2008 National Book Festival Recap

This year’s 2008 National Book Festival weathered the rain! The day was overcast, but participation was high and the rain didn’t come until near the end of the festival. I wanted to share one comment we heard from tourists as we were leaving. The white tents were set up as pavilions for various genres as usual, closer to the end of the National Mall with the Capitol Building. Bunches of us were headed out of the National Mall and tourists were coming onto the Mall passing by us. A man said to the woman with him, “Hey, what’s that down there? A carnival.” My immediate response without thinking was, “Yes, it’s a carnival for book lovers.”

I want to share with everyone some photos I took and that my husband took of the poets in the Poetry pavilion. We also got a chance to take photos of Neil Gaiman and Tiki Barber as they signed books for other patrons of the festival. I thought I would share them since I’m sure they have fans out there. First, here’s a look at the abundant crowd in the poetry tent; it wasn’t as full as some of the other tents, but this signifies that interest in poetry is not dead.

The first poet we caught up with–since I missed the Poetry Out Loud segment–was the new U.S. Poet Laureate Kay Ryan, though her term in that office actually doesn’t start until Oct. 1. I’ll share with you two pictures, one of her being interviewed and one of her signing my book, The Niagara River. It was good to meet a fellow poet who is not into all the hoopla of becoming a top creative writing professor and who is more interested in just writing poetry and possibly improving the literacy of our country.

Traditionally, poet laureates have hailed from Ivy League schools and have careers teaching creative writing graduate degrees, but Ryan teaches at a community college and is engaged in improving literacy. She even commented about how her being an outsider may have helped her become Poet Laureate because there is a “romanticized” notion of the outsider in the United States. Moreover, she talked about how she came to poetry later on as a student and never believed herself to be a writer until a cross-country biking trip. In Colorado, she saw the Rockies and answered the question: Do you enjoy writing? And her answer was yes. She writes poems that are available to the reader in spite of their double meanings, allowing readers to see not only a surface meaning, but a deeper, emotional meaning as well. She is also a fan of Emily Dickinson, though she came to her through reverse psychology thanks to one of her teachers. Dickinson is one of my favorite poets as well.

A great many of her poems are short because she likes them that way. But she says that while they are small on the outside, there is much more beneath the surface. I found her to be witty and engaging, and I look forward to her tenure as U.S. Poet Laureate, though she does not have any specific plans in mind other than touting the need for 100 percent in funding for public libraries and their branches so that they can be open 7 days per week and longer hours.

One of the next poets we listened to was Eavan Boland who is from Ireland, though she lives in California and teaches at Stanford University. She focuses a great deal of her poetry on the differences between history and the past, where history is the recorded events and the past is something deeper and more nuanced. One of the poems she read, “Quarantine,” examined Ireland in 1847 at the time of the famine, but it also discussed the deep love between a man and his wife who died during the famine. Even with his last breath he held his wife’s feet to warm them with the remaining body heat he had. Many of the poems she read discussed Ireland at the time of the famine and the nuanced past of that time period. She was equally engaging. I just may have to pick up one of her volumes for review.

Molly Peacock reminded me of school teachers I had in high school because she was approachable and ready to answer your questions. She read quite a few poems and engaged the audience with her wit. Another poet I should probably add to my TBR pile. I have quite a few photos of her speaking and answering questions, but I think this photo is the most dignified. She’s an expressive poet and very animated. Her eyes grow wide and her lips will form a nice round O in many cases, but I don’t think those would make for very flattering pictures.

The final poet we heard before we headed back home was Michael Lind, whom the moderator called a man of letters, which I presume means he is well educated, one quite a few awards, and has accomplished a great deal in his given profession. In this case, he has been a columnist, a novelist, and a poet. I purchased his book, Parallel Lives, at the festival because the lines in his poems caught my attention, though he is a very sedate reader compared to the other poets we heard. I would almost say that I prefer to read his verse on paper than to hear him speak. I do enjoy his verse because it often does touch upon recent events that may be forgotten as the next horrific or phenomenal effort takes its place in the media headlines.

