It’s been a few years since the Commonwealth’s annual book fair moved further away, going from Frankfort to Lexington. But that’s alright because the extra space gives fair opportunity to bring attention to Louisville’s own young and growing celebration of all things literary (even if the two events partially overlap in schedule). This year, the Louisville Book Festival makes a great leap forward as it leaves behind its virtual-presentations roots and takes over the Kentucky International Convention Center for Friday and Saturday, Oct. 28-29.
The founder of the festival – author/educator/therapist Deedee Cummings – shares in a recent press release that her goal has been “to provide a free event that shines the spotlight on inspirational local and national authors while also getting books into the hands of children.” She also gets down to relatable specifics: “There is a significant absence of bookstores west of Highway 65 in Louisville, which greatly reduces access to books for our youth, creating a book desert.”
Ms. Cummings and other volunteers work to mitigate these circumstances through local programs like teen group “It Pays to Read” and through this festival, which brings over 100 authors and other industry participants for readings, activities, giveaways and a podcast. Among the lineup is Maya Payne Smart, who’ll demonstrate herself a kindred spirit to the festival’s founder through the presentation “Reading for Our Lives,” based on her book of the same title. Smart is looking forward to her Saturday-morning attendees gaining “…a better understanding of how parents can best serve as first teachers and brain builders, how the broader community can and must support that, and why we can’t leave reading instruction to schools alone.” She shares a corollary that strikes a cautionary note: those whose earliest years coincided with the COVID lockdown period “…were party to fewer brain-building conversational exchanges, which reduced their vocalizations, delayed their language development, impaired their vocabularies, and undercut their reading readiness.”
Other sessions have authors reading from their recently published work (Femi Fadugba on speculative YA title “The Upper World”), panels discussing favorites to read and write (“Rural Noir: Dark Deeds and Down Dark Roads,” “Breaking Barriers for LGBTQIA in Fiction”) and a pitching challenge featuring publisher Tony Acree.
One of the most interesting projects that registrants will be exposed to is a new collection of work by a poet who left us decades ago. “The Lost Etheridge” offers the opportunity to reconsider or discover Etheridge Knight, whose uncollected works were brought into print through “a labor of love for about two years” by fellow poet – and punk rocker of 1980s Louisville – Norman Minnick.
Minnick found many previously unpublished Knight poems by combing through boxes after securing permissions through a couple of university archives. Minnick found his expectations met in that Knight’s poems, “…even though they are well over 30 years old, are more audacious and sincere than almost anything written today.” Consider this example:
A WATTS MOTHER MOURNS WHILE BOILING BEANS
The blooming flower of my life is roaming
in the night, and I think surely
that never since he was born
have I been free from fright.
My boy is bold, and his blood
grows quickly hot / even now
he could be crawling in the street
bleeding out his life, likely as not.
Come home, my bold and restless son. — Stop
my heart’s yearning! But I must quit
this thinking — my husband is coming
and the beans are burning.
The recovery of this writing talent’s legacy, to find its sharp impact retained and freshly relevant, is a potent, positive lesson to all with appreciation or aspiration toward being an active member of a literary community. The local community will gather this weekend – hopefully to jointly recharge, share enthusiastically with newbies, and pave the way for the festival’s continuing success. •
The Louisville Book Festival will take place Oct. 28-29 at Kentucky International Convention Center, 221 S. 4th St. It’s free to attend, and more info can be found at louisvillebookfestival.com.
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