Louisiana Book Festival

Each autumn, the State Library of Louisiana puts on the Louisiana Book Festival at the State Capitol grounds in Baton Rouge. Weather in Southern Louisiana can go one of two ways in October—unseasonably warm and muggy; or, what most people down here look forward to each fall—seasonably cool, moderate temperatures. We were fortunate to have the latter this past Saturday. It was a blustery day and I don’t think it got above 60 degrees, one of the first really cool days of this 2017 fall season.

I made the seventy-six mile trek up to Baton Rouge with my writing friend Samantha (she drove). For me, some highlights of the day were:

  • William Joyce: He’s primarily a children’s book writer, but I know him as the artist behind The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. This incredibly moving short film won an Academy Award in 2011.  We heard him speak in the House Chamber of the State Capitol building, which is a really cool thing about this book festival—the venue.
  • Michael Farris Smith: He spoke in the Senate Chamber, and I bought his book Rivers. It’s a dystopian story I’ve heard a lot about. From the back jacket copy: “Due to years of catastrophic hurricanes, the Gulf Coast has been sealed off by a government-drawn boundary called the Line. Those who remain below the Line live hand-to-mouth in this lawless, unforgiving land.”
  • Karen L. Cox: A professor of history at UNC Charlotte, she just released a book entitled Goat Castle: A True Story of Murder, Race, and the Gothic South. It’s about a notorious murder that took place in Natchez, Mississippi in 1932. The only person to go to prison for this murder has been largely forgotten by history. She was overshadowed by some whacked-out characters (who didn’t go to prison, despite their guilt), who captured the nation’s attention at the time and capitalized on their notoriety. Karen Cox gives some dimension to poor Emily Burns, the woman who was convicted as an accomplice and who did go to prison. The context is that this woman was hanging out with the wrong person, at definitely the wrong place, at the wrong time.
  • Hidden Figures: speaking of speaking up about the things history forgets…I received a free copy of Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race. The book by Margot Lee Shetterly (that inspired the movie of the same name) is the 2018 “One Book, One Community” selection for Baton Rouge. The East Baton Rouge Parish Library was giving away copies!
  • The pecan pie cupcake I got from a food truck. I think the purveyor was Cupcake Allie out of Baton Rouge. Delicious.

The Louisiana Book Festival’s website says this was their 14th edition. I first found out about the festival just five years ago, in 2012. It was the early days of my writing journey, and I made the trek up to Baton Rouge alone to attend one of the “Word Shops” held in conjunction with the festival. Those four hours spent listening to the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Olen Butler turned out to be a seminal moment in my writing career. Because it was then that I discovered what my writing lacked.

It was commitment.

If I truly wanted to put my work out in the world, and “go public” as a writer, I would need to find a way to put in the necessary hours. To negotiate the demands of job, family, life on Earth—and find a way, carve out the time needed to answer the call. The call to write had been a whisper for most of my life, but it began to shout insistently, smack-dab in mid-life.

While I’d love to say it’s been five years of consistent, steady effort ever since—I can’t. I still get derailed, it’s still a daily negotiation between the demands of job, family, life on Earth. But I’m not forgetting how far I’ve come in those five years: I’ve been published. I have writing friends. I have this blog. I even have an Amazon Author Page.

All these treasures felt like pipe dreams five years ago. I am exceedingly grateful to count them as part of my reality now.

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