Finally, here is Neil Gaiman—I had to keep you fans reading somehow–the book sale tent only had a limited number of his latest book, which is not even out in stores yet. Those books went fast, and his line was extensive. I’m not sure that everyone got to meet him or get their book signed. But the lines were moving fast, so you never know. He is not at all what I pictured.

As for Tiki Barber, who is a former New York Giants football player and wrote a children’s book, his line was longer. However, I am quite sure that some of the people in his line were having NFL memorabilia signed and not necessarily his book. I know that a ton of kids and parents were lined up alongside him as I was taking his photo. We just wanted a close up shot of him since we had nothing for him to sign.

Overall, you can see I really did not spend much time outside of the Poetry Pavilion. I did that for two reasons, one I was pressed for time and the Poetry Pavilion was the furthest one and two I love poetry! I was surprised by the number of people in the audience at the Poetry Pavilion, but I also was pleased by the turnout. The Poetry Pavilion was co-sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and many of their personnel introduced the poets scheduled to read and they had a table full of reading guides for not only famous poets and writers, but also information about Poetry Out Loud. I was equally pleased that the hearing impaired could enjoy the poems as well with the help of sign language experts.

I would love to hear from anyone else who attended the festival and what events and authors they saw and what they thought. I think it would be great to hear about the other Pavilions’ events as well. Feel like sharing, leave a comment.

For other experiences at the 2008 National Book Festival:
The Literate Housewife
DC Reflections
Jason’s View From D.C.
Sarah Moffett
Biblio’s Bloggins
S. Krishna’s Books

2008 National Book Festival and Anne Patchett

The 2008 National Book Festival will be held in Washington, D.C., this weekend–Sept. 27 between 10 AM and 5:30 PM. More than 70 authors are expected to attend the Book Fest, ranging from Salman Rushdie to former New York Giants running back Tiki Barber.

Each year the Library of Congress gathers some of the best authors out there to bring their books and their stories to D.C. to celebrate the joys of reading. I’ve met Tim O’Brien, Anita Shreve, and many others when I have attended this event. Not only can you get autographs of their latest books, but most authors are willing to sign older copies as well.

Authors will be broken down by Pavilion Genre and will have a scheduled time to speak in that pavilion, so check out the schedule here. I’m excited because our new Poet Laureate Kay Ryan will be there along with First Lady Laura Bush.

If you cannot attend the festival, why not spend the day on the 2008 National Book Festival website listening to podcasts from some of the authors attending the Book Fest?

Additionally, for those of you who have read Run by Anne Patchett, Book Club Girl is hosting a call in show about the book with the author.

Here’s the link to the audio show online, sign up and join in the discussion.

Ms. Patchett will be available to answer questions through the call in number: 347-945-6149. The show starts at 7 PM EST.

Our New Poet Laureate

Kay Ryan is the latest Poet Laureate announced by the Library of Congress. She is the 16th Poet Laureate, and I am thrilled that our new poet laureate has experienced a calm and quiet career. It’s time for her to come out into the light and inspire budding poets and bring poetry to the forefront of the literary world.

I often wondered what the purpose of the Poet Laureate is, but according to Wikipedia, the poet laureate is called upon to write poems for state occasions and attend government-sponsored functions, like the Washington D.C. Book Festival this September.

Some familiar names will be at this year’s book festival: Tiki Barber from the NFL, Dionne Warwick, Bob Schieffer, Cokie Roberts, and Neil Gaiman.

I hope that with each new poet laureate, poetry garners greater standing in the literary community. Unfortunately, it does not look like any other poets will be attending the D.C. Book Festival except Kay Ryan.

April 5th Writer’s Conference Recap

Conversations & Connections was held at the Johns Hopkins campus in Washington, D.C. on April 5, 2008, and it was the second annual conference for writers, experienced and not.

