Thursday, September 7, 2017

The 2017 National Book Festival

September 2nd was the annual National Book Festival in Washington, DC.  This was my third time attending the festival, and my experience was a little different this year than in years past.  Doors opened at 8:30am, but my posse didn't arrive until after 1:00.  One reason - many of the early events are more kid-friendly, which wasn't something we were so much interested in.  Another reason - we wanted to make sure we were fueled up for the day!  After some delicious BBQ at Smoked and Stacked, we wandered across the street to Buttercream Bakeshop.  This bakery and coffeeshop is the stuff that dreams are made of!  I chose the Unicorn Bar, a delicious and snickerdoodle-flavored concoction with edible glitter on top.

Om nom nom! 
So delish!  And it turned out that someone had "paid it forward", so my amazing dessert was free for me!  Thank you, anonymous kind person!

Once we got into the festival, my group parted ways for awhile.  While some wandered in and out of panel discussions and author talks upstairs, I spent my time downstairs in the book sales area, Pavilion of the States, and book signing lines.

There are representatives from library associations in all 50 states, as well as many US territories, that have tables at the Pavilion of the States.  Kids get a "passport" that they can have stamped at every table, to earn a special National Book Festival prize.  In addition, there are pieces of swag like posters, bookmarks, maps, and other goodies that festivalgoers can snag.  I always replenish my bookmark stash at the festival, and this year was no different.

One of the great things about the National Book Festival is the coverage.  There are SO MANY great talks that you can listen to, and you might just wander into something that turns out to be really interesting.  This happened when I first got downstairs; looking for a place to sit I happened to be in the audience for Reshma Saujani and her presentation about her organization Girls Who Code.  She talked about how important it is to get girls into tech fields, starting with coding when they're really young.

Reshma at the podium, and her ASL signer
That's what her book series and organization are all about, and it was really interesting to listen to her story and how that shaped her passion about teaching girls to code and understand computational theory as a life skill.  If I hadn't plopped down there, I might never have known it was going on!  However, all of the talks are recorded, so if you miss something you can easily watch it on the official Book Festival app.

The first author whose signing I wanted to attend was Jesmyn Ward.  I already owned copies of her memoir Men We Reaped and previous novel Salvage the Bones, and brought them along to get signed.  She was at the festival to promote her new book, Sing Unburied Sing, and even though it wasn't officially released until September 5th, there were copies available for purchase, so of course I had to get one!  I got near to the front of her signing line, so it was rather quick to get to her table.

I'm next!
She was so gracious and sweet, and even complimented me on my hair (I had recently got some highlights colored a raspberry shade) and talked about how much her daughter wants to get her hair done like mine.  It was a quick exchange, but satisfying nonetheless.

The next signing line I joined was for Michael Eric Dyson, whose Tears We Cannot Stop is my current read.  His line had already started forming by the time I was through Jesmyn Ward's, so I hopped in and waited for things to begin.

There is a designated path midway through the line, so walking traffic can go through to the signing lines on the other side.  I'm at the beginning of that section of his line.
He has a gregarious personality, being very friendly, inviting, and personable.  He took a photo with everyone in his signing line, who wanted one, which is not something most other authors agree to do.  In fact, most authors permit candid photos from the lines, but are less enthusiastic or willing to do any posed shots.  I was so thrilled to meet Michael Eric Dyson, and glad to have the opportunity to tell him how engrossed I am in his work.

The third, and final, author that I wanted to get signings from was Roxane Gay.  Her signing time began shortly after Michael Eric Dyson's, so by the time I got to the end of her line it was H-U-G-E.  In fact, this was by far the longest I've ever spent in a signing line, which isn't surprising because of how popular she is.  It was so worth it, because she's an amazing writer.

This is only 1/4 of the total length of Roxane's signing line
It took at least an hour for me to get to the front of her line, but it was so thrilling to meet her!  I recently discovered that I'm one degree away from Roxane Gay (take that, Kevin Bacon!) - one of my best friends from college is a great friend of Roxane's from grad school.  In fact, when I mentioned her name, Roxane immediately knew who I was talking about and said that she was one of her best friends from grad school.  Although there were copies of her essay collection Bad Feminist, short story collection Difficult Women, and memoir Hunger available for purchase, I brought my copy of her first published work - a short story collection called Ayiti - to have her sign.  She was impressed that I was keeping it old school, and even said that the collection was going to be re-released by a larger publisher, later this year.  I highly recommend you check out Ayiti, if you get the chance.

By the time I got through Roxane Gay's signing line, the National Book Festival was finished.  In fact, the organizers were starting to break down some of the sets and shut off banks of lights.  I reconnected with my pals, jumped in an Uber, and headed home.  I accomplished my goal - to get some great books signed by their authors - and will be watching the author chats that I missed in the near future.

Did you stop by the National Book Festival this year?  What authors did you see?  What panels/talks did you attend?  Did you grab any awesome swag from the Pavilion of the States?  Tell me all about it!

Librorum annis,