A weekend of books

I spent the entire weekend at the Decatur Book Festival, listening to authors, hanging out with friends and making a few new ones.

The festival began Friday night with Jonathan Franzen's keynote reading from his new novel, Freedom. I went with Frankin Abbott and Cal Gough and we grabbed a bite of dinner at Figo before heading over to Agnes Scott College's Presser Hall. We arrived early and there was already a line wrapped around the building. Tickets were free, but had been snapped up weeks ago, so folks were milling around hoping a few seats remained.

I have to be honest – I'm not a Franzen fan. I thought The Corrections was okay, but tedious, and judging from the passage he read Friday night, Freedom sounds like more of the same. I know reviewers are praising the book left and right – just as they did with The Corrections – but it's not my cuppa tea. Publisher's Weekly, who was blogging from the festival this weekend, said Franzen "knocked it out of the park" during his reading, but I beg to differ – unless I was in some kind of Fringe-like alternate universe. 

Franzen strolled out on stage, took off his jacket, tossed it on the floor and rolled up his sleeves. He brought a copy of Freedom on stage and stripped off the dust jacket and through that on the floor, too. The audience was all twitterpated over these actions, while I just gave it one big eye roll. He told the audience it was hard to pick a chapter since they were all so long and involved, so he decided to read parts of the second chapter. It was obvious he hadn't prepared, so the reading was punctuated by pauses as he decided what to edit out. The part he read was full of the usual minutiae that is a Franzen hallmark, but drags on the narrative. During the Q&A, Franzen never actually answered a question, but was admittedly "free associating." Ummm...yeah.

On Saturday morning, editor David Groff discussed Persistent Voices: An Anthology of Poets Lost to AIDS and then I, along with Franklin Abbott, Theresa David, Cleo Creech and Megan Volpert, read a selection of the poems, including those by Reginald Shepherd, Assotto Saint, Tory Dent and Reinaldo Arenas. The ballroom at the Decatur Conference Center was far too big for such an intimate reading, but it was fantastic nevertheless and quite moving. 

The social media panel I moderated was in the same ballroom and we – Karen Head, Jessica Handler, Laurel Snyder and Jef Blocker –expected maybe 30 or 40 folks to show up since there were so many competing events, but there was more like 130! Plenty of practical advice about using Facebook, Twitter and blogs to build a community of writers, interact with fans and using the social media sites to do more than just browbeating folks to buy your book. We could have answered questions for another hour, so we're hoping the DBF folks will let us have more time next year.

After a leisurely lunch at Leon's Full Service with poet Charles Jensen, his partner Beau, their friend Douglas, David Groff, his partner Clay, Dustin Brookshire and Julie Bloemeke, I wandered over to the Local Poetry Stage at Java Monkey and heard Robert Lee Brewer and some other fine poets. I then introduced the self-publishing workshop and headed home. I was exhausted.

Yesterday, it was back to Java Monkey to hear more poetry and then to hear the great poet, novelist and essayist Rigoberto González read a new essay about how Truman Capote's writing had influenced him as a child. It was a beautiful memory piece about being an immigrant and growing up in California. Rigoberto and I met earlier this year at Saints & Sinners and I think he is just a lovely man. I had to rush back over to Java Monkey to host for the final two hours of the Local Poets Stage. Great poetry from Anne Webster, Eve Hoffman, Mike Dockins, Lisa Allender (who just got a major role in a big movie!), Dustin Brookshire, Cleo Creech, Charles Jensen and Gypsee Yo. I read a few of my new ones, too.

After dinner at Twain's with all my poetry pals, I went back to Java to read during the open mic and to hear Patricia Smith read poetry from her new Motown project. Patricia's poetry is mind-boggling good and her double sestina and crown of sonnets were so effortless that it made me want to write more formal work. As expected, the coffee house patio was packed with folks, with many standing on the street trying to listen in. An amazing way to wrap another great Decatur Book Festival.


Sun Singer said…
I keep promising myself I'll drive down into the Armageddon of Atlanta's traffic to go to the festival. Once again, I broke the promise.

Nice to read your overview. Personally, I don't "get" the Franzen thing.

Suzanne said…
Thanks for the recap, Collin. It sounds like a great festival. I read the piece that you heard Rigoberto read in a journal and it was amazing, it really knocked my socks off; I wish I was able to hear him read it! You lucky dog. ;-)
Jeannine said…
Thanks for the write-up, Collin - just like being there.
PS I'm with you on Franzen. He's a snooze! I don't even like his sentences. You know, Zadie Smith can write a mean sentence. Franzen's are too meandering.
Collin Kelley said…
Franzen's writing just has no lyricism. There's no lyricism, no stretch. Just lots of rambling with some sarcastic asides. I love writers who know how to bend and heighten language, like Zadie Smith, Jeanette Winterson, Toni Morrison and Don DeLillo - to name a few.
Sherry said…
Patricia Smith read those same poems here last weekend -- unless she has more than one double sestina and double crown of sonnets on Motown -- and I have to agree. She's mind-boggling good.

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