Conor Moran


My day job is director of the Wisconsin Book Festival at theMadison Public Library. I’ve been running the book festival since 2013, which was the point when the library took over the festival from the Wisconsin Humanities Council. I’m actually an employee of the Madison Public Library Foundation. I handle the myriad details involved in bringing authors to our festival each year.

My path to books was a bit circuitous. I was a huge reader and had always wanted to work in a bookstore but never had. I went to law school and thought “I’m going to be a lawyer for 40 years. I don’t think I’ll come out of that and work at a bookstore—I should do it now.”

I got a job at Politics and Prose, which is an independent bookstore in Washington D.C. and one of the 10 best booksellers in the country—it was kind of like going from being a high school football player to playing for the Packers. I did it for a month and realized, “This is my job.”

Politics and Prose hosted 400 author events a year; I was there for about three years and did about 1000 events. That gave me an understanding for the industry and the process and was excellent preparation for this role.

Although there’s a tremendous amount of consciousness that libraries are changing, there’s no reason to doubt the vitality of the library. I don’t think you can overstate how much it has to offer if you take part. If you spent a month just going to library programming, you’d have a breadth of experience you couldn’t get anywhere else: help with tax prep, a blood drive, a movie night, a TED talk, maps, local history. And, of course, books.

The library IS all things to all people and anyone can participate in the life of library almost every day of the year. There’s really no other free space that offers that.

I’m really excited about the authors we’ll be seeing over the next year. The number of voices and what those voices are talking about is the widest net of representation we’ve ever cast.

My most memorable caffeine was the coffee I drank just before taking the New York State bar. I was studying for the bar and drinking a lot of coffee—I was up to 90 oz. a day, shaking and really jittery.

One morning, about three weeks before the bar, I decided I was going to quit cold turkey. I’d have the worst headache of my life for two weeks, then go back to drinking less. My wife wasn’t convinced I could pull it off, but I was committed.

I went to my bar study group. The way it worked is that a professor would give a lecture in New York, record it, put it on a DVD and mail it to the satellite spots. So the time from when it was recorded to when we heard it was about a week.

I was in the session, the professor was droning on and I was wildly taking notes. Suddenly he said “I’m going to break in here.” In the study session, all the heads went up like meerkats, “What’s going on?”

He said “Today’s the day you’ve woken up and said today’s the day I’m going to join the gym or quit smoking. Or stop drinking coffee.

I thought, “I did that this morning.”

He said “Absolutely don’t do that. Do whatever it is that got you here—no matter what it is. You stay up all night, great. You get up at 5:00. Whatever. You keep doing that. The day after the bar, do whatever you want. If you do this to yourself now you will fail the bar exam.”

The man on the DVD said don’t stop. So I drank coffee for three more weeks. It worked: I passed the bar.

My current caffeine of choice depends on the time of day. Before 10 a.m., I can have an espresso. But after 10 a.m. I have to switch to decaf espresso or I’ll fall asleep then be wide awake at 2:00 a.m.

My favorite place for caffeine is Café Domestique on Willy Street. I used to come in here a lot when I worked from home and became good friends with the owner, Dan. My wife and I own a business in the neighborhood, Table Wine, and we’re very supportive of local businesses. Plus, we’re big coffee fans and Café Domestique has excellent coffee.

The person I’d love to share a cup of caffeine with is Margaret Atwood. I’ve met her a couple times through work and she’s infinitely fascinating. She understands the world in a way most people don’t.

Last time she was here, a few years ago, I said something about energy use and running out of fuel. Margaret said something along the lines of not bothering to worry about that because we’re going to run out of precious metals long before that happens and none of our devices will work.

And then at our festival last year, one of our authors had written a book all about this and I thought “How did Margaret Atwood already know about this two years before the book came out?”

That’s my apocalypse plan: Just figure out whatever Margaret Atwood is worried about and worry about that.

World problem that could be solved with the right amount of caffeine:  I don’t have a specific problem, but I like the fact that with caffeine I can have the energy and the will to tackle whatever it is that needs doing—whether it’s cleaning my garage or handling author logistics. Caffeine helps me get to that sweet spot.