On Saturday, Barbara and I put our show on the road at the Gaithersburg (Maryland) Book Festival. It was their inaugural festival, and the organizers did an excellent job, even scheduling sunny and warm weather (though a bit breezy). There were eleven tents accommodating almost sixty author presentations during the day plus more than forty other authors sitting at exhibitor tables. We had a grand time talking to people about Well Considered and Cologne No. 10 For Men and even sold a couple of my Skytrooper CDs – songs I wrote in Vietnam (www.vietwarsongs.com), some of which I now find embarrassingly violent. At the festival, I could not resist the temptation to listen to some of the authors speak, and Barbara was willing to take over the booth.
I was lucky to hear the Festival Keynote Speaker Wes Moore, author of the bestselling “The Other Wes Moore: One Name and Two Fates – A Story of Tragedy and Hope.” Wes is a Rhodes Scholar, combat veteran of Afghanistan, and worked as a White House Fellow with Secretary Condoleezza Rice. His proud mother, sister and friends were in attendance. The other Wes Moore is in prison for murder. The speaker asked him whether he thought the difference between them was based on heredity or environment, and the prisoner replied, “Expectations.” So insightful. Earlier I heard Alice McDermott, winner of the National Book Award for her novel, “Charming Billy,” read from her yet-to-be-published novel, due next year. The passage was about illegal aliens in California. Oh! – she is such a good writer. Prior to Alice was Paula Young Shelton, daughter of Civil Rights activist, Atlanta mayor, and UN Ambassador Andrew Young, reciting her wonderful children’s book, Child of the Civil Rights Movement. Much of the story was recollections from her childhood. Can you imagine that? Paula walked in the Selma March to Montgomery when she was three. Now she teaches first grade and her son Noah joined her onstage and crawled between her legs. The first author I heard was Dolen Perkins-Valdez, author of the novel I’m reading now, Wench, about four slave mistresses from the South who accompany their masters on trips to a summer resort in Ohio before the Civil War. It’s a fascinating and beautifully written book. Dolen offered some real insights into whether these relationships were always rape or were sometimes consensual love affairs. These were just the authors I heard – there were so many others I missed.