sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

October 5, 2011

national bookfest, belated recap
posted by soe 12:11 am

This past weekend was busy, but not as busy as the previous weekend, where I failed to figure out how to clone myself in order to be at every author reading I wanted to catch during the 2011 National Book Festival.

Day 1, 2011 National Book Festival

Saturday morning I got off to a late start and missed Toni Morrison. I did, however, arrive in time for the question and answer portion of young adult novelist Sarah Dessen’s talk.

Sarah Dessen

One of the recurring questions that ran through the weekend was an interest in titles. Sarah talked about how she picks terrible titles for her many of her manuscripts. She claimed that in one instance she wrote her title and her publisher’s title on index cards and would show them to everyone in order to demonstrate hers was superior. Except not a single person picked hers.

Next up was Katherine Paterson, author of such children’s classics as Jacob Have I Loved and Bridge to Terabithia. She and her husband have collaborated on reviving and retelling a 1910 fairy tale by Eden Phillpotts. And their publisher got John Rocco, who did the covers of the Lightning Thief books, to do the illustrations.

Katherine Paterson and John Rocco

This is the third time I’ve seen Katherine at the book festival and each time I am blown away by how funny she is.

After lunch with a friend and her dad, Rudi (who joined me after leading a bike tour in the morning) and I headed back to the Mall, but without a firm destination for the next session. We considered our options and ended up at the Contemporary Life stage, where Jessica Harris was giving a talk on African Americans and culinary history. It was absolutely fascinating! She is a professor and gave an entertaining lecture that was wide-ranging and informative.

Jessica B. Harris

Did you know, for instance, that George Washington’s head chef at the White House was a slave named Hercules? And that he later escaped, never to be tracked down? Or that sesame seeds originated in Africa?

Full of newly acquired knowledge, we headed back to the young adult stage to catch Brian Selznick, whose The Invention of Hugo Cabret I really liked and whose new book, Wonderstruck, has been getting great reviews.

Brian Selznick

He talked about going on the set of the new Martin Scorsese adaptation, Hugo, and about how a whole portion of his new book arose out of wanting to draw lightning.

Sarah, Rudi, and I finished the day at Dave Eggers’ stage, where he talked about his books, extolled the great work done by a charity he began, and invited one of the students helped through the organization to read some of her poetry.

Dave Eggers

Cool Book Festival Sign, 2011

Despite the fact that Sunday’s festivities did not begin until early afternoon, I was still running late and again missed the beginning. Unfortunately, it was a session I’d really wanted to see, with young adult fantasy novelist Susan Cooper.

I arrived in time to hear her reading a poem about a unicorn and for the Q&A from the audience.

Susan Cooper Answers a Question

She talked about setting her series, The Dark Is Rising, in Wales, and how she has a computer file about the country’s scenery she shares with friends traveling abroad. (If she mentioned her thoughts on the ill-fated movie that fans insisted have its title disassociated from its inspiration, it was before I arrived.)

Next I headed over to the children’s tent, for an event with folk singer John McCutcheon and his author wife Carmen Agra Deedy. She spoke about the importance of storytelling before sharing funny stories of growing up in the South and the women who shaped her love of books.

John McCutcheon and Carmen Agra Deedy

John played and sang, sharing musical stories of John Henry and softball players and Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. And it ended, as all folk music events must, with a sing-along. It was fantastic.

The latter half of the afternoon was a bit fragmented:

John Bemelmans Marciano

I caught John Behmelmans Marciano telling how he found unfinished Madeleine manuscripts left behind after his grandfather died which he then completed and illustrated.

Siddhartha Mukherjee

Pulitzer Prize winner Siddhartha Mukherjee spoke about cancer and finding the woman who was the first child to survive leukemia.

Carol Muske-Dukes

Carol Muske-Dukes, the poet laureate of California, read from her latest collection of poetry and a series of verse “letters” from renowned poets she edited. She was excellent and deserved a better turnout than her timeslot (shared by Garrison Keillor, David McCullough, and Bob Edwards) gave her. She hadn’t been on my radar before I heard her read, but I will definitely seek her work out now.

Garrison Keillor

She ended a little early, so I caught the final few questions asked of Garrison. When asked about why he did so well with his Minnesota setting, he suggested that it was because most people are never going to check the source material, and that aspiring writers would be well served by moving to North Dakota or Wyoming.

Bookfest 2011 Sign

The tenth anniversary of the book festival was excellent. I’m already looking forward to next year.

Category: books,dc life. There is/are 2 Comments.

It looks like they’re putting selected webcasts online (not all are up yet) so you may be able to catch some you missed.

Comment by MJ 10.05.11 @ 6:46 am

I am still catching up with blogs so i just saw your bokk fest recap. So sorry I missed Katherine Paterson but she was up against Gregory Maguire who was also quite good. She is definitely one of my favorites. We’ve seen her twice before and found her funny and really nice. I wanted to come back on Sunday to see Bob Edwards but just couldn’t do it. Glad that you had as much fun as I did. Maybe I’ll see you there next year.

Comment by Hillary 10.14.11 @ 8:36 am