Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Everything You Want to Know About Stacy Schiff at Milwaukee Public Library's Centennial Hall, Tuesday, October 4, 7 pm.

One of the biggest hits of 2010, at least at Boswell, was Stacy Schiff's Cleopatra: A Life. After winning the Pulitzer Prize for Vera (Nabokov), being shortlisted for said prize Saint-Exupery, and winning countless other prizes for A Great Improvisation, Schiff finally found a popular biography subject that would take her talents to new levels of success.  Some would say Benjamin Franklin of A Great Improvisation is a similarly worthy character, but Schiff's biography came after a string of popular Franklin tomes, and it being Franklin in France, it didn't necessarily have the same kind of widespread appeal as some of the other Franklin bios.  Now at Boswell, a Franklin in France bio would have been a runaway bestseller.  You know how we are about anything that remotely involves Paris.

Michiko Kakutani offered this praise in The New York Times: " As she did in “Véra: Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov,” her Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, Ms. Schiff also demonstrates a magician’s ability to conjure the worlds her subject inhabited with fluent sleight of hand." and Cleopatra went on to lauded by said paper as one of the top ten books of the year.

So it was a wonderful honor when we were offered the opportunity to host Ms. Schiff on her Milwaukee visit for the paperback of the book.  Schiff sold out venues all over the country for the hardcover edition of this book. Below Tavis Smiley discussing Cleopatra with Stacie Schiff.  I'm sure you'll see be marking off your calendar for our event, which is Tuesday, October 4, 7 pm.

Watch the full episode. See more Tavis Smiley.

Liz  from Little, Brown and I pondered all kinds of venues for her talk.  In the end, we wanted to hit the most people we could, and decided to not have any barriers to entry, so we went with Centennial Hall at the Milwaukee Public Library. We're co-sponsoring the event with the Friends of the Milwaukee Public Library too, and like all our library events, we tithe our book sales to this cathedral of learning.

The hall holds 700, with another 100 folks able to listen in the overflow area. We decided not to ticket the event, with the caveat that folks would know that we would close the hall when we reached capacity.  Will that happen?  It hasn't happened to me yet with an author event, though back at Schwartz, we had an overflow crowd for Jon Krakauer.  I think if we're prepared for that possibility, we'll be just fine. I'm saying to you now not to come at the last minute.

Several weeks after we settled on an event venue, we found out that the popular Cleopatra touring exhibit would be opening at the Milwaukee Public Museum just two weeks after the talk. Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt is an exhibit from National Geographic, and will open at the Museum on October 14. The exhibit highlights nearly 150 artifacts of her reign, and has been wowing audiences in many cities around the country.  Tickets are available now; buy them here.

I don't read too many biographies, but who could resist Cleopatra?  I think sometimes its just a question of alloting time; I have so many books to read, and biographies, to really appreciate them, need careful reading. Schiff packs so much detail into her story, and there's a lot of contemplation too.  This woman led a great power in her teens, and held onto her power despite family treachery, and Rome's desire to expand their empire.  She kept not one but two great men--Julius Caesar and Marc Anthony.  She built back Egypt's coffers from near ruin, and helped revive Alexandria's cultural greatness.

I read it. It took me several weeks to devour it.  It was worth it.

It's clear that anyone interested in seeing this event will get more out of it by reading Cleopatra first.  And I'm not just saying that because Schiff, in another life, was a great editor who was responsible for one of my favorite books of all time, Elinor Lipman's Then She Found Me.


To get the word out, we've got to pull out all the stops:
1) We'll have a special single-event email going out this week.

2) There will be a wee bit of public radio underwriting.

3) We're doing a feature Journal Sentinel ad this Sunday**, also featuring our other two high-profile events for October, Dava Sobel at Discovery World on October 19 and Jeffrey Eugenides at Boswell on October 23. We certainly have plenty of other high-profile events, but to just note one, Jon Katz, our partnership with the Humane Society is already getting the word out, and we already have some nice press in place.  My big fear on our event for Meet the Dogs of Bedlam Farm (October 6, here's the link for tickets) is that it will be oversold.  The Humane Society space fits 150 people--I could probably fit more in the bookstore, but come on, it's so much cooler to be at the Humane Society.

But I digress. Stacie (not the author, the Boswellian, they are spelled differently) also put together a great window.  As always, there's a lot of glare and the photo didn't come out well, but you get the message.

I'm also trying to put signs up around town.  Today you might have spotted me on a ladder at Beans and Barley (also had lunch there, also ordered catering for our rep night this Sunday.  I highly recommend poppy seed torte as a sheet cake) and I hope to place the sign at a few more high-profile places.  Want to help? Come by Boswell and pick up a sign from us.

So you're probably thinking, Daniel, you're not forcing the sale (it's the library, we don't do that there), it's a paperback, how are you going to make back the money you're investing in this event?*

And I would say, we're talking about Stacy Schiff here.  This is the kind of event I dreamed that Boswell would be doing.  An amazing speaker, an incredible book, an event that folks will be talking about for months.  I love when folks come by the store, still whistfully talking about T.C. Boyle, Christopher Moore, Geraldine Brooks, Sherman Alexie, or Ann Patchett. I like to think maybe they made a few extra trips to Boswell because it triggers those happy memories, or cements our relationship.  I think Stacy Schiff's talk will do the same.  I'm hoping!

*Buying the book from us helps give us the track record to get more events like this to Milwaukee? Do you want to hear Pulitzer Prize winners speak in Milwaukee? Of course you do!

**There was a little confusion about the ad deadline with our new rep and the ad will now be in the Cue section on Sunday, October 2.

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