I've been going through my main book collection lately, trying to recall which authors I have actually seen at a reading or public lecture of some sort and, of this relatively short list, which authors did I have sign a book or two for me. I do have a small, even tiny, number of books that were bought with a pre-existing autograph, most recently Neil deGrasse Tyson's Death By Black Hole, though in that case, I did buy it from the gift shop at the Hayden Planetarium where he works, so it felt legit.
The literary world has changed substantially since I started going to readings in the tail end of the 80s, and you don't find nearly as many readings at book stores as one used to. There may be about as many (free) readings at major libraries and on college campuses, but I must admit that I am just not nearly as attuned to them as I once was. One thing that is relatively new is the rise of literary festivals, particularly in major cities like New York, Chicago, and Toronto where authors are packaged into panels and you can see two or three of them at once. However, in most cases, these are ticketed and paid events, and I just haven't felt any desire to pay to go see a reading. I'm sure it is my loss, but it feels like too much a betrayal of my conception of how the author and audience are supposed to relate to each other.
These are the ones I can recall, with a * if I did get an autograph:
Ann Arbor 1987-1991
Toni Morrison (delivering the Tanner Lecture rather than reading from her work, though her lecture does discuss The Bluest Eye and Sula)
There was a symposium the following day with Amiri Baraka among others commenting on the lecture
Tim O'Brien (I cannot recall if he read from The Things They Carried or The Nuclear Age, though probably the former)
Paul Auster (reading from The Music of Chance) * (he signed The New York Trilogy for me)
Jim Gustafson *
Alice Fulton *
Adrienne Rich * (I already told the story of how my signed copy of The Fact of a Doorframe was stolen, and I ultimately bought a different collection with a signature right after her death.)
Douglas Adams (reading from Dirk Gently, if I recall)
John Sinclair *
Jim Carroll * (Allen Ginsberg was supposed to be at this reading as well but cancelled. Such a shame.)
Grace Paley (I actually fainted towards the end of this reading, overwhelmed by some anecdote of Mary Shelley nearly bleeding to death after a miscarriage.)
I'm fairly sure I saw Charles Baxter and Ethan Canin reading (not at the same event), and this most likely would have been in Ann Arbor, but I can't be sure any longer. The downside of a life stuffed with events is that some fade from memory.
(During my NELP residence, we were supposed to meet with Jane Kenyon, but she was already too sick.)
Newark/New York 1991-93
Doris Lessing * (I suspect she read from The Fifth Child, but cannot swear to that. I had her sign a copy of The Good Terrorist, but I ultimately parted with it)
Haki Madhubuti *
Charles Simic *
Margaret Atwood * (I had her sign two poetry collections, which surprised her a bit)
Susan Swan *
Michael Ondaatje (I'm almost certain he read from The English Patient. Years later I had an opportunity to hear him read his poetry in Chicago but it didn't work out for fairly absurd reasons.)
I have a vague memory of seeing Timothy Findley reading or at least telling stories about the writing life, though it might have been in New York rather than in Toronto. I'll have to see if this made it into my journal at some point.
New York 1995
Robertson Davies (reading from The Cunning Man at the 92nd St. Y)
Patti Smith (this was a reading/happening in Central Park)
T.C. Boyle (I think this was in New York, which is his stomping ground, but it could have been Chicago a year or so later. I think he was promoting The Road to Wellville and read part of that, as well as a short story.)
Gwendolyn Brooks * (technically reading in Evanston; she signed a copy of Blacks)
Salman Rushdie (this appears to have been an event in 2009 when he read from The Enchantress of Florence at the Harold Washington Public Library)
Ann Choi (reading from Kay's Lucky Coin Variety at the Word on the Street Festival)
Kerry Clare (reading from Mitzi Bytes, though this was more of an interview than reading)
I'm sure I missed a few, but these are the readings I recall. (I am definitely sorry for any author whom I have forgotten. The fault is entirely mine.) I really have slowed down going to readings post-2000 and don't make a point of even seeing what readings are going on nowadays, though I am far more active in theatre circles. In addition to the disappointment in missing out on Ginsberg, Faye Kicknosway often came through Ann Arbor and gave a reading arranged by my poetry teacher, but not while I was there. I suspect I probably missed out on seeing Philip Levine read while I was living in Michigan (or worse, I went and the event has completely slipped my mind...). I would definitely have liked to see Robert Kroetsch read, though I don't know if he came through Toronto that often in the mid 90s.
It's awfully hard to rate/rank these. I think the rarity of going to a Salman Rushdie reading probably does put that up at the top, but I am awfully glad that I saw Douglas Adams and Robertson Davies read, as well as Adrienne Rich and Doris Lessing. Honestly, though, I appreciate any of these authors taking the time to go on the publicity tour and take the time to spend it with their readers and potential readers. I'll try to keep that in mind and at least open up a bit more to the possibility of going to more readings here in Toronto now that I am putting down more roots and integrating back into the literary community to a certain extent.