Notes From the Louisiana Book Festival
by Erin Z. Bass
Held October 27 on the grounds of and inside the Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge, the Louisiana Book Festival was a wonderful way to spend a sunny, chilly day. Tents with literary-related exhibitors, plus the Barnes & Noble booksigning and buying tent, scattered the lawn leading up to the Capitol building. The State Library was open with a George Rodrigue exhibit titled “Walker Percy, Sylvester Stallone and the Blue Dog” and special events in the lobby. Food vendors, a storytelling tent and live music stage also filled out the area. But the main event was inside the Capitol building itself. While it took a few minutes to get inside after climbing the long flight of steps and waiting to get through security, it was well worth the wait. To be able to sit at the desk of a senator or representative while hearing an author talk is a unique experience. And once underground in the lower floors of the building, more committee rooms for readings and presentations awaited.
The schedule was jam-packed with more than 140 authors in 18 venues over a span of about eight hours. It took a bit of planning and circling in the program schedule to try and see everything I wanted to, and I didn’t succeed, but that was part of the fun. After a quick scan of the tents and display tables lining the walkway to the Capitol, I passed security with no problems and settled into the Senate Chamber to hear Cory MacLauchlin talk about John Kennedy Toole. The room was packed, and Cory had the audience mesmerized with the compelling story of the New Orleans author who committed suicide at a young age and his own process in writing a biography about him.
I really wanted to catch the tail end of Karen Spears Zacharias on “The Silence of Mockingbirds” after this, but it took too long to get down to the basement. I did catch of glimpse of Marcelle Bienvenu talking about the “True Blood” cookbook, then settled on some lunch and a browse through the book tent, where I spotted Ron Rash signing and Wiley Cash milling about before his talk. After reading “A Land More Kind Than Home” over the summer and including the book on our Summer Reading List, I was really looking forward to hearing Wiley speak. I knew he’d spent time at UL Lafayette but didn’t realize his being in South Louisiana and away from his home state of North Carolina inspired him to write the book. He says he wrote with a strong sense of place because he felt like he was living in two places at once.
“You always want to begin with a little bit of mystery to keep people turning the page,” he offered for advice and also revealed the title and plot of his next book. “Stealing Home” (working title) is about a washed up baseball player who finds a bunch of money hidden in a wall and goes on the run with his two daughters.
Next up was a peek into the “Meanwhile, Back at Cafe Du Monde …” session with stories about food from chefs and special guests and then the last half of Rick Bragg. This time it was the House Chamber and another full room. With the ease of telling stories in his living room and without a microphone, Bragg talked about coming up with ideas for his back page column in Southern Living magazine, while Editor Kim Cross gave the backstory. Capping off the day in the House Chamber was a bowtie-clad John Shelton Reed on “Dixie Bohemia,” which we reviewed last month.
John’s tales of William Faulkner, Bill Spratling and Sherwood Anderson in 1920s New Orleans are captivating, and I was thrilled for him to sign my book at the end. It was time for the drive back home. I hadn’t made it to hear Irene Latham, Ken Wells, Olympia Vernon, Louisiana Poet Laureate Julie Kane or any of the other numerous poetry sessions, but there’s always next year.