A Weekend of Firsts at the 2011 National Book Festival

It was a weekend of firsts for the National Book Festival and “Wiggles.”

For the first time, Wiggles rode on an escalator, the subway, went to Washington D.C., saw the Washington Monument, the Vietnam Wall Memorial, the National Mall, the National Book Festival, and Jill from Rhapsody in Books and her husband (forgive me I cannot remember his name — having a sleepy brain moment).  She also met the Cat in the Hat, a Honker from Sesame Street, and got her own first free books from a publisher, Penguin.

That leads me to the firsts for the festival.  For the first time in its 11-year history, it was held over two days. And both days were chock full of authors and activities, which made it even more worthwhile to go since one day was no better than the other, depending on your author preferences.

Additionally, while they have generously offered Library of Congress programs, bags, bookmarks, and audio samplers from classics, publishers do not frequent the festival and offer free books.  Imagine our surprise when Penguin was there offering giveaways of children’s books — which may be related to this year’s theme of reading aloud — in addition to all of their other fun activities for kids.  Wiggles was too young for the activities, but The Girl from Diary of an Eccentric had some fun making bookmarks.

Kelly Cherry--VA Poet Laureate

Another first for the festival was a tent on Sunday dedicated to the States’ Poets Laureate, though they only had poet laureates from Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C, California, and Maine.  They did indicate at the beginning of the program that it was an experiment to see how popular it would be.  It had a decent crowd for the poets we saw, Kelly Cherry (pictured above) and Stanley Plumly, (pictured below) who was introduced by the Architect of the Capitol — a big fan of his poetry. Unfortunately, we only heard bits and pieces from these two poets because Wiggles was in need of a diaper change, but I’ve read Plumly’s work before and Cherry’s presence gave me another poet to check out.

Stanley Plumly -- MD Poet Laureate

Most of the poetry I experienced was on Sunday, rather than Saturday, which we spent mostly wandering around with “Wiggles” to places like the Washington Monument to check out the cracks from the earthquake and the Vietnam Wall memorial. The only poet we heard read was Kimiko Hahn, who was a boring speaker. I haven’t read much of her poetry, but I have a feeling that its more academic than most and you’d have to spend time reading it on the page, rather than listening to it being read. I missed Rita Dove earlier in the day on Saturday, thanks to the lovely Metro track work.

Please check out the slideshow of the photos I took:

Sunday was the day I looked forward to all month — meeting Yusef Komunyakaa for the first time; I consider him a rock star of poetry to be honest. I did actually speak to him about my Vietnam Veteran uncle and writing for a bit, and learned there is an anthology being worked on with poetry from family members of Vietnam veterans, which would be incredibly interesting.

Yes, I picked up his new book. Yes, I was tongue-tied talking to him, and yes, I was in awe. So in awe, that I forgot to give him a business card for both Savvy Verse & Wit and War Through the Generations. Beyond that, hearing him read his poems in his own voice is just what I imagined it to be — each has a soul and a rhythm that you can imagine, but it is SO MUCH better to hear from the source.

Hence, my YouTube video for you of his recitation of Grenade:

I did upload another of his poems being read, but I didn’t catch the name of it and someone walked through my video, so you’ll have to ignore that if you check it out. The crowd to hear Yusef gives me hope that poetry has a wide audience that only has room to grow further. It was a packed audience, no empty chairs, and standing room only.

How was your experience?


  1. We all had a great time! I really wanted The Girl to have her pic taken with the Cat in the Hat, but she always did love Clifford, so he took first prize. LOL

  2. Sounds like you had a great time. I considered going to visit my sister in DC so I could go but not enough money and too much other stuff going on made it impossible.

  3. Dawn - She Is Too Fond of Books says

    I’m glad you made it in both days, and what full days they were! Believe it or not, Wiggles is likely easier to take out and about now than she will be when she’s in a stroller/walking.

    Fun to have a new book to add to her collection, and to pick up some new poetry for yourself. You might consider emailing Yusef Komunyakaa with a link to your nice post, and pointing him to the two web sites (? a thought, anyway).

  4. This sounds amazing — I am so jealous!!! I am literally falling over myself with envy at all the speakers and treats and general awesomeness (altho quite sad you missed Rita Dove — gah, that would have been incredible!). Also, that’s pretty much my dream, to do bookish events with a kid — so cute!

    Yusef Komunyakaa is new to me but wow — your vid has scrambling to look for his stuff at the library. I love poetry readings — it really changes the way the poem sounds!!

    • Oh, I just love his poems…his best are in Dien Cai Dau, in my humble opinion, but the new collection is great as well. Taboo has been on my list as well, though I don’t have that one. You can hear the rhythm in his poems most of the time — the beat…and it was fun to watch him tap his feet while he read and try real hard to keep his fingers from tapping.

      I missed Rita Dove, but she’s been in town previously, and I’m hoping she’ll be again…

      Yusef is the hard one to see most of the time…he was at AWP (writers conference), but I was in the hospital or near time to be in the hospital to give birth, so I didn’t think it was a good idea that I go to a convention in DC.

  5. So many amazing authors! It sounds like a fabulous event. And I love it that you brought Wiggles 🙂

    • There were a great list of authors, and the poets were good for the most part. I missed the Poetry Out Loud presentation of high schoolers this year, but it was worth it to get my books signed by Yusef Komunyakaa.

  6. Another awesome sounding literary weekend, and so fabulous that Wiggles got her first publisher freebies!

    • Wiggles was not phased by anything, except the people in the suits at the PBS tent…where she recognized the Cat in the Hat and the Honker.

  7. Wow! That sounds like a wonderful weekend! One of these years, I’m going to make it to the National Book Festival!