August 31, 2014
I was browsing Facebook yesterday morning as I so often do when I saw someone talking in passing about plans to attend the National Book Festival.
Naturally, my reaction was “National Book Festival?! Why did nobody tell me, and when do I leave?”
Upon further research, I determined that the National Book Festival was a free event hosted by the Library of Congress and taking place all day in the Washington, DC convention center, extremely convenient to my university. I was disappointed to read the list of attending authors and found I had heard of only one; it would not be a starstriking-encounter, but I was still eager to congregate with a nation’s worth of other book aficionados, so I rounded up some companions and we successfully navigated the Metro downtown.
The experience started out strong: we had been inside the center less than a minute when we were offered free posters, green with a reading crescent-moon on them. I just got some new posters to decorate my side of the dorm room, so I was very much in a poster mindset and thrilled with the boon.
Unfortunately, however, as we got deeper into the building, we began to sense a lack of pertinent activities. Most of what was going on was signings for the attending authors–understandable, but again, none of the names meant much to me–, and selling of their particular books.
There were a number of panels on the schedule as well, which probably would have been interesting, but being college students, we had gotten a late enough start to the day that a lot of things had already happened.
To further the iffiness, when we visited the food court, we found the options were both exorbitantly priced (typical for a convention center) and limited. Also, the vending machine was out of water, and ate two of my dollars.
There was still the central reason I had come, though, and that was a youth poetry slam at six pm. So at 5:45, we joined a large crowd on the main floor and funneled into a large room with a stage set up at the front. All the chairs were taken, so we nabbed spots on the floor near the front where the view wasn’t blocked and settled in to wait (me flopping around every few minutes, because my leg circulation and the ground have never mixed well).
The slam was very cool. For the first round, all the performers were prompted to slam about topics related to books and reading; for the second round the topic was open. One girl described a controlling ex-boyfriend in an extended Pinocchio metaphor. A guy in a graphic t-shirt, who ended up the champion of the night, rallied against the prevalence of writers and artists being questioned about their “Plan B”. A girl with a blue cast on her arm provided a manifesto against Twilight, which made me realize how tired I am of discussions of Twilight—a loaded fact which probably deserves a post of its own at some point in the future, if I can reconcile myself to creating, well, another discussion of Twilight.
I always enjoy listening to slam poetry, holding out anticipation for that one poem, that one line, that will send that chill of truth and electricity through me. I realized during the show that I’ve been noticing a trend over the past year of recorded slam poems on relevant social issues circulating the internet. I think that’s awesome. Poetry, and really any form of commentary that sells as its own product beyond just the message it’s promoting, can be such a powerful way to make people truly think about things in a new way, and remember it.
I was fairly inspired to try writing my own pieces of spoken word; I do love writing “page” poetry, after all. But so often the mark of a good slam performance is outward intensity, almost anger, and I struggle to imagine myself expressing that kind of intensity about anything. I’m a soft-spoken person, and my life has been fortunate enough not to provide me with many personal experiences I could get riled up about. I don’t know. I know there are different styles of slam poets.. I’ll just have to see.
There was a panel I was interested in called “Great Books to Great Movies”, but my friend had to get home to meet somebody at nine, so we headed out. We agreed that the event overall had felt less like a book con, or a social gathering of bookish people for assorted activities, and more like a very focused arrangement for services related to the authors that were there—get in, buy books and get them signed, and leave. However, this impression might have been different if we had gotten there earlier and attended more of the panels that were offered.
Despite not being exactly what we had imagined, it wasn’t a wasted day. I’m glad to say I was there, and I gained some confidence about the Metro, as well as learning how to get to the convention center, which could be useful if my fellow Tumblr-type geeks ever assemble there for an anime con or something. Plus, I astonishingly ran into my high school genetics teacher, who moved to DC the same time I did to take a new job. I couldn’t believe the coincidence. And of course, the poetry slam was enough alone to make the trip worthwhile.
The whole experience made me even more eager to potentially get to BookCon 2015. Irritatingly, although the trip to NYC by train would be vastly easier from here than my hometown, it will take place when I’m already home for the summer. A lot of cons this year are skipping around my travel schedule in the least accommodating ways. But I may have to find a way to attend even so.
Any other NBF attendees out there? How was your day?