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Reflections from a Festival Moderator

By Jay Rochlin / September 1, 2019

Hear experiences from seasoned moderator Jay Rochlin. Rochlin has been a festival moderator for nine years. He retired from the UA School of Journalism faculty in 2012 and before that was editor of the UA Alumni Magazine for 20 years.

Here are his reflections on this important volunteer job:

Every year I wonder whether I’ll be invited back.

So far, it’s been good. The beginning of December the email notice from Frank, Michelle, and David arrives.

“Dear Jay, Thank you for agreeing to be part of the 2019 Tucson Festival of Books as a Moderator.”

With some excitement and anticipation, I link to the “Festival Portal,” click, and find my name, my session and assignment. And, so begins a new adventure as a TFOB Moderator.

Sometimes my assignment is a challenge. Usually a good one. Every year creates insights, education and memories. I’ll share just one.

This year, my panel was titled, Fortified With Books. Books in which books were a major part of the story. What could be better?

There were three panelists. These were first-published books for all three authors. The books had only one thing in common: books. Otherwise, they could not have been more different from each other. The first was a novel. The second was a fun compilation suggesting alcoholic drinks to pair with your favorite classic books, and the third book was a memoir written by a reading teacher about her final year in the classroom.

One of the best things about being a moderator is getting to know your authors. You can exchange emails, speak on the phone, or even meet to discuss their books and what made them take all the time and effort to complete a whole book.

Just one example from last year’s session: Daphne Russell wrote “Read or Die.” It’s an account of her final year as a reading specialist at a Tucson middle school. Daphne got the tough kids, some of whom had never read a whole book. She could see where some of her kids were headed and it wasn’t good.

Some parts of her book brought me back to my own junior high school days. There were moments that were funny because they were so true. Also, other moments brought tears to my eyes, also because they were so true.

Lucky for me, Daphne lives in Tucson. We were able to arrange coffee at Exo Roast on 4th Ave.

During our two-hour visit I learned many things about her, her book and her students.

First, she really does believe that books save lives. Actually save lives. And that’s how she taught her students. Every day. She told me more stories about books and kids that didn’t make it into the book. And, dang! More tears.

I never would have known or felt any of that unless I had a chance to be a TFOB moderator.

David Nix, a member of the moderator committee, emailed asking if I would write this piece. He told me the committee wanted to add new people to their moderator pool. I said yes. However, my real thought was, “Oh no! I’m getting replaced by young blood.” Even though that’s hopefully not the case, I do encourage you to consider volunteering to moderate a session. It’s a fun and fulfilling experience.

Here’s a list of reasons you might like moderating for TFOB:

You get to be part of making Tucson’s most wonderful annual event a success.

  1. If you take the time, you can really immerse yourself in a subject.
  2. You get to meet interesting authors and ask them all kinds of questions while you prepare for your session.
  3. Family and friends think you’re important and after the session they all congratulate you for doing a great job.
  4. You get to hang out in the “green room” and meet other authors, including famous ones whose sessions you don’t get to moderate.
  5. You get a cool lanyard that holds a big laminated badge with your name on it in large letters identifying you as a VIP. Even though your session is only an hour long, you get to wear the badge all day, both days.
  6. You’ll have a million questions you’ll want to ask your authors, but even if you don’t, the committee provides you with a list that would take at least three hours to get through. Don’t worry, there won’t be any “dead air.”
  7. During the audience question and answer period, it’s cool when someone asks a really good question that you didn’t think of.
  8. Sometimes you will be able to get free books called “review copies.”

If all this sounds like a way you’d like to help TFOB be even better, all you have to do to be considered is fill out the moderator interest survey to let them know you’d like to participate. If they have a spot for you, you’ll get an email with information on how to accept it—remember to check your SPAM folder, as emails occasionally find their way into the wrong folder.

Jay Rochlin

Named Sponsors

Arizona Daily Star
University of Arizona

Presenting Sponsors

Tucson Medical Center

Major Sponsors

Friends of the Festival
Pima County Public Library
Stocker Foundation
University of Arizona BookStores
University of Arizona - Facilities Management
Western National Parks Association

Key Sponsors

Marshall Foundation
Arizona Party Rental Companies

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