If the number of festivals dedicated to books, authors, and all things literary are any indication, fall begins feast time in the written word world.
In Washington, D.C. you can attend the Library of Congress National Book Festival Sept. 22-23. President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama are honorary chairs for the event. In addition to more than 100 authors, you’ll find a Pavilion of the States which honors the literary traditions of each state and territory. It’s free.
In Lexington, you can catch food writer and memoirist Ruth Reichl, novelist Karen Joy Fowler, poet Kim Addonizio, and dozens more at the Kentucky Women Writer’s Conference, from Sept. 21-22.
Lit Crawl, “Where Literature Hits The Streets” takes over Manhattan this weekend, details here, and from the description on the website, I’d have to say this sounds like the most fun of all:
Lit Crawl was created by San Francisco’s Litquake literary festival back in 2004, and the idea was simple: let’s transform an ordinary bar crawl into a mob scene of literary mayhem. Could we take over a neighborhood, or two, add pop-up events to every venue that might allow it (bars, cafes, bookstores, theaters, galleries, clothing boutiques, furniture showrooms, parking lots, Laundromats, bee-keeping supply shops), invite dozens of authors to read from their work, and watch hundreds of literati tromp the route and get drunk on words — all for free? Not only was the concept wildly popular, we’ve had to expand it every year. San Francisco’s closing night Lit Crawl now attracts over 6,000 people, and is the world’s largest such event. In 2008 Lit Crawl NYC launched in Manhattan, also an immediate hit. Austin was next, swarming for the first time in 2011. And in 2012, we birthed two more Lit Crawls, one in Brooklyn, another in Seattle. For 2013 we are already in discussion to debut Lit Crawls in Los Angeles and Iowa City. Take literature to the streets!
Lastly, the Big Orange Book Festival debuts in Orange, CA, next weekend Sept. 21-22. Here you’ll find this Backyard Sister reading a mash-up and resurrection of poetry lines taken from dirtcakes, that beautiful literary magazine I edit. The result will likely surprise both of us.
So, if you’ve never been to a book festival, what should you expect?
1) Go with an open mind. Check out the authors who will be reading and pick out a name you’ve never heard before. Sit in on a short reading. Experiment by listening to an unfamiliar genre. Ask questions like, “Usually I read X, but you’ve gotten me intrigued with Y, do you have any suggestions of which authors, besides you of course, I might read to familiarize myself with the genre?” After the reading, stand in line and introduce yourself. Tell the author one thing you’ve taken away from the experience. Trust me, this little bit of gratitude will make both your days.
2) Talk to the authors standing in booths where books are sold. Truly there’s nothing worse than standing in front of a booth or a room dedicated to a reading and having no one acknowledge your presence. So say “hi.” Ask, “What’s new in your writing world? Which writers inspire you?” “If I could only purchase one of these books, which one would you recommend and why?”
3) Set a reasonable budget and buy at least one book or literary magazine. When you’ve finished reading, donate it to your local library with a little note inside explaining that you purchased it from a book festival. Encourage the reader who finds the note to attend the festival the following year. Maybe you’ll meet up with this stranger. Maybe you’ll talk. Maybe you’ll discover a new book pen pal, or something more.
4) Shyness, or not wanting to admit you’re unfamiliar with a writer you encounter, is perfectly fine. In fact, it will make me feel so much better about the time when I looked up all the children’s book writers living in Orange County and sent each a letter asking if anyone wanted to begin a writing group. I received my first response from Theodore Taylor. Imagine my chagrin when I read his terse response chastising me for having the audacity to send such a letter to the author of The Cay who most definitely did not have any interest in joining an upstart writing group. And, he added, I should learn the finest practitioners of my genre before I ventured into it. At least he took the time to write.
Let us know if you make to a literary festival this fall. You can even send us a picture. And if you’re anywhere near the Big Orange Book Festival, please stop by and say hello. I’ll be reading during the “10 at the Top” Series.
Happy Book Jubilating.