After strolling through the ninth annual Louisiana Book Festival for much of Saturday afternoon, an enthusiastic Jonathan Chapman got up close and personal with one of his favorite authors.
“Gautreaux has been a longtime favorite of mine,” Chapman said of Louisiana writer Tim Gautreaux, of Morgan City. “His writing is starting to attract national attention, and people are delving into his writings.”
Gautreaux is the author of three novels — “The Next Step in the Dance,” “The Clearing” and “The Missing” — as well as two short story collections, “Same Place, Same Things” and “Welding with Children.”
He was one of more than 140 authors and panelists who presented book talks or participated in discussions and other book-related activities, demonstrations, performances and exhibitions in the State Library of Louisiana, the Louisiana State Capital, the Capital Park Museum, the Capital Park Welcome Center and other nearby locations.
“I just like to support literacy in Louisiana,” Gautreaux said in giving his reasons for participating in the event. “I like the idea that I can meet with people and they can share their own stories.”
The festival is also about competing with other states, and how they showcase their state’s books, Gautreaux said.
“This festival is not only for the people who live here, but for visitors, too,” he said. “Books show up here that you can’t get in local stores.”
The Louisiana Book Festival was established to promote reading and encourage learning by showcasing the accomplishments of writers and others engaged in creating and promoting books, organizers said.
For Chapman, the Louisiana Book Festival is one festival he never misses. “I love it,” Chapman said as he walked away with an autographed copy of “Conversations with Tim Gautreaux.”
State Librarian Rebecca Hamilton described the popularity of this year’s event as “unbelievable,” and said she expects to break last year’s attendance of 17,000.
“There were more people here by 10 a.m. this year than at the same time last year,” Hamilton said. “And, the author’s party (held Friday) was packed. I feel like we’re at an all-time high.”
Hamilton said her goal was to have 30,000 people attend Saturday’s seven-hour festival.
New to this year’s festival and an exhibit that has drawn interest since it was first placed in the State Library’s atrium on Oct. 1 is George Rodrigue’s art exhibit: “Walker Percy, Sylvester Stallone and the Blue Dog,” which will be displayed through the middle of November, Hamilton said.
The State Library of Louisiana unveiled for the first time George Rodrigue’s recent 6-foot portrait of his friend: actor, writer, director and artist Sylvester Stallone.
“They allowed us to be in the premier place for the exhibit,” Hamilton said.
Author John Biguenet accepted the 2012 Louisiana Writer Award during a ceremony held at the start of the festival, Hamiliton said. Later, many patrons danced to the music of Amanda Shaw.
Hamilton said that despite operating on a shoestring budget — the festival receives no state funding — the Louisiana Book Festival is still able to provide a great place for readers to get to interact with authors. “We don’t ever want to lose that,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton also credits Library Director Jim Davis, Assistant Director Robby Wilson and more than 100 volunteers for making the festival a success.
Kathy Spiess, and her sister, Karen Wildenfels, both of Metairie, attended Saturday’s event together.
“I usually come every year,” Spiess said.
Spiess, who once owned a book store in Metairie, was disappointed to see a smaller collection of printed books on display Saturday than during past book festivals.
Spiess blamed “electric” books for the decline in the number of printed versions.
“I think that is evidenced here,” she said.
Spiess said she believes that the Louisiana Book Festival does a lot for Louisiana books, Louisiana history and Louisiana authors who publish with a smaller press.
“We definitely purchase our Louisiana history here,” she said.
Mark Dunn, of New Mexico, wasn’t selling Louisiana history, but his novels, including “American Decameron.”
“I just heard him talk and find they’re very interesting books,” said Jenola Duke, of Baton Rouge, who rushed over to find Dunn, purchase his books and have them signed.
While each author has a niche, Dunn said because of the economy, publishers are being more conservative about what they will publish.
He said publishers just aren’t willing to take the risk on an author that “colors outside the lines so to speak.”
This year’s book festival featured something for all ages, and concentrated heavily on getting youths interested in reading.
Demetris Simmons took her four children and one of their friends to the children’s tent where her son, Kyron Simmons, 8, created a flower from a coffee filter.
Her daughter, Nadia, 12, said she likes to read romance and paranormal books, while Kyron currently reads “Diary of a Whippy” series.
“I would rather them be into books than TV,” Demetris Simmons said. “It is contributing to them learning the language.”
In 2004, The American Library Association recognized the Louisiana Book Festival’s efforts with the John Cotton Dana award, citing the festival’s community partnerships, exceptional programs and extensive media coverage.
Most recently, the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress cited the 2006 festival when it presented the Louisiana Center for the Book with a 2007 Boorstin Center for the Book award.