Karen Junker is well-connected in the literary community: Talk to her for five minutes and you’ll realize that she knows hundreds upon hundreds of agents, editors, publishers, and booksellers. She’s an author, an event coordinator, an editor, and an unpaid publicist—someone who “likes to introduce people that will help other people.”
Junker says one of her favorite things to do is to organize events that place a famous writer next to a lesser-known one, creating the possibility of inexorably altering the course of a career. She’s organized conventions, a popular series of writing retreats called Writers Weekends, and all sorts of other literary events. And now she’s expanding her scope event further with Readerfest, a free family-friendly book festival at Magnuson Park on Saturday. Junker started planning the festival only in July, but she’s filed with Washington’s Secretary of State for nonprofit status and the whole thing came together with meteoric speed. In a phone interview just after planning began, she said she was “adding [authors] and sponsors every day.”
“I’m a big fan of the writing community, especially in our region,” she told me. “I started Readerfest because the Northwest Bookfest was so cool, and I feel that this is something I can do to organize a little tiny thing to build that back up again.” She admitted to being “scared” by how quickly Readerfest grew after announcing it, but she told me that the secret to putting on a good event is that “you get good people who you know can talk about what they do.” If that happens, “I don’t have to manage that. It takes care of itself.”
Inclusivity is important to Junker. Readerfest will feature an indigenous arts tent, and there will be talks by local Native artists. There will be spaces for kids, food trucks, and theatrical performances, and the festival will feature conversations about “cultural appropriation in literature and race and gender representation in steampunk.” Headliners include local novelist (and Seattle Review of Books columnist) Nisi Shawl, author of the Seattle-set “Clockwork Century” series Cherie Priest, former Seattle Youth Poet Laureate Angel Gardner, and novelist Kathleen Alcala.
Readerfest doesn’t look to be as polished as Bookfest used to be, but that’s not necessarily a problem: Junker’s aesthetic is to get a whole bunch of people into one space and find out what happens. That concept—a space where aspiring authors can mingle with editors, agents, and playwrights, and authors from different genres can compare notes—is more appropriate for Seattle’s literary scene than the giant commercial corporate monolith that Bookfest became at the end of its short life.
In the end, Junker told me, she wants to put on an event that will connect people to books that they’ll love. “I just felt the need in the community for this kind of event—one that’s family-friendly but not exclusive of any genre. I’m a fan of all types of writing, and there’s a reader for everything,” she says.
Magnuson Park, 6344 N.E. 74th St., reader fest.com. Free. All ages. 11 a.m. Sat., Sept. 9. Paul Constant is co-founder of The Seattle Review of Books. Read books coverage at seattlereviewofbooks.com.