Jane Rotonda opens new chapter as Director of Wisconsin Book Festival | Entertainment
Leo Tolstoy is not coming to the Wisconsin Book Festival this year, much to the chagrin of Jane Rotonda. As the festival’s new director, Rotonda is spending her free time reading the 19th-century Russian novelist’s 1,296-page opus “War and Peace” for the first time.
“My approach is slow and steady,” Rotonda said. “It’s not like I have to, but to really immerse yourself in it, take it in small pieces so you can enjoy it without being a heavyweight. Literally as well as figuratively. »
Rotonda is also taking a slow and steady approach to her new job, which she started last month. Former festival director Conor Moran had already scheduled all of the author events for the spring before taking on the role of executive director of the Madison Public Library Foundation. This gave Rotonda time to observe the festival events in action and to start thinking about future programming. As the Wisconsin Book Festival takes place over four days in October, the Madison Public Library marks all of its book events as part of the festival.
Rotonda, a journalism graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a producer at Wisconsin Public Radio, said the position was a dream job for her.
“I don’t think I could have even dreamed this up,” Rotonda said. “It’s so exciting. It’s all about timing, location and interests and it kind of all falls into a really good place. I’m very grateful.”
Rotonda spoke with the Cape Times about her love of libraries, her experience in public radio, and the importance of bringing writers and readers together in the same room.
Tell me about your background. I feel a lifelong love of reading here.
One thing that was quite formative was that I grew up within walking distance of our local library in Grand Haven, Michigan. I had this library card and it was so powerful. And I think my parents also kind of instilled this idea that books are powerful, and that they can be a tool to access a world that you don’t know, or that isn’t familiar, that it either real or imaginary. And so between those two things, it was a happy space for me.
Did you dream of becoming an author or working in publishing?
I landed on a major in journalism because of reading and because of the importance I feel for stories. I would study at the Memorial Library. If you know the campus, it’s like the “serious” library. It’s a beautiful space. Where I think bookcases are special is that you get that quiet space that can be that little pocket that belongs to you. And you can focus on what you need to focus on.
Where did you go after college?
I moved to New York. Personal dream. I bought a one-way ticket. Just one of those things you do after you finish college. It was wonderful.
I spent a few years there, then my partner who is a doctor went to medical school here, so we came back. I worked at the Children’s Museum and did a few other nonprofit freelance gigs, including one on Wisconsin Public Radio. I started helping out here and there, and eventually got a job as an on-air fundraiser. So I’m already using skills in this job that I used there. It was very good training for that.
After feeling that I had given my all to the development world within WPR, I moved into programming. I was the executive producer of the Larry Meiller show, and I did programs and special projects for the Ideas Network as a whole.
This skill set has ingrained in me that the audience experience is above all else. The book festival is free and open to the public, so the public should enjoy their experience and get something out of it. So between those two things, I’ve covered the details and the organizational stuff, as well as the outside aspects of, what programs and conversations do we want to have? And what programs are important to our community?
It fits so much with what matters to me. I keep telling people, “I have to go to the library to work!”
How have things gone so far?
Conor had already scheduled the spring, so I’m stepping into an incredible spring lineup of immense diversity, between the actual demographics of the authors, the content of the book, as well as the actual topic. He kind of knocked it out of the park for this spring.
So, I feel like, “This is how we do this. This is the caliber of what we have put in place. And then I can take stock and say, “That’s great, what about that?” And start imagining things for the fall party.
How to program a festival, or even a series like spring, and promote diversity in every sense of the word?
A critical part of that is that I’m behind every decision in terms of the writer’s programming. So I have the full scope of…we have these events, like we have four women and two men and three people of color. I think it’s helpful to have someone sort of behind it all and to have an umbrella image.
Another thing that serves the diversity mission well is our partnerships. The key partnerships for the book festival are endless: creative writers at UW across the Humanities Center, across all the different cultural studies, programs and all those specific sectors within the university, but also across our community. Accessing all these partnerships and making myself available for all these partnerships is another way to diversify the programming.
For me it is super important. Of course, the author, the content of the book is important. But the audience is really important too. Who is in this audience? And why are they there? And how and who is not in this audience? And why aren’t they? Asking these questions is at the top of my mind.
Are there other types of events that you think could fall under the festival?
I am quite attached to the pillars of what the book festival is. It’s about the books, it’s about the authors, it’s about having that open conversation and dialogue. I think there are some interesting ways to wrap up different bands and have different events and partners in a creative way. But at the end of the day, I really want the Wisconsin Book Festival to maintain its primary mission and purpose. You don’t want to try to make it sound like “It’s going to be a concert!” or “It’s going to be a dance!” or “It’s going to be a workout!” We’re going to talk about books.
So what is the value of an author who stands up and tells people about his book?
It’s hard to quantify, but I would say it’s the quality of bringing people together in a room to have a conversation around a central idea or topic. It’s all about perspective and sharing. And I think the value of the focus on the author and the book is that it’s something that all kinds of perspectives, from different backgrounds can come together and find appreciation and action through.