I enjoyed the problem of figuring out how to choose between various activities at the wonderful book festivals in the D.C. area this past week. Hearing favorite and new writers read their work aloud teaches us, the readers in the audience, about the writers’ voice, background, interests and quite simply how the pieces sound aloud. Poetry was originally an oral traditional and the relationship between the author’s voice and the audience’s reaction is an important one. If it isn’t possible for you to hear authors live, I recommend looking up their video or audio recordings.
I started my literary weekend at the Fall for the Book Festival’s grand finale with Stephen King on George Mason University’s campus. When I was a young adult, I used to read Steven King constantly. I loved the thrill of his horror novels and still think about the short stories in Four Past Midnight. I try not to think about some of the others, especially after sunset. Or when I’m home alone. Or sometimes even during the day.
As a writing teacher, I’ve always wondered how I would react to a student who writes like Stephen King. After hearing him speak, I’m less concerned. It turns out Stephen King is a funny man. Yes, funny ha-ha (not just strange.) I never would have guessed it. He told some great stories with strong punch lines. The obvious question – where does he come up with his crazy ideas – came up. He answered, “ I think of the worst possible thing that could happen.” Even if I don’t write horror, my own anxious self understands the instinct. Watch part of his reading from his new book here or his entire talk here.
On the National Mall at the National Book Festival on Saturday and Sunday, I heard so many wonderful writers that it is hard to summarize what everyone said in one post. I expect that their voices will come back to me, through my notes, memory and readings, as I continue to write and consider literature. Here were the writers I had the privilege of hearing:
I have wanted my husband, a political scientist, to hear Yusef Komunyakaa for years. I am always moved by the poet's attention to detail, integration of history and his personal experiences in Vietnam and as an active citizen of the world and his voice. Very few poets give the riveting live reading as Komunyakaa and he didn’t let us down. (His voice!) He read from his published books and included some new poems, too.
In fact, most of the poets read some newer, unpublished poems. Reading work aloud is an important editing tool. The writers have a chance to hear how an audience reacts to a work. What a treat to be a part of that process.
I left with two books that I cannot wait to read: Kimiko Hahn’s Toxic Flora and Crossing State Lines: An American Renga edited by Bob Holman and Carol Muske-Dukes.
Thank you to Hans Noel for the photographs.