Annual Printers Row Lit Fest held for the first time since the start of pandemic

By Olivia Cohen, Staff Reporter

Lit Fest attendees gather around a booth looking for a new read. Abra Richardson

When Bette Cerf Hill founded the Printers Row Lit Fest in 1985, she had no idea that the book fair would turn into a staple event for the Printers Row neighborhood in the South Loop near Columbia.

Now, 36 years later, the event has stood the test of time, as it lived through a pandemic and has been enjoyed by generations of downtown Chicago residents and people from throughout the city.

“I think it’s wonderful,” Hill said, regarding the various groups of people who come out to enjoy the event. “We wanted to bring books and literature out into the open. You’ll see when you go there, [that] there is a whole different atmosphere. There’s just people noodling around reading books, looking for treasures. It’s just a very pleasant, sweet atmosphere.”

The event, which typically takes place on South Dearborn Street in June, was canceled last summer due to COVID-19 and postponed until September 11-12.

Hill said because of the pandemic, there “was no other way” to host the event, even in a virtual format.

Traditionally held in the early stages of summer, turnout among college students at the South Loop festival has been lower than other demographics.

“Because we’ve always had it in the second week of June, it’s been very problematic for the college people to have much to do with it,” Hill said. “A lot of times they’re out [of town] by then, or they’re wildly involved in finals and whatnot.”

Javier Ramirez, co-owner of Exile in Bookville at 410 S. Michigan Ave. and the Lit Fest’s program director, agreed and said although this year college students were in town, the weekend coincided with the Pitchfork music festival.

“It is a little difficult [this year] because we’re the same weekend as the Pitchfork music festival, so that diverse, dynamic crowd might not be attending Printers Row,” Ramirez said.

Ramirez said this year was unique because Lit Fest brought in a panel of “BookTokers,” which are a group of TikTok users who create content called “BookToks.” Ramirez said that by bringing in the “BookTokers” for the first time, Lit Fest hoped to draw in a younger crowd.

“The festival always tries to think younger, and every year we bring in a diverse group of writers,” Ramirez said. “We [have] found that the books that we represent are the books that college students want to read and buy.”

One of the many booths at the festival was occupied by DePaul University’s graduate program in Writing and Publishing.

Rebecca Johns Trissler, an associate professor and the director of the graduate program in Writing and Publishing at DePaul, has worked for the booth and promoted DePaul students’ literature at Lit Fest for four years.

“Part of what we are doing is getting our books into people’s hands. Because our books are distributed free, people don’t always realize it, so if we’re here, and we can hand them out, that kind of increases the understanding of our projects,” Trissler said. “[This is] also outreach for our graduate program, but that’s a secondary concern.”

DePaul University is not alone in that respect, as several other Chicago colleges had booths, including Roosevelt University and Columbia.

Many booths publicized various publications, news networks and local shops with secondhand books for sale.

As of now, it is unclear whether the event will stay in September or move back to its usual date in June next year.

Ramirez said the event would be more successful if it stayed in the fall.

“Honestly, I think it’s better if it’s in the fall,” Ramirez said. “It’s better for booksellers, because [it’s] bigger and better. [Fall is] the big time of year for publishing. Hopefully, they keep it in this time frame.”