Warning: Lengthy and photo heavy post
I am not from the area so I had never heard of this awesome event. A friend mentioned it to me two days before and I knew I had to make my way to it. It had an impressive and robust line up and best of all, it was free!
It is basically a day long event, held every year in DC, from 8am – 7.30pm that’s all about books. It’s broken out into many different sections by genre such as Teens, Fiction, Science Fiction, Poetry and many more. There are different authors lined up to speak in sessions where they talk about themselves, their book, read excerpts and answer questions from the audience.
The convention center is so huge that getting from one end to the other was a job in itself. The event does have a substantial number of volunteers who were very helpful in navigating me around. I also downloaded the event app to get alerts on any changes (which happened as Amy Tan subbed for Madeline Albright and I got the alert too late and didn’t make it in to see her) but maps were on hand and signs everywhere.
My first stop was to see Tayari Jones, author of An American Marriage (you can read our review here) and she was hands down the best person I saw that day. The event made me realize that just because you are a writer does not mean you are an eloquent speaker but this does not apply to Jones. She was fantastic and captivated the room and even people who had not read the book were eager to. She shared her struggles in finding an audience and how her life legit changed within a year.
I went up to ask a question and asked if she thought Celestial and Roy would have made it in marriage if he had never gone to jail, she said “who knows? But I think so” but I think she misunderstood my question as she went on to answer how it’s much harder to succeed at any thing being black so having the stigma of a jail sentence would probably have made it harder. I wasn’t going to be the one to correct her in a room full of hundreds.
Next, I went into the Understanding Our World section as I knew no author in that area. I wandered into Sujatha Gidla’s session. She spoke on her book which is based on the caste system in India and living life as an “Untouchable”. It was an underwhelming session. Her excerpt was so long and she isn’t the best reader and kept stumbling over words. Overall, I left the room with no interest in reading her book, even though it was an interesting subject.
I don’t think I have ever read a graphic novel or comic in my life but I headed over to that section as Roxane Gay was in session and it was about her Black Panther strip. Roxane was herself and as expected an outspoken advocate for black people, women, non size zero and worked that into most of her answers. I was however interested in a comic she said she is working on that features 3 generations of women who become thieves.
I then wandered around to the kids sections and there was a cool parade of states where states had their own booths and kids were given a map and they could go from booth to booth to get their maps stamped.
If you have been reading this blog you know that I do not buy books as mentioned here so I had no business being at the book signings but I snuck in to take some pics.
I was really looking forward to seeing Celeste Ng as I have just read Little Fires Everywhere which I absolutely loved (here). The room was packed so I didn’t get a good seat like the other ones and she seemed nice but she wasn’t a really captivating speaker. My friend wasn’t convinced to read her book.
Her session was moderated by Rumaan Alam, author of Rich and Pretty (which I didn’t think was a very good book, seemed like a man imagining how women operate) and although her book centered around race and was expected it took over a huge portion of the conversation which was good and bad because Alam did say he didn’t want to make her reductive to just race but proceeded to do just that. I did like a line she said where she said if there is anything she is an advocate of, she is an advocate of empathy.
Overall, although long, I think it was well worth it. I like how inclusive the event was and when I say inclusive, I mean in all ways. It warmed my heart to see kids and their parents, just happy to be around books and an event for them to do with their parents. There were a lot of diversity with authors of color and women fully represented. There was even a booth that shared info on the National Library for The Blind and Handicapped.
It’s a cool way to also learn things and expand your mind on things you have never thought about. Seeing authors beyond the characters they put on paper is also an experience. So basically, if this ever rolls around in your area I’d recommend you attending and experiencing it for yourself.
Let me know if you have any questions and in the mean time…more pictures!