By Heidi Simmons
It’s time to add the Rancho Mirage Writers Festival to the list of top Coachella Valley events.
Held last week, over three days in three venues with 40 authors and 800 attendees, the Second Annual Writers Festival solidified its status as an important as well as fun and fabulous festival.
The Rancho Mirage Writers Festival now takes its place among the Palm Springs International Film Festival and the Coachella Music Festival, creating a significant cultural trifecta with equal appeal and status.
Doubling its size from last year with twice the number of attendees and authors, the Writers Fest drew five Pulitzer Prize winners and two National Book Award winners.
“The reaction has been great,” said Jamie Kabler, Festival Founder. “It’s the enthusiasm and the appreciation of those attending. We have a very smart audience.”
To say Kabler is an energetic guy is an understatement. On day two, he wore a pale blue shirt, Bermuda shorts, blue suede shoes and a whistle, which he used to get the crowd’s attention. After a shrill blow from the podium, the audience stopped talking in a flash and he graciously thanked the donors, the city, library personnel and everyone in the audience.
Just two summers ago, Kabler attended the Sun Valley, Idaho Writers Conference and was inspired to bring a similar event to Rancho Mirage.
“I knew that a writers festival would broaden the conversation and had the potential to be an important cultural event for readers of fiction and nonfiction,” wrote Kabler in the program. He also knew the valley’s warm weather would help draw talent.
David Bryant, Library Director said in his welcome note: “We decided to call our celebration a “writers festival” rather than a “writers conference” because it connotes an energy and joy rather than the formality and seriousness of a conference.”
Indeed, the fest was a joy for those who love to read and for those who love to write. Fiction and nonfiction authors shared not only insights about their books and narrative work but also their writing process.
This year the Festival celebrated American history, American humor and American celebrity. Actor Michael York and his wife, photographer Pat York spoke about their books, as did Candy Spelling and former Mayor of Los Angeles, Richard Riordan. Actor Laurence Luckinbill performed his one-man play “Hemingway.”
Added this year were moderators who brought their own expertise and acumen to the discussion, like Variety’s, Peter Bart, and Los Angeles writer and Pulitzer Prize winner Patt Morrison.
The Festival attracted locals, snowbirds and out-of-towners. A woman who lives in London bought a condo last fall in Rancho Mirage and when she joined the library, she received an email about the Writers Festival and immediately bought her ticket. The event sold out within a week of its announcement.
Abigail McGrath runs Renaissance House, a writer’s retreat in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, and is opening a retreat in the CV. She came to check out the literary talent and potential interest.
Each attendee was given a canvas tote with a matching notebook and pen. Guests filled their bags with author’s books and filled their notebooks with author’s wisdom.
Besides the Rancho Mirage Public Library, other venues included the Helene Galen Auditorium at the Annenberg Center for Health Science on the Eisenhower Medical Center campus and the Galen Performing Arts Center at Rancho Mirage High School.
The daytime events were held at the library while evening programs were held at the off campus venues.
The library was divided and organized into specific areas. There were three main lecture halls named for authors: Steinbeck, Didion and London. When the Didion and London rooms overlapped and overfilled with attendees on the first day, the library staff created a new space the next day bringing in 150 more chairs and audiovisual equipment to solve the problem.
Barnes and Noble took over the library conference room with a pop-up bookstore — part of the sales going to fund next year’s event. The authors had a designated signing table and the library provided authors a private lounge.
The foyer had a table with coffee, bottled water and hard candies to keep guest alert and happy throughout the day. In the center of the library, Constance Gordy played the grand piano during the break — her beautiful music wafted throughout the venue.
Even the parking lots were organized. Valet service was provided at the west end of the library and the front lot served as an alfresco dining area with brightly colored covered tables and umbrellas. Lunches were included with the ticket.
“The vibe is good and weather has assisted us,” said Bryant. “The staff here is just incredible. They love being here and they love their work.”
The library and festival staff graciously hosted what amounted to a great party with erudite, loquacious guests. The staff was plentiful and ready to assist. They dressed in matching shirts and had friendly smiles.
Next year’s event has already sold more than half the tickets. At this point, organizers plan to cap ticket sales at 800. So get your tickets now. This event is only limited by its space. Publicity is intentionally low-key because the event sells out almost immediately.
“We’ve already booked six authors for next year,” said Kabler. “They’re the best and the brightest.”
Kabler and his team, supported by the City of Rancho Mirage, Sponsors, Founding Angels, regular Angels and Friends, are a dedicated group of citizens who love books and value cultural content here in the CV. Together they have created one of the valley’s finest festivals.
“Last year we were finding our way. It was a bit more of an experiment,” said Bryant. “This year it is more polished, it is bigger and we know it’s for real and for a good long time.”