Tucson Festival of Books 2016: A Guide to Must-See Authors

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It’s spring break in Tucson, and while students are off to exotic locales for a week of drunken debauchery, bookworms from across the country are descending on the University of Arizona for a different kind of party.

The annual Tucson Festival of Books runs Saturday and Sunday, March 12 and 13, bringing hundreds of authors, and more than 100,000 visitors to the campus for a weekend of writing workshops, discussion panels, autograph sessions, and all manner of book geekery, no matter what your reading taste. Past guests have included Amy Tan, Noam Chomsky, Dave Barry, and Scott Turow.

This year is no different, featuring a host of authors who regularly hang out on top of bestseller lists. But the sheer volume of events can be overwhelming. So here are 10 authors who will make the trip down Interstate 10 worthwhile.

Charlie Jane Anders
Appearing Sunday only

A longtime geek and queer culture commentator, Anders is the editor-in-chief of io9.com. In addition to her regular columns on the sci-fi website, she has written for such diverse publications as McSweeney's, Salon, The Wall Street Journal, and Mother Jones. Anders also hosts the monthly San Francisco reading series, Writers with Drinks and is a tireless advocate for transgender rights. The winner of the 2006 Lambda Literary Award for her literary debut, Choir Boy, Anders has branched into science fiction in recent years with the Hugo Award-winning novelette, Six Months, Three Days. Her debut sci-fi novel, All the Birds in the Sky, came out in January. The story of a pair of childhood friends who pursue magic and science respectively, then come together as adults to save the world has garnered universal acclaim.

Terry Brooks
Appearing Saturday and Sunday

A bestselling author since the mid-1970s, Brooks gave up a law career to pursue his writing dreams. The decision paid off, as he ushered in the modern age of BFF (big fat fantasy) novels with his Tolkien rewrite, The Sword of Shannara. Over the past 40 years, the post-apocalyptic fantasyland has gone through numerous iterations over 28 books, including the recent “Defenders of Shannara” trilogy, whose finale, The Sorcerer’s Daughter, hits stores in May. Brooks even dabbled in the Star Wars universe, penning the novelization The Phantom Menace.  And a new generation is discovering his magical world, thanks to MTV’s Shannara Chronicles TV show, which adapted his 1982 classic The Elfstones of Shannara for the Teen Wolf set and premièred in January.

Jeffery Deaver
Appearing Saturday and Sunday

Deaver's mysteries and short fiction have won numerous awards, including the Nero Wolfe Award and multiple Ellery Queen awards. A former journalist and folksinger and avowed James Bond fan, Deaver was inspired to pursue a writing career after reading Ian Fleming's From Russia With Love. And in 2011 he got the opportunity to contribute to 007’s legacy with the novel Carte Blanche. He's one of only two American authors to write the iconic British spy. The author of more than two dozen thrillers in multiple series, Deaver is best known for his “Lincoln Rhyme” novels, which focus on a quadriplegic forensic examiner in New York. The bestselling mystery series kicked off with 1997’s The Bone Collector, which was made into a hit movie starring Denzel Washington as Rhyme. The 12th entry in the series, The Steel Kiss, hits stores on Tuesday, March 8. 

Jared Diamond
Appearing Saturday only

A popular biologist and geographer, this UCLA professor won the Pulitzer Prize in 1997 with his treatise on European colonization and conquest, Guns, Germs and Steel. That book, which also spawned a 2005 PBS miniseries, propelled Diamond into the ranks of celebrity scientists like Oliver Sacks and Stephen Hawking, making him an in-demand lecturer and popular TED speaker. A recognized polymath, Diamond has also written on diverse subjects like anthropology and human physiology. His most recent book, 2012’s The World Until Yesterday, examines life in primitive societies and how their practices can improve our modern life. Other works include The Third Chimpanzee, which examines how evolution shaped society, Collapse, which details the diverse reasons that societies fail, from warfare to climate change, and the self-explanatory Why Is Sex Fun?

Diana Gabaldon
Appearing Saturday and Sunday

A former science professor at ASU’s Center for Environmental Studies, the Valley’s resident literary superstar's writing career started as a tech journalist in the ’80s, editing the Science Software Quarterly. Her acclaimed Outlander series grew out of her love of Doctor Who and her desire to write a novel, developed through an online writing group on CompuServe. The sprawling historical fantasy/romance about a World War II nurse magically swept into 18th-century Scotland was a huge hit, spawning seven sequels and a spinoff series, the most recent entry being 2014’s Written in My Heart’s Own Blood. The series is also attracting new attention thanks to the hit Starz TV series, whose second season premieres on April 9. 

