Louisiana Book Festival returns to downtown Baton Rouge
Want to schmooze with a Pulitzer Prize winner? Pick the brain of a Newbery Honors recipient? Shake hands with a best-selling author? Take a look at a never-before-displayed George Rodrigue painting? You can do any of those things and a lot more at the 2012 Louisiana Book Festival Oct. 26-27 on the grounds of the State Library and the State Capitol in downtown Baton Rouge.
“Somebody said to us once that, pound-for-pound, we are better than any book festival they’ve ever been to because of that uniqueness of authors speaking in a small room with a decent-sized audience where you can interact with the author, you can get your book signed — as opposed to an auditorium where you’re one of a thousand in a room and you never have a chance of getting up there to meet the author,” State Librarian Rebecca Hamilton said. “So we have that intimate engagement that people are so fond of.”
It’s not just authors. The festival will feature panels, classes, a pre-festival author party, tents for signings and storytelling, book sales, music, food and more. The Louisiana Book Festival was first held in 2002 and has grown into a yearly event that has been held every year but 2005 when Hurricane Katrina forced it to be cancelled and 2010 when funding cuts shut it down. The festival came back strong last year, and Hamilton and Jim Davis, director of the Louisiana Center for the Book, both expect an even larger turnout for 2012. That’s because the formula for success — authors and the public — is dictated by the festival’s mission, which hasn’t changed since its inception.
“Louisiana very often is at the bottom of the list that we want to be at the top of: literacy, education, children being age-ready to read by the fourth grade, so one of the things we try to do here at the state library — through our public libraries — is provide those services that maybe not everybody can afford to buy and to make sure that parents have the tools that they need to read to their children so that their children are good readers by the time they get to the fourth grade. Because we know that if they’re not reading at their age level by fourth grade, they do not become readers. So we really want to foster that love of reading and education. The book festival really is kind of the fun thing we do in that regard,” Hamilton said. “Everything we do is programs and workshops for teachers and students and things, but the book festival is kind of an educational thing, yes, fun thing that we do, sort of the icing on the cake. We strive every year to increase those components that engage children through little projects. I think this year we’re going to have a little sandbox where they can do an archaeology hunt for some artifacts. So every year we try to tie reading and education and why that’s important with fun things.”
It’s a festival, Davis said, and Louisiana loves a festival. “We call it, and our byline is ‘a celebration of readers, writers and books.’ I think we celebrate literature, reading and books like there’s a boudin festival or shrimp festival. This is fun and it’s part of our culture just like all those other important things,” he said.
“It’s something we do well. Louisiana is know for having that rich landscape that people love to write about,” Hamilton said. “There is just so much about Louisiana that is lovely and mysterious and interesting and unique. It’s something that we do well. It’s something that we’re at the top of the list for — authors and writers, people — not just writers from Louisiana writing about us — but people who come here and get mesmerized by our culture and want to write about it.”
The festival is entirely funded by federal grants and matching private funds as well as funding through the festival’s foundation, Hamilton said. “We are funded through federal funds and some funds from our foundation, so no state funds were used for this festival. The lieutenant governor worked with us to make sure we had enough private donations to match our federal funds.” And as long as Hamilton is in charge, the festival will keep its focus squarely on writing. “We want it free and we want it literary. We want everything tied to books and education, and I don’t want it to be a fair,” she said.
In the foyer area of the State Library, on the 4th Street side, an unusual exhibit hangs along one wall: a collection of George Rodrigue portraits from the Flora Levy Lecture Series at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Rodrigue painted most of the images in the 1980s.
Nine of these literary portraits, which include Walker Percy, Shirley Ann Grau and John Kennedy Toole, accompany a contemporary counterpart, Rodrigue’s six-foot portrait (2011) of his friend: actor, writer, director and artist Sylvester Stallone.
The exhibit will be on display through Nov. 30, and festival-goers will have free access to the exhibit.
This year, the iconic image that graces the festival poster, bookmarks, T-shirts and book bags, a stained glass image, is of particular significance.
The artist who created it, Karen Bourque, is a Louisiana artist, and she is the wife of former Louisiana poet laureate Darrell Bourque. In her artist’s statement on the festival website, Bourque explains what the piece means.
