I have been living in the DC area for a long time and every year I hear about the National Book Festival. I am the only book lover in my family so I am never able to coax enough enthusiasm for the event to have any of my boys volunteer to go with me. Being the chicken that I am and considering that I rather poke a needle in my eye than drive into DC, I have never mustered enough gumption to go by myself, either. So when a writer friend of mine suggested we go together (unlike me she is not scared of DC street traffic) I was delighted.
I didn’t know what exactly to expect since I have never been to the festival but the list of authors speaking and holding autograph sessions was indeed impressive and included some very famous TV and science dignitaries such as Al Roker and Buzz Aldrin (oh my God, oh my God…Buzz! I am such a science geek).
Our first session was supposed to be with Kate DiCamillo. I am a super-fan of hers being a teacher. One of my co-teachers reads one of her books to her class every year and I was hoping to surprise her with some insights into the author herself. Being newbies to this sort of thing we got there way too late; the session was full. Slightly disappointed we went next door to another children’s session. Not the most interesting session ever, though. A lot of bells and whistles but left us feeling a little …empty. Wiser now, we left a little before the end so we could go line up for the next session, Al Roker.
I am not much of a daytime TV watcher but I know who Roker is, of course. I honestly thought it was going to be boring but Al sure surprised me. What an awesome, interesting speaker he is. He was funny, he was insightful and his new book sounds very interesting indeed – even to me and I am not crazy about nonfiction. My mood lifted. This was going to be a good day!
After Al we went looking for some fellow writers in the food court but it was an impossible mission. That place is huge. In fact, the basement reminded me of the gigantic Boeing 747 hangars of my youth. You could park three B747s there, I am sure. We ended up having lunch and then went back up for the next sessions. My friend is a YA writer and I am a YA reader so we decided to focus on those sessions.
The first one was kind of an accident. We wanted to go listen to Buzz Aldrin but the line to get in the room literally wrapped around the building, so we went to Jenny Han’s. I have been meaning to read her books, which have been highly recommended to me by several reviewers, but I haven’t quite got around to it. I am so glad we picked her. What a great, authentic young woman. She was funny, inspiring and a great speaker.
After that, we kind of parked ourselves in that room (and probably made some people very unhappy) because we wanted to attend the next few sessions. The next one was Michael Buckley. Now, I had no idea who that was but I had seen his last book on display in the basement and it looked really interesting. Oh my God, I just loved his presentation. A self-proclaimed ADD-sufferer he just made my day. I am a great fan of humor and he delivered! Amidst all the joking Buckley managed to be extremely inspiring and down to earth, reminding us of why we write.
For our next session we stayed for Libba Bray, the author of the strangely spooky and poetic Gemma Doyle series. She is AMAZING! What energy, what spunk… I loved her. She even got a young woman to sing for her as a signal her time was almost up. So very inspiring from a writer’s point of view to learn about another (much more successful) author’s writing process.
My friend and I had decided earlier to leave after this session but we just couldn’t move. We were hooked. We wanted more! David Baldacci came next. How great it is to hear this extremely successful author confess he needed to challenge himself and that’s the reason why, after so many years of writing adult mysteries and thrillers, he decided to branch out not only into YA novels but stories told from a young female POV .
We wanted more so we stayed for the next one with Sabaa Tahir. Another amazing, inspirational speaker. I was amazed when she told us it took her something like 6 years to finish her novel and that a few times she felt tempted to just give up.
We probably would have stayed longer but we were told we could not stay in that room any longer. So we left on a high note.
One thing that was striking to me was the cultural diversity of these authors and how some of the kids who got up to ask them questions seemed so touched by the fact that their ethnic background had a voice in YA fiction. That in itself was very inspiring. But we also had the author with ADD (how many kids can identify with that?) and an author with a physical disability (Libba Bray lost an eye in an accident as a teenager). It was a joy to see this amazing colorful mixture of authors inspiring young people and adults not only to read but to write and persist in the pursuit of their dreams.
On our way out from the Festival we noticed Buzz Aldrin being interviewed for TV. The geek in me just went, “OMG! I am breathing the same air as Buzz!” (but I played it cool on the outside).
What a great unintended birthday gift (my birthday was the next day) this was. The downside? I now have even more books on my already long to-read list but that is the kind of problem I can easily live with 🙂