Chicago is shining today, and the crisp white tents lining Printer’s Row point upward as if suspended by strings from the cerulean sky. The South Loop streets no longer harbor the hum of the city’s publishing industry or the clamor of commute at Dearborn Station, but they draw 125,000 visitors nonetheless. Each June, the Printer’s Row Lit Fest attracts booksellers, bibliophiles, publishers, authors, performers, and organizations to the historic neighborhood for a celebration of all things literary.
The largest free outdoor literary event in the Midwest packs Dearborn and Polk streets with stacks and shelves. There are so many words to consume in the new books with freshly inked signatures and stiff bindings, well-worn paperbacks, deliciously dusty volumes, plastic wrapped rarities, posters, prints, magazines, and manuals. It’s a struggle, but I limit myself to a handful of finds – one can only carry so many books on the train after all. I purchase another edition of A Confederacy of Dunces, this one a copy from 1980, the year of its first publication. “Ah excellent selection,” nods the vendor, “it’s one of my favorites.”
The volunteer t-shirts proclaim “Get Lit,” and I feel veritably drunk on contentment. I sway between booths, run my fingers over leather-bound stacks, discover new Chicago publishers, and enjoy the common bliss of so many book lovers. Spanning seven stages, the fest events include readings, signings, discussions, children’s storytelling, and musical performances. A breeze wafts through the tent as I take in a reading of David Baker’s poetry, and I let his words wash over me, soaking in them as I am the late afternoon sunlight. Down the street at the Hotel Blake, Elynne Chaplik-Aleskow transports us to Israel in a reading chronicling an incredible experience of friendship spanning 40 years, the power of technology, and several countries.
Over all of this, the sentry of the Dearborn station tower gazes on, its stopped clock a reminder of temporal futility and the tenuous timing of print media. Yet this is no museum. Under the station’s watch, Chicago’s devout yearn for literature, enlightenment, and expression. Now is the time – to read, to write, to learn, and to explore. I leave Lit Fest with not too many books, a list of many more, several new contacts, a sense of fulfillment, and so much inspiration. It’s a moveable feast indeed.