“When I was commissioned to create an image for the 2012 Louisiana Book Festival, the request was that the piece represent Louisiana. Executive director of the Festival, Jim Davis, chose the oak and a river as iconic Louisiana elements. My glass works nearly always incorporates polished stones, gems and rocks and minerals. Inherent in these elements are qualities and meanings which are relevant to the composition,” Bourque writes. “The agate is the Louisiana State gem, so I chose to make it the dominant gem in the piece. The sliced agate represents the shoreline and the sun. It is a stone of protection which attracts strength to carry on. In Biblical times agate was used to ward off storms. A piece of moss agate can be seen hanging from one of the tree’s branches. The moss agate is said to be the most powerful agate and balance emotional energy while enhancing concentration, persistence, endurance and success. It is also said to be helpful in relieving sensitivities to destructive weather and pollution.
“The rocks interspersed along the shoreline represent the bones of Mother Earth. The river bank is made from Siberian jade, an ancient stone used by some to draw or attract love, protection, prosperity and healing. Since petrified palmwood is Louisiana’s state mineral, I placed it at the heart of the oak. It is thought to be powerful in removing obstacles or barriers impeding success in reaching goals and is a connection to Earth and nature as are the river and the tree.”
Highlights of the 2012 Louisiana Book Festival include:
- Approximately 150 authors, and more than 100 programs at the State Library, Capitol, Capitol Park Museum and Welcome Center — with featured books available on site from the official festival bookseller, Barnes & Noble and book signings scheduled for each featured author.
- Louisiana Writer Award Ceremony honoring 2012 recipient John Biguenet, with Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne presenting the award, and another conversation with Biguenet about his work conducted by former Louisiana poet laureate Darrell Bourque.
- National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Walter Dean Myers, winner of the first Michael L. Printz Award for literary excellence in young adult literature, speaking about his “Reading Is Not Optional” literacy campaign.
- Myers will be interviewed by Springhill native John Corey Whaley, who will also be speaking on his debut YA novel, Where Things Come Back, which earlier this year won both the American Library Association William C. Morris YA Debut Award and the Printz Award.
- YA author Jennifer Brown, The Hate List, winner of the 2012 Louisiana Teen Readers’ Choice award for Grades 9-12.
- Wordplay’s Freshhhh Heat Teen Open Mic and Poetry Lounge and competition presented by Forward Arts.
- Performance by Brainy Acts Poetry Society of NSU, led by founder/poet Clemonce Heard.
- Brain Quest will bring its fast-paced, curriculum-based question-and-answer game to life with “Brain Quest Challenge” events, sponsored by Chrysler brand Town & Country; kids ages 2-12 will have the chance to participate in a challenge that includes both questions and physical activities, too. All attendees will receive fun giveaways and official Brain Quest certificates.
- Louisiana poet laureate Julie Kane will host a panel of Louisiana poets, and will welcome poet Martha Serpas, who will moderate a panel of poets included in her anthology of Louisiana and Texas poets.
- Alex George, author of the The Good American, with an episode in Louisiana that figures prominently in the family saga, and Rich Cohen, author of The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King, Samuel Zemurray; the most recent author in LSU Press’s Yellow Shoe Fiction, Michael Downs, will discuss his collection of related stories, The Greatest Show.
- Debut novelists Wiley Cash, who while at ULL wrote the highly praised A Land More Kind than Home, and New Orleans native T. Geronimo Johnson, author of Hold It ’til It Hurts.
- Historian and biographer Alice Kessler-Harris will discuss her biography of Lillian Hellman with Susan Larson, host of WWNO public radio’s The Reading Life and board member of the New Orleans Public Library.
- Southern authors Ron Rash, George Singleton, Rick Bragg, Mark Dunn and Louisiana’s own Moira Crone and Tim Gautreaux, former Louisiana Writer Award recipient.
- Christopher Cenac and Claire Domangue Joller discussing with author Ken Wells their book, Eyes of the Eagle, an illustrated history of early Houma-Terrebonne.
- A panel discussion of A Unique Slant of Light, LEH’s Bicentennial History of Art in Louisiana.
- Screening of LPB’s Louisiana Bicentennial documentary, Louisiana: 200 Years of Statehood.
- A centenary panel discussion celebrating the 100th anniversary of Charles Dickens’ birth with a discussion of his work.
- The annual One Book One Festival will feature a readers’ discussion about A Confederacy of Dunces; author Cory MacLauchlin will discuss his biography of John Kennedy Toole, Butterfly in the Typewriter; and producer Joe Sanford will preside over a screening of his documentary film about Toole, The Omega Point.
- Other screenings for adults include The Freddies, based on a short story by Louisiana author M.O. Walsh from his The Prospect of Magic; portions of the Smithsonian documentary on the WPA Writers’ Project, Soul of a People, presented by and based on the book by David Taylor.
