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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?

11th Annual National Book Festival

For the first time ever, the National Book Festival will be over TWO days!

Yes, you heard me right; TWO DAYS!  This Saturday and Sunday, the National Mall in Washington, D.C., will be buzzing with book lovers, authors, and more.

Did you know that the Library of Congress has its own YouTube channel?  You should check out some of these great videos with authors and musicians.

If you are going to be in town early for the festivities, please check out the other special events book-ending the festival, here.  There will be a combination outdoor and reading event with former NFL linebacker Chris Draft on Sunday, Sept. 25.  I love events where books are read aloud.

I was getting excited about the festival because it will be the longest amount of time I’ve been out of the house with “Wiggles,” our daughter.  Rhapsody in Books will be there, and she’ll get to meet “Wiggles” in person, so that should be fun.  I have plans to go again on Sunday, which may be a solo trip since football is on, to meet one of my favorite poets, Yusef Komunyakaa, in person — whom I’ve missed out on meeting several times and I consider on the level with rock stars.  Yes, you heard that right, and I’ll probably be tongue tied when I see him.

The festival theme this year is the joy of reading books aloud, and I’d like to take that a step further by having you read this poem aloud.

Facing It
by Yusef Komunyakaa

My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn't,
dammit: No tears.
I'm stone. I'm flesh.
My clouded reflection eyes me
like a bird of prey, the profile of night
slanted against morning. I turn
this way--the stone lets me go.
I turn that way--I'm inside
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light
to make a difference.
I go down the 58,022 names,
half-expecting to find
my own in letters like smoke.
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;
I see the booby trap's white flash.
Names shimmer on a woman's blouse
but when she walks away
the names stay on the wall.
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird's
wings cutting across my stare.
The sky. A plane in the sky.
A white vet's image floats
closer to me, then his pale eyes
look through mine. I'm a window.
He's lost his right arm
inside the stone. In the black mirror
a woman's trying to erase names:
No, she's brushing a boy's hair.

In honor of this poem, I’ll likely head down to the Vietnam War Wall at some point to take photos since I promised myself to do it this year and get some bookmark material for our War Through the Generations participants.  I had also hoped to go with my uncle, who to my knowledge has never been, for the first time, but that’s not going to happen this year…maybe some time in the near future.

If you’d like to get together, while I’m there, I’ll likely be in the poetry/prose tent more often than not.  But I could be at the wall.  We might just run into each other, don’t hesitate to say hi.  I’d love to hear about your experiences at the festival.

Also, if you want to learn more about what’s going on with the festival and more, check out my DC Literature Examiner article.