I was so excited to make a post about my experience at this year’s National Book Festival that… I didn’t end up doing it. So here’s the post that I should have made, two weeks late. Oops!
Let’s take it from the top.
This year, the festival was held at the Washington D.C. Convention Center instead of the National Mall (where it’s been for many years). A group of friends and I had gone in 2012, and every year since we’ve talked about going again, finally managing to do it this year.
I’d never been to the convention center, but it exceeded my wildest expectations. The venue was huge:
Because of how big the convention center floor was, it doesn’t look like there were that many people. But it was so crowded, I never saw the same person’s face twice. And because it was so big, I was even more impressed with how organized the whole thing was.
But now for the exciting part: all the amazing authors!
Because some of the authors I wanted to see either had signings at the same time or had incredibly long lines (lookin’ at you, Lois Lowry), I didn’t get to see everyone I wanted. I had come bearing a gigantic tote bag (you can see it in the Kate Beaton pics below) with all the books I wanted to get signed, but I only ended up getting about half of them. Even though I didn’t see everyone, I still had an amazing time meeting these authors.
First up was Edwidge Danticat.
My roommate (pictured above) and I had read one of her books a few years ago in our postcolonial lit class. It’s called The Farming of Bones and it is incredible. She just came out with a YA book that I’m super excited to read!
After standing in her line for quite some time, I ran upstairs and slipped in right before they shut the doors to Meg Medina’s talk.
Medina is one of the best speakers I’ve been lucky enough to see. I had sat in on a couple of the panels she did with the James Rivers Writers Conference in 2015, and she is just so, so good. That afternoon was no exception. As you can see by the packed auditorium, she’s someone to see if you get the chance.
She just published Burn Baby Burn, an amazing YA book based in New York in 1977 during the Son of Sam reign of terror. It was hands down one of the best books I’ve read all summer.
After her talk, I ran in line to see Kate Beaton, of Hark! A Vagrant fame. Hark! A Vagrant is amazing. In some cases, Beaton satirizes famous literary and historical characters; in others, she creates her own original characters. All of her books are amazing, but my favorite panels she’s done are the infamous Gatsby comic (“What baby?” never ceases to make me burst out laughing) and the “Lady of Shalott” comic, which I actually ended up using for my undergraduate thesis.
I stood there for… forever. The line wasn’t moving very quickly at all, and we soon found out why. Not only was she signing every book, she was also doodling in each one. After we learned that, it was totally worth waiting extra time in line.
After scarfing down a quick lunch (the place ran out of sandwiches right before I got there, so I inhaled a strawberry pastry instead), it was time to peruse the bookstore. I bought Burn Baby Burn (the copy I’d read was from the library) and the new Sandra Beasley poetry book, Count the Waves.
I’d seen Beasley’s name on the list and was super excited she was there; we’d read her book I Was the Jukebox in my Creative Writing: Poetry class and I fell completely and totally in love with it. I’ve actually been putting off reading Count the Waves, solely because I don’t want to inhale the whole thing in one go (a similar process to my pastry-eating).
So immediately after purchasing Beasley’s new book, I was able to slip into her signing line as it was opening. I’d also brought I Was the Jukebox for her to sign.
She was so amazing. She was genuinely interested in talking to every person in her line, and when I told her we’d read her book in class, she asked about my writing and who my professor was. As it turns out, she knows him! I love it when “small world” stuff like that happens. She also wrote a beautiful note in both books, which was so lovely of her.
All in all, I got six books signed over the course of the day:
After a dinner of several types of Chinese food (we all ordered something different and picked off each other’s plates like a buffet), it was time for our last event: seeing Salman Rushdie talk.
You heard me right.
The whole talk was amazing, but there were a couple quotes that stuck out.
“If you’re going to build a big car, you need to add a big engine.” -Salman Rushdie on focusing more on narrative than form in his work
“Almost since the birth of the novel, people have been predicting the death of the novel… and yet, the novel obstinately refuses to die.” -Salman Rushdie
I love, love, love that second quote.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to stay for the whole Q&A (D.C. traffic waits for no one), but it was still so great to see him talk and listen to the motivations behind his writing.
The National Book Festival is always an incredible event. I’m super excited for next year!