- For readers of all ages, there will be screenings of William Joyce (another Louisiana Writer recipient) and Moonbot Studios’ Academy Award winning The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore, with an introduction by Corey Whaley, the Morris Award winner, and the book version of the film will be available in the Barnes & Noble Jr. book tent set up for children’s literature.
- Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, in partnership with the State Library, will present a Louisiana Big Read event, a scholarly panel discussion of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, a series of stories about an American combat platoon in Vietnam.
- Thadious Davis will moderate a panel on her Southscapes: Geographies of Race, Region, and Literature with Olympia Vernon and Reggie Scott Young, and Ashley Craig Lancaster will discuss her book on poor white women in Southern Literature of the Great Depression.
- Writing Enrichment exercises for upper elementary and middle school grades.
- Costumed children’s book characters Skippyjon Jones and Corduroy.
- Amanda Shaw and the Cute Guys and Paraguay will perform.
- Literacy outreach – Rick Kelley back by popular demand: “Don’t Just Sit, There, Read Something,” sponsored by Blue Cross/Blue Shield.
Barring last-minute cancellations or additions, 151 authors, presenters and moderators will appear at the festival on Oct. 27.
Authors scheduled to appear
- :Constance Adler, Janet Allured, Barry Jean Ancelet, Smiley Anders, Arthé A. Anthony, Paul Arrigo, Camille Barnes, Celeste Berteau, Marcelle Bienvenu, John Biguenet, Valerie Rodriguez Black, Mary Helen Blanchard, Judith Bonner, Darrell Bourque, Rick Bragg, Sherry T. Broussard, Jennifer Brown, Sue Brunner, Anne Butler, Robert Olen Butler, Josh Caffery, Vincent P. Caire, Cynthia Campbell, Henry Cancienne, Wiley Cash, Christopher Cenac, Cheré Dastugue Coen, Rich Cohen, Alex V. Cook, Brannon W. Costello, Lesley Crawford Costner, Brian Cremins, Missy Crews, Moira L. Crone, Kim Cross, Margaret Dunbar Cutright, Jay Dardenne, Robin Davidson, Sandy Davis, Thadious M. Davis, Dianne Dempsey-Legnon, Lana Laws Downing, Johnette Downing, Michael Downs, Gerald Duff, Dennis J. Dufrene, Mark Dunn, Marigny Dupuy, Charles Elliott, Lin Emery, Ken Fontenot, Ronald M. Gauthier, Tim Gautreaux, Carol Gelderman, Alex George, Al Godoy, Shelia M. Goss, John Gray, Richard Gruber, Lee Meitzen Grue, Christopher Hannan, Randy Harelson, Ava Leavell Haymon, Clemonce Heard, Frank Turner Hollon, Jessica Hutchings, T. Geronimo Johnson, Debbie Johnson-Houston, Claire Domangue Joller, Hardy Jones, Julie Kane, Fred Kasten, Sybil Kein, Meghan Kelly, Alice Kessler-Harris, Katherine Klimitas, Ashley Craig Lancaster, Joe Landrum, Don Landry, Susan Larson, Irene Latham, Tika Laudun, Bill Lavender, Harry Laver, Jerry Leggio, Carolyn Morrow Long, Cory MacLauchlin, David Madden, Mary Manhein, Mary McCay, Ann McCutchan, Patrice Melnick, Elsie Michie, Jennifer Miller, James W. Miller, Walter Dean Myers, L. Lamar Nisley, Cynthia LeJeune Nobles, Jennifer Paddock, Philip F. Palmedo, David M. Parsons, Dean Paschal, Alison Pelegrin, Faye Phillips, James Pogue, Lawrence N. Powell, Ron Rash, John Shelton Reed, Nathaniel Rich, Gary Richards, Wendy Rodrigue, George Rodrigue, Chris Rose, Ruth Salvaggio, Ben Sandmel, Joe Sanford, Michael Sartisky, Jack Saux, Martha Serpas, June Shaw, Dayne Sherman, Art Shiver, Margaret Simon, George Singleton, John Slaughter, David G. Spielman, Sheryl St. Germain, Peggy Sweeney-McDonald, David Taylor, Ron Thibodeaux, James G. Thomas, John P. Travis, Susan Tucker, Jim Urdiales, Olympia Vernon, M.O. Walsh, Ken Wells, Sharon Weltman, John Corey Whaley, Tom Whitehead, Stephanie Wilkes, Beth Willinger, Charles Reagan Wilson, James D. Wilson, Jr., Geoff Wyss, Reggie Scott Young and Karen Spears Zacharias.