Sunday, September 8, 2013

John Lewis and Richard Blanco at the Decatur Book Festival

The 2013 Decatur Book Festival took place during the Labor Day weekend - we drove there on Saturday morning, 31 August, 2013.  The biggest attraction for me was to see Congressman John Lewis, who was going to sign his new book "March: Book One" and to see and hear the poet Richard Blanco.  Decatur, Georgia, is about 6 miles east of Atlanta and a 55 minutes drive from our home northwest of Atlanta.  Decatur is a progressive city with a trendy mixed-use downtown area that still retains a small town feeling.  First we drove by Agnes Scott College - a private liberal arts college for women founded in 1889 and one of the sponsors of the festival.  The campus is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Below are some vintage postcards of the college and one of their information boards at the festival.

The Decatur Book Festival is the largest independent book festival in the US and one of the five largest overall.  Since it started, in 2006, more than 1,000 authors have taken part in the festival.  This year 85,000 people attended this annual event on the Square in downtown Decatur.  There were book signings, author readings, parades, live music, cooking demonstrations, poetry slams, interactive children's areas, panel discussions, writing workshops, etc.  More than 50 authors launched new books and interacted with readers this year.  (Click on collages twice to enlarge.)

After parking our car close by, we walked to the Square and stopped by a large sculpture.  It was purchased by the city to honor their first African-American mayor, Elizabeth Wilson, on her retirement in 1999.  A quote from the artist, Gary Lee Price (American, born in 1955) inscribed on the base of the 22-foot sculpture defines its meaning and also Ms. Wilson's vision for Decatur: "Imagine a world without limits, without boundaries, without prejudice and blame.  Imagine an existence full of self-confidence, self-esteem and not only tolerance but love for others regardless of color, socioeconomic or any other standing.  To me that is what the future holds.  That is what children represent and that is the type of world I would like to help others imagine can come to pass."

I had read the festival program - there was so much going on, it was difficult to choose where to go first.  There were several stages with a variety of activities.  For example, at the Cook's Warehouse Stage, Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart would present their latest cookbook "Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking."  Then Patricia Moore-Pastides was to present her "Greek Revival from the Garden" and then Sandra Gutierrez her book "Latin American Street Food."

Many books were on sale at a discount.  Publishing companies were displaying their latest editions.

There were also second-hand books for sale, and free books for kids.  Could we stop at all these booths in one day?

My printed schedule showed that we could go and hear about self-publishing in City Hall Stage, or listen to Chai Tunes by the Emory University A Capella Group at the Community Bandstand.  At the Decatur Library Stage we could listen to "The Storied South: Voices of Writers and Artists" featuring William Ferris.  At the First Baptist Decatur Sanctuary Stage Henry Wiencek and Mac Griswold would be discussing "Slavery" New Investigations and Discoveries."  At the Decatur High School Stage Amanda Ripley was explaining her book "What American Parents can learn from Overseas."  So many choices ... But it was getting time to walk back to the Decatur Presbyterian Sanctuary Stage, No. 13, where Richard Blanco would be at 11:15 am.  My handy map helped us get there.

We arrived early for Richard Blanco's poetry reading and were able to sit in the second row of the church.  I enjoyed looking at the beautiful stained glass windows of this historic Presbyterian Church, organized in 1825.

Richard Blanco came and first talked about his background, childhood and family.  His family fled Cuba and, on their way to the United States, stopped in Madrid, Spain, where Richard was born in 1968.  Blanco grew up in Miami and received a degree in Civil Engineering as well as a Masters in Creative Writing.  President Obama chose his poem "One Today" to be read at his 2013 inauguration.  Richard Blanco said that to be selected as the inaugural poet and join such famous poets as Robert Frost and Maya Angelou was one of the greatest experiences of his life.  He read some of his poems in between recalling his childhood and the complexity of living in the Cuban community in Miami.

I liked his voice and to hear his poems read by him, instead of reading them myself on paper, was so much more meaningful.  Below is the first two parts of his poem "El Florida Room" - I could see the room in my mind from his description. 

El Florida Room

Not a study or a den, but El Florida
as my mother called it, a pretty name
for the room with the prettiest view
of the lipstick-red hibiscus puckered up
against the windows, the tepid breeze
laden with the brown-sugar scent
of loquats drifting in from the yard.

