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 and editors and publishers and booksellers. She’s an author and an event coordinator and 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 writer, creating the possibility to inexorably alter the course of a career. She’s organized conventions and a popular series of writing retreats called Writers Weekend 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, September 9th. Junker just started planning the festival at the beginning of the summer, 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 in July, Junker told me she was “adding [authors] and sponsors every day.”
“I’m a big fan of the writing community, especially in our region,” Junker 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 and food trucks and theatrical performances. 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 and 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.