I’ve been participating in the Kentucky Book Fair for almost ten years now, since my first book (YA novel, Making the Run) was published in 2001. It’s always been a lovely event, with local school visits the day before, and a reception for authors the night before, and finally the event itself. I always see it as a time to get to know new writers or become reacquainted with writers I don’t see very often. It’s a great opportunity to talk to Kentucky writers whose work has deeply influenced my own, like Bobbie Ann Mason, Wendell Berry, Gurney Norman, George Ella Lyon.
This year, I met Heather Clay, who grew up in Kentucky and now lives in New York City (we have a lot in common!). Her first novel is called Losing Charlotte (published by Knopf), and I’ve just started reading it, and the writing is lyrical and lovely, and the story is starting to grab me so that I know I’ll have trouble putting it down very soon.
I also got to see my old friend Maurice Manning, a guy I grew up with/made it through those crazy high school years with. It’s interesting that we’ve both become writers, having grown up in a pretty small town. Maurice is an amazing poet, and very prolific. His latest book of poems is The Common Man, published by Houghton Mifflin. I haven’t started to read it yet, but it’s on my bedside table — can’t wait to dive in!
A couple of other writers/books that really grabbed my attention this year: I Wonder as I Wander: The Life of John Jacob Niles by Ron Penn and How Kentucky Became Southern: A Tale of Outlaws, Horse Thieves, Gamblers, and Breeders by MaryJean Wall, who was a turf writer for the Lexington paper for years.
I have a personal connection with John Jacob Niles. He used to come visit my parents and hang out at the Pioneer Playhouse when I was little. He once told my mother that she had one of the purest voices he had ever heard. And he would often bring his dulcimer and sit with my mother and they would sing together, entertaining the dinner guests before the night’s show. For those of you who don’t know, John Jacob Niles is considered one of the most influential songwriters and balladeers of the American folk music tradition. He is particularly known for collecting and documenting songs of Appalachia.
So…I probably ended up buying more books than what I “earned” selling books. But that’s what often happens anyway when I’m surrounded by books and writers. Have to support my fellow artists!
Sadly, it was a smaller turn out than usual. The economy is definitely still hard hit. People aren’t rushing out to buy books, let me tell you. But the people who did come out to the Kentucky Book Fair this year — as is the case every year — were passionate about books and reading. There are always a lot of parents who bring their kids, and that’s always so heartwarming. Every parent I talked to during the fair said that they want to instill a love of books in their kids, and it’s obvious that they have already — and that makes it all worth while!
Here’s a picture of me at my table, taken by photographer James Sullivan. Thanks James, for letting me use this!
And thanks, as always to Connie Crowe, who does SO very much. Thanks to the folks at Joseph-Beth, especially my gals, Brooke and Rachel — you two rock!