Walking into writer Joe Posnanski’s home office, it would appear that he’s a Harry Houdini superfan. Seemingly every inch is covered in Houdini posters, figurines and other memorabilia.
But it didn’t always look like a tornado of niche magician fandom hit.
“I was looking for my next book, and I had this idea to write about wonder,” said Posnanski, an award-winning sports journalist and New York Times bestselling author. “That didn’t fit within sports, and then this question came to mind: why do we still know who Harry Houdini is 100 years later? … I didn’t really have an idea why he’s so big and the most famous magician in the world.”
The quest to answer that question resulted in “The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini,” a nonfiction book that hits shelves Oct. 22 – unless you’re going to Laramie County Library Foundation’s Booklovers Bash Oct. 18.
Guests at the annual fundraiser – at which Posnanski will be the speaker – will have the opportunity to buy hardcover copies of his latest work before anyone else in the country, which was actually a beautiful accident.
Event chairwoman Rachelle Zimmerman said the group invites a celebrated author to speak at the bash every year, and someone on the foundation board recommended Posnanski because the group has never hosted a sports writer. It wasn’t until talking to the author and his team that the new book was brought up, and the group decided this would be a great way for Posnanski to kickstart publicity for the new work.
“Our goal is to have them (authors) as local as possible because they draw a nice crowd. But when you have someone like Joe who has national appeal and a large base of readers, it’s all about pulling in the most attendees,” Zimmerman said of his appeal as a speaker.
“We’re thrilled,” added Foundation Director Kristi Wallin. “In Cheyenne, there are so many great opportunities to support so many different organizations, but we work really hard to create a really fun, entertaining and valuable experience for the people who come to the Booklovers Bash.”
Posnanski has never been to Cheyenne, so he said he’s excited for the event and the chance to share his writing process.
Attendees will gain insight into the process of writing the book, from inception to publication and all the fun and unexpected happenings in between (including a trip to Las Vegas to meet David Copperfield and see his personal collection of Houdini artifacts, part of what is often considered the largest archive of magic paraphernalia in the world).
Posnanski had no connection to the world of magic prior to writing this book – other than his love of doing card tricks for his daughters, that is – so he said he had to start from scratch in terms of research and finding sources. After a cold email to Copperfield and his team, he quickly dove into the whimsical world of magic experts.
“The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini” was actually finished nearly a year ago, but Posnanski’s team decided to wait and release it around Halloween because of the air of creepiness surrounding many of the magician’s acts and his connection to the holiday (he eerily died on Halloween). Posnanski said he’s been itching for the chance to finally get it out to the public, so he’s particularly looking forward to doing so at the bash.
“I love this part of it,” he said. “Sharing this is so much fun. Writing a book is so solitary … you’re just in a room by yourself trying to make this come alive, and you think it’s pretty good when you’re done with it … and you never really know, so then you take it out into the world and some people like it and some don’t.”
Other than a jam-packed silent auction (which attendees will have an additional half hour to bid during this year) and Posnanski’s much-anticipated book talk and signing, Zimmerman is looking forward to her other favorite Booklovers Bash tradition – one that has women taking off their heels in the middle of the fundraiser: the dessert dash.
“It’s sort of the crowning jewel of the bash,” she said. “Everyone bids as a table, and the table that bids the most gets their name announced, and a representative runs up to get the dessert. As that person gets up to run, the next person is announced, so it’s truly a dash for the dessert that you want.”
“There are fewer desserts than there are tables, so that’s why you have to dash!” Wallin added.
Speakers and mad dashes aside, it’s the people who support the event that make it special, Zimmerman said, adding that sponsors often give the tickets they can’t use to library staff – a rare act in the world of philanthropic events.
“They support those people who work so hard for our library and let them have a fun evening out,” Wallin said.