Mid-Columbia Literary Festival Brings Authors, Discussions to the Tri-Cities

Annual LitFest at Columbia Basin College sparks community conversations while promoting a love for reading and writing in the Tri-Cities area.

In the Field features organizations Humanities Washington partners with across the state to help us advance our mission of sparking conversation and critical thinking using story as a catalyst.


Who: Mid-Columbia Literary Festival
Established: 2004
Mission: “The Mid-Columbia Literary Festival brings the diverse communities of Benton and Franklin counties together in celebrating our diverse scholarly, artistic, and experiential perspectives through engaging with contemporary literature. It brings authors to our campus and community to give readings and lectures and to interact with students and the community at large.”
Serves: More than 2,500 people attend festival events annually, at the college, in the community and in local schools.
On the Web: tinyurl.com/midcolumbialitfest
Mid-Columbia Literary Festival

The Tri-Cities might not be often thought of as one of Washington’s literary hubs. But, each year, the area hosts bestselling authors and vibrant literary discussions as Columbia Basin College stages the Mid-Columbia Literary Festival — or LitFest, for short.

The 2012 edition of LitFest – which received grant support from Humanities Washington – launched in February with a schedule including author readings, book discussions and writing competitions.

It continues through June with sessions featuring poet Judith Roche, humorous self-help author Augusten Burroughs (famous for Running with Scissors: A Memoir) and bestselling novelist Garth Stein (The Art of Racing in the Rain), as well as other literary events sure to foster conversation (see YOU CAN GO box below).

The popular festival gets the community excited about reading.

“After each author event, we hear from our audience members that they have found an author they now love, whose work they would have never read or known about before,” says Gwen James, the festival coordinator. “(They’ve) been given something to think about, some concept, idea, epiphany, revelation, etc.”


Note: Admission to all upcoming LitFest events is free.

Judith Roche, Poetics of Place workshop
When: 7 p.m. tonight (May 17)
Where: HUB Main Stage, Columbia Basin College

Augusten Burroughs, author of This is How
When: 7 p.m. May 23
Where: Gjerde Center, Columbia Basin College

Garth Stein, author of The Art of Racing in the Rain
When: 7 p.m. May 31
Where: Gjerde Center, Columbia Basin College

About the Book
When: 6 p.m. June 5
Where: Bookwalter Winery

Writing Competition awards ceremony
When: 7 p.m. June 7
Where: HUB Main Stage, Columbia Basin College

James says LitFest also inspires people to get involved with writing themselves.

The festival includes events to draw in young people. Local high-school and college students participate in a writing competition, which has categories for best short story, creative nonfiction and poetry. Earlier, the festival also held the regional finals for the Poetry Out Loud high-school recitation competition, which had more than 1500 competitors this year.

During the festival’s About the Book events, local book lovers suggest good reads to a lively audience at a local winery. As the night goes on, these book recommendations often spark other discussions about broader topics.

Author readings also tend to act as jumping off points for larger community discussions. In the past, a reading from Pete Fromm’s How All This Started began an audience discussion about mental illness within families. A reading by Sherman Alexie prompted a conversation about the issues that face minority students.

The participants in these events are as diverse as the events themselves.

“We have second language learners at our events who have never read a book in English before but are struggling, on their own, to get through books by these authors in order to learn,” James says. “We have community leaders at our events whose presence and support for our events sends a clear message to people that reading is important, and that what you read might be even more important.”

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