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The Tucson Festival of Books: Brought to you by thousands

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Jen Pimentel | The Daily Wildcat Festival-goers walk around to different booths at the Tucson Festival of Books on the UA mall on March 12, 2016. The festival attracts authors and patrons from all 50 states, as well as many international locations.

The Tucson Festival of Books, taking place on the University of Arizona Mall March 2-3, is supported by hundreds of different sponsors and run by thousands of volunteers.

Melanie Morgan, executive director for the Tucson Festival of Books, is currently on her second year of working with the festival. 

“The festival is largely organized and run by volunteers,” Morgan said. “Their contributions are too many to mention. It’s volunteer-led, and we’re really proud of that.”

          RELATED: Tucson Festival of Books celebrates 10-year anniversary

Morgan stated that there are about 200 volunteers that work year-round on the festival and 2,000 that work on festival weekend. She also stated many of the volunteers who do year-round work volunteered to help for several years in a row. 

The festival began 11 years ago and was founded by five different people: Bill and Brenda Viner, Frank Farias, John Humenik and Bruce Beach. Bill Viner is the CEO of Pepper Viner Homes, Brenda Viner has served on the board of the Pima Library Foundation, Farias is the now-retired executive director of UA Bookstores, Humenik was the former president and publisher of the Arizona Daily Star and Beach is the chairman of the board and a senior advisor for BeachFleischman PC.

According to Morgan, the five founders were all working on the idea at around the same time and decided to collaborate to make the festival a reality. The company partners each founder worked at are still partners of the festival.

“We have around 200 sponsors, one of the largest of which is the Tucson Medical Center,” Morgan said.

The Tucson Medical Center is this year’s presenting sponsor. TMC, the UA and the Arizona Daily Star provide financial contributions that help the festival each year, Morgan said. 

Andy and Stuart Shatken, a wife and husband team, are volunteer co-chairs of the steering committee for the Festival of Books. This is their second year leading the steering committee, which oversees the 13 other committees for the festival. 

“We’ve been attending the festival since its first year, and then about six or seven years ago, we were asked to take over the exhibitors committee, so we did that for five years,” Andy Shatken said. “Then we were asked to chair the steering committee after our five years as exhibitor chairs.” 

Morgan said the festival is mainly able to be held due to the many volunteers that work on the committees and help plan everything. The committees the Shatkens oversee consist of volunteers who book and schedule the authors, set up the different events, book the food vendors, take care of hotel rooms and accommodations for authors and work with the 200 festival exhibitors.

The Shatkens signed a two-year contract to work as the co-chairs of the steering committee. They have one more year to go and will then recruit and train their successors. However, they plan to help out with the festival and continue to give their support for years to come.

“We’re gonna always be involved in the festival in a supportive role. It’s almost like an alumni association,” Stuart Shatken said. “It’s a very closely knit group; it’s like a family.”

Andy Shatken said the festival is important to them, because they care about the cause the proceeds go toward and they put a lot of work into building partnerships in the Tucson community.

“We very much believe in the mission of helping to promote literacy in Southern Arizona,” Andy Shatken said.

The festival is free of charge. All proceeds from the festival go to organizations such as Literacy Connects and UA literacy outreach programs that work to improve literacy rates in Southern Arizona. According to Stuart Shatken, at the end of this past year, the Festival of Books raised a net of $1,800,000 for literacy programs.

          RELATED: The UA School of Art makes its way to the Tucson Festival of Books

Morgan said the work for the festival is non-stop, and even before one festival takes place, they are already preparing for the next year’s festival.

“We’re already working on 2020,” Morgan said.

Stuart Shatken said he and Andy Shatken are excited for this year’s festival and have had a good time building new partnerships and solidifying and strengthening the festival’s relationship with the UA. 

“It’s particularly gratifying to have this kind of a partnership with the university who works so closely with us to make the festival successful, as well as the Tucson Medical Center and the [Arizona Daily] Star and the Bookstore,” Stuart Shatken said. “It’s an amazing example of a community working well together.”


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