Cassandra Clare and Lev Grossman
We finished our time at the festival with two fantasy-centric novelists, speaking in venues separated by the length of the conference and by the general makeup of their audience. The first was Stephanie Meyers-approved YA author Cassandra Clare, whose three-volume Mortal Instruments series (published by McElderry) has reached bestseller status, spawning (among role playing games, graphic novels, and a proposed movie) a just-released prequel called A Clockwork Angel, the first in a trilogy. The second was Lev Grossman, book critic and technology writer for Time magazine, whose 2009 novel The Magicians (Plume) tells a Harry Potter-like story in the vein of a Jonathan Franzen (not incidentally, Grossman wrote Time‘s Franzen cover story).
The second day of the Decatur Book Festival proves no less busy than the first: the crowds are just as big, the wish to be in two or three different places at once even stronger. Helping manage both those happy problems is the Festival’s program tracks, a helpful listing of events by theme included in the program schedule that covers such topics as Atlanta, Business & Marketing LGBT, dogs (“Man’s Best Friend Track”), Romance, and Poetry.
As part of the Katrina track, commemorating the tragedy’s five year anniversary, four-time national poetry slam champ Patricia Smith read from her latest book of poems, the National Book Award finalist Blood Dazzler (Coffee House). In it, she approaches the disaster from the viewpoint of a number of participants and observers, including residents surviving and dead, a scrappy dog named Luther B, George W. Bush, and, most notably, the storm itself: “I become/ a mouth, thrashing hair, an overdone eye. …every woman begins as weather,/ sips slow thunder, knows her hips./ Every woman/ harbors a chaos.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and her 2007 Orange Prize
With so much to see and do and so many festival-goers to contend with, we (of course) couldn’t make it to all the events we wanted to, and when we did we were not always early enough to get in. Arriving late to an afternoon discussion on storytelling with Award-winning Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, we were shunted upstairs to the balcony where the acoustics were less than ideal; combined with Adichie’s charming accent, we were at times at a loss, and much to our dismay completely missed two of her biggest laugh lines.
Still, it was a rousing talk about the process of writing and the influences behind her work, the most recent of which is the story collection The Thing Around Your Neck (Knopf).
Doug Crandell and Bill Cotter
The morning kicked off at 9:30 with a very family-friendly Pajama Parade, featuring Anna Dewdney’s Llama Llama Red Pajama, and by 11:00 the Decatur Square area was crowded with adults, kids, dogs, and white tents housing not just pubilshers and booksellers of all sizes, but advocate groups, food vendors, puppet shows, local radio, C-SPAN Book TV (which rolled in with an enormous Digital Bus) and even a specialty corn dog vendor, Atlanta’s own Palookaville. And everywhere, blue-shirted volunteers carrying the sign of the beast–Bookzilla, that is.
A well-received stage production of Confederacy of Dunces by Atlanta’s Theatrical Outfit recently raised the local profile of John Kennedy Tool’s contemporary Southern classic, making a discussion of its influence by two young comic novelists a big draw, even to relatively far-flung Decatur High School auditorium. Bill Cotter, author of recently-releaed Fever Chart (McSweeneys) and Doug Crandell, perhaps best known for The Flawless Skin of Ugly People (Virgin), seemed to sink into an instant comedic groove, trading one-liners while riffing off the legacy of troubled Southern scribes who deploy humor and a keen sense of place to deal with their demons:
Moderator Tom Key (who adapted Dunces for Theatrical Outfit): Why do you write?
Crandell: I try to stay away from writing.
Cotter: I think I like individual words. Sentences are okay, paragraphs a little less so. Big things I really don’t care about.
Crandell: Yeah, me too. That’s what I would have said.
If there was any doubt that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Decatur Book Festival (“presented by Dekalb Medical”), wasn’t a major player in the publishing landscape, this season’s reigning Great American Novelist is here to correct you: none other than Jonathan Franzen is kicking off his international tour for Freedom here in the city of Decatur, a bustling little burg perched on the outskirts of Atlanta. Not only is Decatur’s book fest, in its fifth year, hosting some 350 authors and an estimated 70,000 readers, it’s drawn the biggest name in books right now to deliver the keynote address.
No wonder its mascot is Bookzilla, a rampaging tyrannosaur with a book for a head: the two-day schedule is slam-packed with enough events to make any book-lover cringe in terror.
But fear not! PW is here to take you through some of the highlights, beginning with Franzen’s opening-night address and book signing, the only event requiring tickets—handed out free at local independent bookstores—which ran out weeks before the event. We were lucky to get in ourselves, ending up standing in the back a very crowded hall at Agnes Scott College.
Tune in this weekend as Marc Schultz, former PW reviews editor, covers the AJC Decatur Book Festival near Atlanta, Georgia. This weekend, over 300 authors are descending on the city, and we’ll hear about as many of them as Schultz can handle.
Jonathan Franzen will present the festival keynote tonight. There will also be readings and panels featuring Pulitzer-winner Natasha Tretheway, Richard Nash, and NYT bestseller Cassandra Clare.
It’s the next best thing to being there…