13 November 2012

Looking Back At Wisconsin Book Festival

Wisconsin Book FestivalI really enjoyed the festival and had a really great weekend. A recap.

Let's start with Friday because
I was busy on Wednesday night and kind of wiped out on Thursday night. But on Friday, I finally did get going. However. I missed seeing Emma Straub and the other fiction writers because I left the video camera I'd checked out from the library on the bus (because I got caught up in writing a poem about Phillis Wheatley and Thomas Jefferson in response to a reading for my book history/print culture class). Happily, I recovered it soon afterward. I couldn't help saying to myself, I'm really glad I'm not a jerk to bus drivers.

So, then, finally, I got to the book festival. Davy and Peter Rothbart of FOUND magazine were doing an event. I'm sort of surprised I went because I expected it to be hipster central. However, there wasn't a single moustache in sight. The found items made me think of how everyone's just here trying to connect with other people, find a bit of love, and not go hungry. Davy seems like a tremendous humanist to me. Later, I found my way (har har!) to a bar in Madison I'd never been to--it reminded me of a Milwaukee bar, which is great--in order to get some tape of Davy. I talked to some folks for a while; then Davy was nice enough to talk to me on camera. (It's for a project I'll be turning in next month.) So, I went home happy.

The next day I went to what used to be the Madison Zine Fest. And I saw Amos Kennedy who is, like, famous. I bought one of his prints, and he signed it for me. I can haz art collection now? I told him about my friend Wanda Ewing, printmaker extraordinaire. (If they do a collaboration, I want my 20 per cent.) Oh, Amos Kennedy knows Natalie Chanin. I also saw Megan Katz, the managing director of Wisconsin Book Festival, who is known to both me and Greg Grube, that troubadour of the trapezius.

Later on Saturday afternoon. I saw Edwige Danticat. This was the big name event and I had never seen Danticat before. Also, my very first roommate in Wisconsin was a Haitian-Canandian art professor, so I feel like I have a connection to Haitian culture. If you're in Milwaukee, you should go to the Milwaukee Art Museum to see the Haitian art there.

After that, I went to see Dean and Natalie Bakopolous. Dean got his MFA here at Wisconsin. He lives in Iowa. A faculty member at Iowa State, he  is currently visiting at Grinnell. Natalie, his sister, is a lecturer in the English department at Michigan. Oh, and at that reading I did see Emma Straub, so I got a photo of her for my project.

Last of all, I went to see First Wave, which is, in a nutshell, a bunch of undergrads into hip-hop cultures. Their event was honoring John "Vietnam" Nguyen, a really talented young man who drowned this past summer. They had some high school kids backing them up. One ninth-grader's rhymes were so good it depressed me. Like, dang, I've really gotta start revising. And I saw the best MC I've ever heard (live or mediated) at this event. And it was a girl. Oh. Snap.

SundayFrank X Walker was also at the First Wave event on Saturday night. He teaches at University of Kentucky, as does National Book Award-winning Nikky Finney. On Sunday I went to a screening of a movie he produced called Coal Black, which is about black writers from the Appalachian region of the U.S. He was the one, I believe, who coined the term "Affrilachian," which now appears in the Oxford American Dictionary, apparently. After screening the film, the audience asked him questions. And, yes, Finney does appear in the film. At the end of the event I had the temerity to show Walker the poem I had written on the bus on Friday night.

The next event I went to was part of an event by Theater Oobleck. This was a really exciting concept (!) that involved translations of (in two out of three cases) Les Fleurs du mal, live music, and drawings/paintings hand-turned on scrolls. The description of the event called it "pre-electric-age cinema." I didn't stay for all of it because I ran out to attend

...a panel about Creative Publishing that featured Frank X; the editors from Verse Wisconsin; the Devil's Lake editors; CX Dillhunt from Hummingbird; and Ching-in Chen, now the EIC of Cream City Review, whom I know from Milwaukee. It was good to see Ching-in again; I hadn't seen her in more than a year.

Reflecting on the Wisconsin Book Festival, the lesson I learned is that life is pretty much about building relationships and being a kind, considerate person. (Duh?) This is what I mean: I was recording the zine festival in a campus library. Before I did, I went to the desk and asked if it was ok to do so. So, I talked to the guy as the desk; and the guy at the desk called the supervisor. The supervisor called somebody else. All the while, I was standing there. I saw some people I knew from Milwaukee and talked with them a little. Then the supervisor came back and said it was all ok. I filled out a form and went on in. But what I realize is that by being smart and considerate enough to ask--rather than having just waltzing in unauthorized and getting hassled later--I interacted with these two guys at the library who will now think when they see me (and they see me a lot because I'm in that building often), She's smart, prepared, and civil. And later I'll see them somewhere--because Madison is a small town--and they'll know I'm smart, prepared, and civil--and they'll talk to me and introduce me to whoever. And I'll know the people they know. And I'll feel happier and more at ease in the world knowing that I am known in and by the community.

This is how I think life should be. And I know we're lucky when it is.

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