hutton interview a Pulitzer winner, get there even earlier.

The best thing about Tucson’s book festival is that it’s free. No, the best thing is that the Tucson Festival of Books offers something for everyone. If you’re a book lover, there’s nowhere else to be.

Says Law: “If it’s not the best annual book event in the country, it’s certainly close. And the March weather in Tucson is spectacular.”


Johnny D. Boggs will be working in the Western Writers of America booth at this year’s Tucson Festival of Books, unless he’s standing in line to heckle Paul Andrew Hutton on Book TV.

Related Articles

  • Illustration by Bob Boze Bell

    On March 20, 1882, Wyatt Earp gave Frank Stilwell a shotgun send-off. Doc Holliday and…

  • The Rockin’ M Wranglers don’t really look like wranglers, and Jim and Jeanne Martin certainly…

  • Illustrator-Andy-Thomas

      In 1849, the entire world seemed to be on the move to the California…