Jonathan Kozol
Appearing Saturday and Sunday

A civil-rights activist and tireless advocate for social justice in education, Kozol earned the National Book Award for his 1967 expose on segregation in Boston’s school system, Death at an Early Age. The bestseller documented his experiences as a first-year teacher at an underfunded inner-city school, culminating in his firing for reading a Langston Hughes poem to his class. Since then, he has continued to work for educational equality, founding Education Action! and the Cambridge Institute for Public Education, promoting and lobbying for equal school access and against No Child Left Behind. His most recent work is more personal, however; 2015’s The Theft of Memory is a memoir of Kozol’s time caring for his father, who suffered from Alzheimer’s. 

Scott Simon
Appearing Saturday and Sunday

This Chicago native is best known to NPR listeners as the voice of Weekend Edition Saturday. As a writer, he has explored such diverse topics as baseball and adoption, in addition to writing a pair of novels, Pretty Birds and Windy City: A Novel of Politics. His most recent work, Unforgettable: A Son, a Mother, and the Lessons of a Lifetime, developed out of a series of social media posts made from his mother’s bedside in ICU, where he kept her company as she died. His naked, emotional tweets formed the basis for the memoir, which hit shelves in 2015. The paperback edition will be available of Unforgettable will be available March 29.

R.L. Stine
Appearing Saturday and Sunday

If you grew up in the ’90s, you probably cut your teeth on Stine’s Goosebumps series. Or maybe you just know them from the popular "ermahgerd" meme. The “Stephen King of Children’s Literature” has penned hundreds of lighthearted scares in series like Fear Street and, of course, the seemingly endless Goosebumps, which includes such classics as Say Cheese and Die! and Night of the Living Dummy. In 2015, the series was adapted into a hit film starring Jack Black as Stine. He didn't start out as a horror writer, though. Stine cut his teeth as a humor writer, creating Scholastic's Bananas magazine as "Jovial Bob" Stine. In recent years, he has even branched out into adult horror with novels like Red Rain and Eye Candy, aimed at his now grown-up “Goosebumps” fans.  He's still writing for kids though, as Fear Street and Goosebumps, as well as YA novels like Bitten, continue to fill the shelves.

Chuck Wendig
Appearing Saturday and Sunday

A prolific author, game designer, and screenwriter, Wendig is equally known for his dark Miriam Black series and his foul-mouthed rants about writing on his blog, terribleminds.com. A lifelong Star Wars fan, Wendig leaped at the chance to write a new Star Wars novel, but he became an unwitting target of angry fanboys when his post-Jedi adventure, Star Wars: Aftermath, hit shelves in September. Within minutes of its release, they bombarded the book’s Amazon and Goodreads entries with one-star reviews, complaining about the loss of the Extended Universe and the inclusion of gay characters in the novel. Seems the culture war had reached a galaxy far, far away. Wendig, in foul-mouthed fashion, called out those critics on Twitter and his blog, exposing the orchestrated campaign and its allies in the right-wing blogosphere, all the while laughing his way to the top of the bestseller lists. His character Temmin "Snap" Wexley even turned up in The Force Awakens.

Alan Zweibel
Appearing Saturday and Sunday

A comedy legend, Zweibel got his start writing for the original Saturday Night Live. After starting hustling jokes for up-and-coming comedians in the early '70s, he caught Lorne Michaels' eye with his copious joke portfolio and went on to create such classic characters as John Belushi's Samurai. Although he left the show in 1980 along with the classic cast, Zweibel has continued to write for TV and the silver screen, penning films like Dragnet and North. He's had more critical success on the small screen, working on shows like It's Garry Shandling's Show and Curb Your Enthusiasm — and on Broadway, where he developed shows with Martin Short and Billy Crystal. He has also written Bunny Bunny, a biography of Gilda Radner, for whom he created the iconic character Roseanne Roseannadanna, the Thurber Award-winning The Other Shulman, and several children's books.

Admission and parking are free, but due to limited space, reserved tickets are required for some of the bigger panels. For ticketing information, panel and signing schedules, and a complete list of participating authors, visit tucsonfestivalofbooks.org.

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