Heating up the Book Festival

There was virtually no style or medium of popular culture that Ethel Waters didn’t conquer over the course of her long career. From vaudeville to Broadway, blues to pop, drama to comedy, movies to television — Waters succeeded at them all.

“She broke so many barriers in the 20th century,” says author Donald Bogle. “I became concerned because it looked like she might slip through the cracks of history, that people might not realize all the things she accomplished and how important she really was.”

Bogle brings Waters forcefully back into the American consciousness with his fascinating biography, “Heat Wave: The Life and Career of Ethel Waters.” He’ll discuss the book tomorrow (7:30 p.m., Festival Main Stage) as part of the Free Library’s Philadelphia Book Festival.

The Chester-born Waters proved both an influence and an innovator, breaking down barriers for those who came after her. “For black America during that earlier period, she was a great symbol of progress, endurance and fighting spirit,” Bogle says. “We see so many more African-American women having opportunities today: Beyonce, Jennifer Hudson, Halle Berry, Angela Bassett. But if we think back to when America was different, that Ethel Waters got to the point that she did is all the more amazing.”

Other highlights

» Tina Fey. Tonight, 7:30
Forget about it: The talk and the simulcast and the simulcast of the simulcast are long since sold out, but maybe you can pay someone to tell you how sharp and funny the “30 Rock” mastermind was. She’ll be discussing and signing her new book of essays, “Bossypants.”

» “La Belle Epoch”
Thursday, 6 p.m. Local poet Thomas Devaney hosts an evening of 20th-century French poetry — complete, we’re told, with an absinthe bar to set the mood.

» David Foster Wallace’s “The Pale King” Friday, 6 p.m. Ken Kalfus will talk about his friend Wallace and the late author’s unfinished final work, which he toiled at for 10 years before his 2008 suicide. The book, about an IRS agent, will be published on Friday, April 15 – Tax Day.

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