Literary placemaking: A preview of the 2024 Northern Arizona Book Festival

A book festival reading taking place at Heritage Square in downtown Flagstaff.

By Lawrence Lenhart, associate chair of English and executive director of the Northern Arizona Book Festival. He is the author of “Experimental Writing,” “Backvalley Ferrets,” “Safe Dry & Together” and “The Well-Stocked and Gilded Cage.” He edits the journals Carbon Copy and DIAGRAM.

From April 5-14, the literary nonprofit Northern Arizona Book Festival (NOAZBF) will host more than 40 events in downtown Kinłani (aka Flagstaff) and across the region. The goal of these events—which are open to the public and take the form of readings, performances, panels, workshops, signings and offbeat maker events—is to foster literary community on the Colorado Plateau and in the American Southwest. Throughout the festival, attendees will have opportunities to interact with published authors, editors, translators, performers and educators of local, regional and national renown.

Some highlights of this year’s annual festival include:

  • 7 p.m. April 11, The Annex Cocktail Lounge
    • Back to back readings from New York Times-bestselling author Sarah Viren and Tucson poets Gabriel Dozal and Gabriel Palacios
  • 6:30 p.m. April 12, Museum of Northern Arizona
    • Reading with Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Natalie Diaz (Mohave), Stacie Denetsosie (Diné), Chelsea T. Hicks (Osage) and Deborah Jackson Taffa (Yuma and Laguna Pueblo)
  • 1 p.m. April 13, Theatrikos Theatre Company
    • Panel with editors from Indigenous presses like University of Arizona’s Sun Tracks, Chapter House Journal, Salina Bookshelf, Abalone Mountain Press and Mesa Media discussing contemporary publishing practices
  • Additional events with Billy-Ray Belcourt, Lydia Millet and readers from the Diné College Bachelor of Fine Arts

Book festival participants gathered around an activity table. The festival will also feature less traditional literary events like a haiku death match in Heritage Square, the Throwing Tomatoes humor writing event and the Book It! fun run where readers and runners can discover (and run with) books located on the FUTS trail.

Additionally, this year, the book festival will launch its signature literary mapa guide to more than 50 GIS-located poems, stories and essays from as far east as Canyon de Chelly and as far west as Kingman. Discover more events at NOAZBF’S website.

Behind the scenes of the book festival, NAU faculty, students, and alumni work year-round to present high-caliber literary programming:

  • Lawrence Lenhart (associate chair of English), executive director
  • Margarita Cruz (MFA alum), president
  • Ryan Drendel (lecturer of English), program specialist
  • Cymelle Edwards (MFA alum), archivist
  • Jamie Paul (MFA alum and CAL employee), marketing
  • Micaela Merryman (English BA alum), Flagstaff Youth Poet Laureate
  • Reece Gritzmacher (MFA alum), program specialist
  • Current MFA student volunteers, including Nicole Collingwood, Jack Galati, December Verbout, Maisy Phelps, Rachel Goodman, Kayleigh Boomgaard and Denton Ohler

Many of the festival’s events also feature NAU affiliates:

  • An editorial panel with MFA alumni Chelsey Burden, Weldon Ryckman, Lee Anderson, Cymelle Edwards and Nicole Hylton
  • The Cinder Skies Reading Series, coordinated by current MFA students and featuring Razi Shadmehry
  • A Welcome Back Reading with Erik Bitsui (MA alum) and Melissa Sevigny (KNAU reporter)
  • Events coordinated by NAU alumni Lydia Gates, Micaela Merryman, Katie Tonellato and Tanner Menard
  • Interdisciplinary events with professors Souksavanh T. Keovorabouth (Women’s and Gender Studies), Julie Piering (Philosophy), Peter Friederici (Sustainable Communities), Sherwin Bitsui (English) and Oscar Mancinas (English), among others

A book festival vendor table featuring a local publisher. If you can’t make it to this year’s festival, don’t fret. The festival supports literary programming year-round—in fact, Flagstaff played host to one literary event every three days in 2023. Such events are possible because of the passionate leadership and tireless volunteerism that sustain perennial organizations like Flagstaff Poetry Slam, Cinder Skies Reading Series, Youth Poetry Council, Poetry Out Loud and Thin Air Magazine, not to mention the many one-off salons, workshops and maker events that reflect the literary interests and cultural appetites of northern Arizona’s literary community.

As a hub organization, the Northern Arizona Book Festival works to provide programmatic, logistical and financial support to partners like these. Such efforts ensure the Colorado Plateau is recognized as a bona fide place of literature. Because of the festival’s commitment to creative placemaking, it received the 2024 Viola Award for Community Impact Organization. The NOAZBF is humbled by this recognition; the award is not only an honor for their past accomplishments, but also a solemn charge—to continue its energetic promotion of storytelling in the region.

NAU Communications