The morning came too early for me after the reading down in Rockville, Md., the night before because it was at night, and I get up early for work. Let’s just say I was exhausted on Friday night, but still stayed up to check out what poems I should bring to the conference for the speed-dating session with an editor of a literary journal. Anyway, the sleep did not come easily because of nerves or my brain going over how the day would play out, etc. I’m not really sure. When the alarm finally went off, I shot out of bed and into the shower. And we–Anna and I–got ready in a flash to be dropped off at the Metro and head into D.C.

We were not going to make the 8:30 AM opening registration, but I wasn’t worried that we would miss anything. Registration went smoothly this time around, particularly since we ran right smack into Julie Wakeman-Lynn of the Potomac Review. She showed us the way into the basement. The coffee in the lounge area smelled burnt, so I decided to snag a bottle of water, which is funny considering somehow we ended up dehydrated.

The opening statements were very short and to the point and we ran up the only flight of stairs in the entire building to the first floor from the basement to our first Breakout Session with Amy Holman. I heard her speak to a group last year about a similar topic though related to poetry. This session was better organized and helped show the writers in the room how to seek out the best literary journals for their work, whether it be poetry, fiction, or non-fiction. The separate notebook idea where you keep lists of your favorite authors and examine the publications where they appear helps. I think what I took away from the session more than anything was that I need to start checking journals and seeing what is consistent in their choices. Why are certain poems chosen, and what do those poems in each issue have in common with one another.

The second session, “The Long Haul: Writing the Novel,” was in another building across the street so we had to get out and across the street quickly. We made the session in plenty of time and listened to novelists–Fred Leebron, Michael Kimball, and Carolyn Parkhurst. This session did not have anything eye-opening for me.

The lunch break was to be shared with the speed dating sessions, so Anna and I decided to head out to lunch for the first hour because everyone appeared to be headed to speed dating for the first hour. We had our minds set on Chinese food, but could not find the place on the listing we got in the registration packet. We didn’t dare struggle to locate the Chipotle given the confusion we experienced in Dupont Circle. We settled on Bertucci’s and you will have to check out Anna’s description for the food. I want to tell you how wonderful the ice tea and the cappuccino was for me. The caffeine hit the right spot for me. I haven’t had a good cappuccino in forever.

Speed dating went better than I expected. If anything it validated for me that I can tell when things are not working in my poems. I just have to be more confident in my abilities and fix the spots I know are wrong. The editorial staff of the Potomac Review must be well versed in analysis. I loved the ideas I received and the advice. Perhaps I will submit the poem I brought when it is finished. I haven’t decided.

After speed dating, Anna and I met up with our former co-worker and friend, Gregg Mosson of Poems Against War. We are currently working with him on a review project that will showcase poets and essayists. I will keep you all posted on that once we launch it. We are still planning it out at this point and have to get some things in order first, but it should be a great new addition to my repertoire.

The final session, “The Disciplined Writer,” again did not enlighten me too much. The stories of struggle were entertaining for the most part, but there really wasn’t any practical advice. I think that the general I don’t use an outline or I don’t plan out the novel before I start is very helpful because I think many writers are that way. I would have preferred to hear about what routines they tried to keep motivated and which worked and didn’t and why they didn’t or did work. I think the most I will remember from it in the future is the stories told about Joyce Carol Oates and how she locked the door quickly behind her guests and ran up to her writing room to begin work after a rather long dinner party. Another great anecdote was that Oates tells writers that they do not want to be like her because she has no life but writing. I don’t know about you, but I think I would enjoy being prolific like Oates, who is not prolific in the way some of those other writers are, like James Patterson and John Grisham.

We left the conference chatty and giddy about the prospects we have for our writing now, so I think both of us will be on our way to becoming more productive. Wish us luck.

***Just a Reminder***

The first round of my National Poetry Month contest ends tomorrow. Please submit your poem entry (whether your own or one from a favorite poet) by the end of April 15th here. Thanks to all the participants.

Pre-Conference Reading

OK, so while I thought the pre-conference reading would be poets, there was not one. The readers were fiction writers.