Not a sunroom, but where the sun
both rose and set, all day the shadows
of banana trees fan-dancing across
the floor, and if it rained, it rained
the loudest, like marbles plunking
across the roof under constant threat
of coconuts ready to fall from the sky.  ...

I really like this poem as well as "Looking for the Gulf Motel" which he also read as well as other excerpts from his book For All of Us Today: An Inaugural Poet's Journey.  I enjoyed listening to his evocative words about the memories of his childhood and what it meant to be an immigrant in America.  He ended his poetry reading with his inaugural poem One Today.

As we walked back toward the festival on the Square we passed another poet happily typing on his manual typewriter.

We passed booths with authors and their books and publishing companies with piles of books for sale.

We also passed by people singing, vote registering, offering free Qurans,

and children listening to storytelling or playing with blocks.  It was a busy place.

From a distance we saw people queuing at the AJC Pavilion for John Lewis' book signing and we joined them.  For my friends overseas who do not know who John Lewis is, he has been a State of Georgia Congressman since 1986 and is 73 years old.  He is an American icon, one of the key figures of the civil rights movement.  John Lewis is the only person still alive who was with Martin Luther King, Jr. and spoke at the 1963 March on Washington in front of 200,000 persons.  Then on March 7, 1965, he led 500 marchers in a peaceful march across a bridge in Selma, Alabama, in support of the Voting Rights Act.  John Lewis was gravely injured to the head by Alabama state troopers.  During his life he was arrested 40 times and severely beaten several times.  Because of his commitment to justice and non violence he has been called "the conscience of the U.S. Congress" by his peers.  John Lewis gave the keynote address on Friday evening, August, 30, for the Decatur Book Festival.  Tickets were free and gone in an instant.  I watched part of his address on my computer but the reception was not very clear.

John Lewis has been awarded 50 honorary degrees from some of the top universities in the US, including Harvard, Brown, Princeton, Duke University and more.  A while back, a member of John's staff, Andrew Aydin, was going to a Comic-Con in San Diego - an annual convention of comic book fans.  As his colleagues made fun of him he responded that Martin Luther King, Jr. had written a comic book in 1956 on the philosophy of nonviolent resistance.  John Lewis had read this book too so Andrew suggested that a new comic book should be written on John Lewis' lifelong struggle for civil and human rights.  The graphic or comic style book came out in August and is titled "March: Book One."  It is written by John Lewis in collaboration with Andrew Aydin.  The graphics were done by best-selling artist Nate Powell.  This is the first book of a planned trilogy, published by Top-Shelf Productions, of Marietta, Georgia.

There were many people waiting in line as we arrived but many more came after us.  We slowly inched our way toward the tent were Nate Powell, Andrew Aydin and John Lewis were sitting.  I kept taking pictures as I slowly walked up to the signing table.

Then it was my turn.  First artist Nate Powell signed the book, then Andrew Aydin and finally John Lewis.  I talked with him a brief moment - he asked me how long I had lived in Georgia and where, and he got up and shook my hand.  Below is page 64 from the book.

March: Book One is number one on the best seller list of the New York Times and the Washington Post under the section Paperback Graphic Books.  It has received many good reviews such as "This is superb visual storytelling that establishes a convincing, definitive record of a key eyewitness to significant social change, and that leaves readers demanding the second volume."  the School Library Journal.  It is suitable from tweens through teens and adult readers.  My husband is holding my autographed copy of the book, below.

I'll end our visit to the Decatur Book Festival in my next post, as this is getting too long.  More to come ...


Jojo said...

I wish we had met up! I worked with Books For Africa (they are helping me build a library in Zimbabwe) and ran a program on the children's stage on Sunday. It poured ran on us but the kids didnt seem to mind. We visited with John Lewis too! Did we walk past one another? said...

Hello Vagabonde,
Wow, what a fascinating, interesting day you had at the book fair.
I have heard John Lewis speak on tv. and know he is well known.
Interesting to read about Blanco... i will look for his work.
lots going on there at the book fair.
I can imagine, one would need more than a day to see it all.
I enjoyed this post..
happy Monday.

DJan said...

