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'Coming-of-age Party" 

When organizers of the first-ever New Orleans Bookfair boast "publishers, zinesters, art bookmakers, writers, booksellers, culture jammers, activists, anarchists, painted women and confidence men" as participants, they're covering just some of the bases.

The event is free-wheeling and open-ended by design, with a wide variety of interests and activities represented. Built upon the initial design of Babylon Lexicon founder Myrtle von Damitz's shows catered mostly to artists' books, it has expanded to encompass a gathering of small, independent book publishers from across the country, including industry stalwarts such as Soft Skull Press and City Lights. Rounding out its offerings are a number of readings, workshops and concerts at various venues across the city.

"Behind this madness," event organizers state, "is a coalition of local publishers, artists and writers who are ready to show that there is a strong literary community in New Orleans, and that New Orleans is worthy of publisher's marketing dollars, attention and even relocation." The group adds a description of the book fair as "a literary happening that only New Orleans could produce, a vibrant coming-of-age party for an independent industry that has its roots in the social protest movement of the last 90 years." So, in a melange of artistry, anarchy, local flair and a respect for books and activism, the New Orleans Bookfair begins.

The weekend kicks off with three events on Friday, Oct. 25. Fiction Collective II from Florida is sponsoring a reading at Mythique (1135 Decatur St.) including local writer C.W. Cannon and Gorsky Press' Rich Mackin, who returns to New Orleans after a successful reading of his patented "corporate defense poetry" at Zeitgeist this spring. At 8 p.m. is a screening of Horns and Halos, a documentary on the efforts of Soft Skull Press to publish the incendiary book Fortunate Son, a detailing of alleged cocaine use and shady business dealings by President George W. Bush (St. Martin's Press of New York scrapped and recalled the book). A workshop and discussion titled "Post-Left Anarchism" with Anarchy magazine's Jason McQuinn will held at the A.R.K. (511 Marigny St.) at 7 p.m.

Following these kick-off events, the New Orleans Bookfair will be held at Barrister's Gallery (1724 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.) on Saturday, Oct. 26 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The day's events, which are all free and open to the public, kick off with a panel discussion on the issue of illiteracy in New Orleans, featuring public school teacher Jim Randels, Café Reconcile program manager Jennifer Page and others, sponsored by New Breed New Orleans. Following the seminar are readings by Chris Champagne, Dennis Formento and Sean Carswell. Throughout the day, publishers and artists will exhibit their books and works for sale. The book fair also includes food, drinks and videos -- as well as musicians, stilt-walkers and clowns.

The book fair features a much-anticipated debut: French Quarter Fiction: Newest Stories of America's Oldest Bohemia by Josh Clark's Light of New Orleans Publishing. The compilation of fiction includes work by Ellen Gilchrist and Richard Ford, along with a previously unpublished work of Tennessee Williams, which Clark managed to obtain from the University of Texas.

"This piece by Williams is a short story very thinly veiled about him, his insomnia and living in the Quarter," Clark says. "I feel very fortunate to have published this work. It's very touching and revealing."

Other book fair highlights include the African-American Christian publisher Hi-Praise out of Dallas, New Orleans cartoonist Rob Walker and his acclaimed Titans of Finance: The True Tales of Money and Business, and the Ireland-based Wexford, considered the world's largest traveling exhibit of artists' books. Besides Light of New Orleans and sponsor Garrett County Press, New Orleans' upstart publishers New Mouth from the Dirty South will represent the locals in the industry.

Saturday night at Barrister's, Dennis Formento's Surregionalist Press sponsors a performance/reading by John Sinclair and the Blues Scholars. Later that night at the A.R.K., local zine distributors Holy Virility Distribution sponsors a bill of genre-busting acts including The Tennessee Valley Buttf--k Ramblers, This Bike Is a Pipe Bomb, Liberty Leg, and special guest DJ Assfault, starting at 8 p.m.

On Sunday afternoon, a cookout and zine showcase is scheduled for Nowe Miastro (223 Jane Place), a Mid-City collective living arrangement. Also on Sunday, the Autonomadic Circus Sideshow, a traveling exhibit of small-press publications that boasts of taking "self-published statements of dissent to small-town streets across the country" parks its offerings at Zeitgeist (1724 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.). For more information, see www.nolabookfair.com or call 598-4685.

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