Book Lovers Unite! Attend the 2019 Central WI Book Festival Sept. 23–29

Written by Chad Dally

An award-winning graphic novelist, a highly acclaimed poet and essayist whose career is skyrocketing, and one of Wisconsin’s most popular authors are but a few of the guests who will take part in the Central Wisconsin Book Festival (CWBF) this weekend throughout the Wausau area.

Started in 2017, the festival aims to bring in writers from across the country — with some extra attention on Wisconsin authors — for a series of events celebrating the written word in its various forms and genres:

  • Poetry
  • Fiction
  • Non-fiction (and local writers who dabble in all of the above forms)
  • Comics & graphic novels

The motivation behind the festival is to celebrate the literary arts in the Wausau community, which is already well known for its broader support of the arts.

Other large cities and regions in Wisconsin — Chippewa Valley, Fox Valley, Green Bay, and Madison — have organized book festivals for years, and CWBF organizers believed our region could support a book festival of its own. So far, that’s proven true!

The 2018 festival included nearly 20 events that drew a crowd totaling about 650 people, and we expect the 2019 fest to be just as (or hopefully even more) popular!

This year’s festival kicked off on Monday, Sept. 23, with a collaboration with the Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service’s annual Veninga Lecture on Religion and Society. A Sikh man, Pardeep Singh Kaleka, and former white supremacist Arno Michaelis, spoke about their friendship that developed following a 2012 shooting at a Sikh temple in Milwaukee.

Pardeep Sing Kaleka and Arno Michaelis

If you missed that kickoff event, you can still read the riveting book they wrote together called “The Gift of Our Wounds” and learn about their nonprofit work as well.

TheGiftOfOurWounds-book cover

The rest of the 2019 festival resumes Thursday, Sept. 26, and continues through Sunday, Sept. 29, with 18 events taking place at 7 different locations around Wausau, including:

  • The Marathon County Public Library
  • The Marathon County Historical Society
  • The Center for Civic Engagement on the campus of UW–Stevens Point at Wausau
  • The Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art (WMOCA)

. . . among other places.

So, what’s on tap?

Below are some of the events. You can see the entire lineup in a couple of places: through MCPL website — — or the book festival’s Facebook page.

  • Friday, Sept. 27, 7:30 p.m. @ Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art: Readings from “A Fortune for Your Disaster” with Hanif Abdurraqib — Acclaimed poet and essayist Abdurraqib will read from his latest collection of poetry, and his Wausau reading will be his only Wisconsin appearance on his fall book tour. Abdurraqib is receiving a ton of attention these days, from a recent story in GQ Magazine about his sneaker collection to inclusion on the Longlist for the 2019 National Book Award in nonfiction and a nomination for the 2019 Kirkus Prize in nonfiction for his previous book “Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest,” (which also made it onto The New York Times bestseller list). This is sure to be one of the most popular events of the festival, but space is limited, so a free ticket to secure a seat can be obtained through Eventbrite.
 Poet and essayist Hanif Abdurraqib.
Poet and essayist Hanif Abdurraqib.
  • Friday, Sept. 27, 6 p.m. @ Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art: “Hidden Histories of Race in Pop Culture” with Charles Hughes — Abdurraqib’s reading will be preceded by a fascinating talk on the intersection of race and popular culture by Hughes, a Wausau native who is now director of the Lynne and Henry Turley Memphis Center at Rhodes College. His talk will touch in part on his book, “Country Soul: Making Music and Making Race in the American South,” and will preview new research into African Americans in professional wrestling. Hughes also will be 1 of 3 panelists — along with writers Liam Callanan and Callie Bates — who will discuss how and why they write, and their writing methods and techniques, on Saturday, Sept. 28, at 1 p.m. at MCPL Wausau. (Callanan will also stick around for his own solo reading from his bestselling novel “Paris by the Book” following the panel discussion.)
Author Charles Hughes.
Author Charles Hughes.
  • Saturday, Sept. 28, 7 p.m. @ Center for Civic Engagement: “A Conversation with Craig Thompson — Another guest who grew up in Marathon County, Craig Thompson, will talk about his celebrated career as a writer, artist, and graphic novelist. Thompson is a two-time winner of the Eisner Award (generally considered the Academy Awards for comic books) for his 2004 book “Blankets” and his 2012 book “Habibi.” His conversation with Wisconsin Public Radio reporter (and CWBF committee member) Rob Mentzer will take a broad look at his career, with special attention paid to his new comic series “Ginseng Roots,” which draws on his and his brother’s experiences working on a Marathon County ginseng farm in their younger days.
Writer, artist, and graphic novelist Craig Thompson.
Writer, artist, and graphic novelist Craig Thompson.
  • Sunday, Sept. 29, 3:30 p.m. @ Trails End Lodge in Wausau: “Dead Big Dawg” with Victoria Houston — One of Wisconsin’s most popular authors, Houston will talk about the real-life inspiration for her latest entry in her Loon Lake mystery series and read from the book as well. If you’re not familiar with Trails End Lodge, it’s a restaurant located right on the bank of the Big Rib River — a perfect spot, we think, to talk about a fishing mystery!
Victoria Houston
Writer Victoria Houston.

Other CWBF events include (but are definitely not limited to):

Wisconsin Poet Laureate Margaret Rozga.
Wisconsin Poet Laureate Margaret Rozga.

And remember: The entire festival is FREE!

This is due in large part to the support received by the festival from organizations like:

  • The Community Foundation of North Central Wisconsin
  • The Dudley Foundation
  • The Walter Alexander Foundation
  • The Marathon County Public Library Foundation
  • The Friends of Marathon County Public Library

. . . and others who provided funding for the festival.

Also, businesses and organizations where events take place — Marathon County Historical Society, Center for the Visual Arts, Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art, Jalapeños Mexican Restaurante, UW–Stevens Point at Wausau, and Trails End Lodge — made their spaces available to the festival for free, too!

The Central Wisconsin Book Festival truly has become a community festival, with events throughout the Wausau area and a ton of support from the Wausau community to make it happen.


And it’s all done for YOU — the people in our communities who love to read and write.

After months of planning, all we need now is for you to show up and enjoy yourselves.

We hope to see you at our 3rd annual Central Wisconsin Book Festival this weekend!

Chad Dally - MCPL - Library SpecialistChad Dally
Library Specialist  |  Marathon County Public Library

Chad Dally is a library specialist with the Marathon County Public Library, where he’s worked since 2012. He splits his time at the library between reference and programming, and generally prefers to read nonfiction over fiction.  Email Chad Dally

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(All photos courtesy of Chad Dally.)