Filmmaker John Sayles reads at the Festival. Credit: Mary Cybulski

Once upon a time there was a princess who longed to participate in a literary event. She wanted to attend readings, discussions, panels, book signings, films, and conversations with famous authors. The Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference was in town, but it was sold out and rather expensive to begin with. (She wasn’t the richest princess.) So she fell into a deep sleep and dreamed of something free—free and entirely open to the public . . .

Perhaps the princess dreamed of Columbia College’s 16th annual Story Week Festival of Writers, which is free, public, and running March 18-23 in various locations, mostly in the South Loop. The theme this year: “surviving the American dream.”

The festival starts with a story workshop led by local novelist Shawn Shiflett (Sun 3/18, 2:30-5 PM, Columbia College, 624 S. Michigan) and a kickoff party featuring literary performance group 2nd Story and music by Seeking Wonderland (Sun 3/18, 6:30-9 PM, Buddy Guy’s Legends, 700 S. Wabash, 18+).

Other highlights: Portraits of an American Dream: The Female in Contemporary Fiction, a panel with writers Christine Sneed, Nami Mun, Bonnie Jo Campbell, and Samuel Park (Tue 3/20, 6 PM, Harold Washington Library, 400 S. State). For those whose dreams involve royalty checks there’s Beyond the Dream: What it Takes to Get Published, led by Booklist editor Donna Seaman and including publishing pros like Eli Horowitz of McSweeney’s (Wed 3/21, 2:30 PM, Harold Washington Library). Dagoberto Gilb and Achy Obejas discuss Latino lit in Surviving the American Dream at the Logan Square Art Center (Wed 3/21, 7 PM, 2810 N Milwaukee). And filmmaker John Sayles reads from his new historical novel, A Moment in the Sun (Thu 3/22, 1 PM, Film Row Cinema, Columbia College, 1104 S. Wabash).

Story Week closes with Chicago Classics, in which Chicago lit folk read their favorite Chicago authors (Fri 3/23, 6-8 PM, Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E Chicago, free reservations at mcachicago.org). Participants include poet Kevin Coval, novelist Audrey Niffenegger, and the Reader‘s own managing editor, Jerome Ludwig. How’s that for happily ever after?