Monday, September 28, 2009

Book Festival Recap

It was a long day at the National Book Festival on Saturday. Despite being marred by rain, it was still very crowded, and there were some great talks.

My two favorite talks were by Mark Kurlansky and Junot Diaz. Kurlansky was there to talk about The Food of a Younger Land, which compiles pieces written as part of the Federal Writers’ Project, a New Deal program. The Project sent a bunch of writers out to chronicle the way Americans were eating in the 1940s, but due to the war, the writings were never published. I had wanted to read this book already, but listening to Kurlansky discuss it made me want to bump it to the top of my to-read list.

Junot Diaz, wearing a hooded sweatshirt, jeans and sneakers, is the kind of cool friend I want to have. I read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao about six months ago and loved it, so it was great to hear him about talk about it. He also talked about breaking free of the expectations that others place upon us ("adulthood does not mean coming of age, but putting aside alien dreams and pursuing our own") and how he reconciled the expectations that came with his Dominican identity with what he wanted to do with his life.

Some of the participants in the project are above: Scieszka at left, Stephen Kellogg in the middle, then Nikki Grimes and DiCamillo.

Another highlight was the kickoff of the Exquisite Corpse Adventure, a project undertaken by a group of notable children's authors (Jon Scieszka, Kate DiCamillo, Katherine Paterson, Gregory Maguire, Daniel Handler, and a lot more) and illustrators, in which they each write or illustrate a section of the story. A new part of the story is available every two weeks on, and you can see Scieszka's part up there now. Each author described his or her portion of the story, and when Kellogg got up to draw his character, who he said is "so large, so terrifying, I hesitate to describe him!" Scieszka shouted out "it's Dick Cheney!"

I also sat in on Annette Gordon-Reed's talk, Sharon Creech's reading and DiCamillo's individual reading.

This was my third year attending (I don't know why I didn't go the first year I lived in the D.C. area), and each year is better. While I wish that people would leave the strollers and puppies at home, and that tents weren't sometimes so crowded you can't even see the author, it's far and away one of my favorite D.C. events, and the lineup is always so impressive.


  1. Weird! I was just in DC for a wedding over the weekend, and I saw these tents (I didn't get a chance to stop in). But it looks like it was a great time.

    Here in Vancouver, we're gearing up for the Writers Festival at the end of October--exciting!

  2. That sounds so exciting! If you're attending, I'd love some coverage on here!