Mary Gaitskill, author of Veronica, was introduced by the editor of Potomac Review, Julie Wakeman-Linn, and she read from Veronica, which is a very poetic work. I have never read her work, but it is certainly descriptive, poetic, and uses imagery to get to the heart of the matter. I’m not too sure she is my cup of tea, to use a cliche.

She then introduced Dave Housley, an editor of Barrelhouse Review and author of Ryan Seacrest Is Famous, who read “Combat Photographer.” It was a great short story about a combat photographer attempting to re-enter society to find a steadier job with benefits because his wife is pregnant and she wants him to be more stable and not off to war.

The next reader, Nathan Leslie, read from his collection, Madre. “The Towel” was a great story about young families and the adjustments they go through; the main character Norman and his wife have very different views of parenthood. The descriptions of the various stroller models are hilarious. I just had to select the book of short stories for my free conference book. I can’t wait to read the rest of the stories.

Lalita Noronha is the author of Where Monsoons Cry, and she was the third reader. Her descriptions of Indian culture and life were phenomenal. I was torn between this book and Madre for my free conference book. Noronha has a performance-like presence when she reads her prose, and it transported me to India quickly–even though she only read a few pages. I think this book will be one of the next ones I pick up in the bookstore.

Another Arab-American author, Susan Muaddi-Darraj, read last and her book is The Inheritance of Exile. Anna picked this book as her free conference work. I can’t wait for her to read it and I can finish Madre; we’re going to switch off and trade, so we can each discuss them. She was another reader that I really enjoyed, who easily transported me into the world she created.

It was a good reading, and I got to check out Rockville’s revitalization, which is amazing with the new town center. It was a great walk, though a bit chilly. There also was a great Tapas restaurant on the corner near the VisArts Center. It smelled delicious and look reasonably priced. We’ll have to make a point to go there sometime.

You’ll just have to wait for the conference review later.

Please do not forget to enter the Poetry Book contest this month via the Welcome post, which has all the necessary rules and information.

April Writer’s Conference in Washington, D.C.

On April 5, 2008, I will again be at an all-day conference in Washington, D.C., Conversations and Connections. I cannot wait for another opportunity to network and learn from my peers. It will be great to among creative writers. This is the second, all-day conference in the region. Registration is $45 for an all-day conference.

I may even head out to the readings on April 4th in Rockville.

The first breakout session will have the following:

  • Crafting the Poem (panelists: Kim Roberts, Eric Pankey, Kim Jensen, Sean Conrey)
  • The Business of Getting Published (panelists: Nancy Naomi Carlson, Holly Sneeringer, Mark Drew)
  • Finding a Home for Your Brilliant Work: Amy Holman Workshop
  • Starting Your Own Independent Press (Ed Perlman)

The second breakout session will have the following:

  • The Long Haul: Writing the Novel (panelists: Michael Kimball, Fred Leebron, Carolyn Parkhurst)
  • How Can an MFA/MA Help Me? (panelists: Kenra Kopelke, Geoff Becker, David Everett)
  • Short Fiction: Process and Craft (panelists: Merrill Feitell, Lalita Norohna, Susan McCallum-Smith)
  • Writing Nonfiction (Eric Nuzum, Joanne Cavanaugh Simpson, Lucie Snodgrass, David A. Taylor)

The third breakout session will have the following:

  • The Disciplined Writer (panelists: Michelle Brafman, Jen Michalski, Kathy Volk Miller, Tim Wendel)
  • Poetic Forms (Ned Balbo)
  • The Novella: Form and Potential (Cyndi Reeves)
  • Web Markets and Marketing (panelists: Rachel Adams, Thom Didato, Reb Livingston)

I suggest anyone in the area sign up and join me. It will be a great time. And if you haven’t been to D.C. before, it will be a great time to come because the Cherry Blossoms are expected to be blooming.

I am so excited. It gives me something positive to look forward to, and I definitely need it. Maybe it will get my creative juices flowing more as well.