What a wonderful life event! I love these kinds of things, and I felt like I was there with you. I've been seeing John Lewis on talk shows and thinking back to those days so long ago. Glad we still have this icon. I never heard of "instant" poems before, what a great idea! :-)

Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

That had to be a wonderful and interesting day. You wrote a great post and now more people from other areas will know about about this terrific event.

Things and Thoughts said...

Vraiment très intéressante et enrichissante journée ! Je ne dirais pas non à une visite de la foire du livre, je connaîtrais de près tout ce que vous nous racontez aussi joliment .
Et combien de jolies photos, j' ai l'impression d'y avoir assisté ...
Bonne semaine et continuez à profitez d'occasions pareilles!

Frances said...

Vagabonde, isn't John Lewis a remarkable man?

Grand that you were able to meet him, and also that he was able to meet you! I expect that if fate ever made it possible for the two of you to spend many more minutes together, you'd find much to discuss, eloquently.

Thank you for this report on what seems to have been an exceptional event in Decatur.


Rosaria Williams said...

What a rich day, indeed. Thanks for taking us along.

Patricia said...

Lovely post Vagabonde on such an interesting day. Thanks for sharing this with us.
Patricia x

David said...

Vagabonde, Looks like an interesting event! The problem is that my wife and I just don't like big crowds so we miss some opportunities like this one. The sentiment about the future is lovely...but I'm a pessimist and perhaps too much of a realist to ever expect the perfect world. Current world affairs and politics bear out my somewhat negative viewpoint... I always look forward to your blogs! Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Fennie said...

I think that it is in Festivals like these that we see the difference between American and European culture.I would love to see you blog about a literary festival in Strasbourg, say. But still with all these books and blog Georgia continues to be on my mind.

hidden art of homemaking said...

My daughter and her family live in Decatur and went to the festival. she showed me her cookbook signed by Nathalie Dupree this weekend... looks like lots of fun things to see and do.

Love, Mona

Jeanie said...

It sounds fabulous in every way. I would especially have loved to have heard John Lewis. Lucky you!

Thérèse said...

Une bien belle dedicace a cote de la sculpture d'Elisabeth Wilson... on en aimerait les preceptes appliques de par le monde.
Great details about John Lewis,

Kay said...

What an incredible book festival! We used to go to one in Illinois. Sigh... Nothing like that over here.

Miss_Yves said...

Un salon du livre sûrement très intéressant, d'après ces photos prometteuses et vivantes!

OldLady Of The Hills said...

To know and be aware of everything that John L. has lived through and been a part of in the extraordinary years of the fight for Civil Rights and all that THAT Movement stood for, and to know that he STILL believes in Non-Violence as the only way to go---Well, he is quite an Amazing AMAZING man....!
This book fair is quite something, isn't it? Wonderful Post, my dear.

Ercotravels said...

Wow, sounds an interesting festival! the photographs looking beautiful. such a nice post. thanks for sharing...

Jono said...

That is a very cool festival!

Magic Love Crow said...

What an amazing day! I love the poem you shared with us! All the best ;o)

Vicki Lane said...

What an amazing event! Thank you for sharing it with us, I love the sculpture and I especially enjoyed Richard Blanco's poem. And how wonderful that you met John Lewis!

Sally Wessely said...

This truly was an amazing event. As always, you also did an amazing job of chronicling it for us. I would love to have heard Richard Blanco read his poetry.

The Solitary Walker said...

Such an interesting post as always, Vagabonde. What a great day out!

claude said...

Coucou Vagabonde
Suis très en retard sur ton blog, mille excuses.
Je suis très occupée avec la vente des biens de ma Maman, le boulot de mon Chéri et je suis tombée en panne d'ordinateur. Là, c'est la Foire du Mans et je vais être indisponible jusqu'à lundi. Je repasserai donc.

Down by the sea said...

That sounds like an amazing book fayre! I loved the poem that you mentioned and went off to find out more about Richard Blanco. The way he describes things is so good. John Lewis must have such a story to tell too.
Sarah x

Margaret said...

JUST FASCINATING. I so want to go next year - it's about 5 hours away from where I live. I'm assuming this is an annual event? Wow. The whole post fascinated me and I think I am going to use Richard Blanco's "El Florida Room" as an idea for my next challenge I host over at Imaginary Garden with Real Toads. Thanks. Great job, as usual.

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