What a great festival! It was my first time. At the opening party for authors, Jacqueline Woodson was honored with an award and she made an excellent speech: humble, articulate and funny.
My session was a reading for debut novelists and I was privileged to share a stage with Natashia Deón, R.J. Hernandez, Matt Gallagher, and Jessica Winter, with the wonderful Emma Straub as moderator. I’ve read some of Gallagher’s and Deón’s work, and it’s safe to say the future of the American novel is in spectacularly good hands.
With only an hour allotted between five of us, there wasn’t much time for questions and answers after our readings, but the session was very enjoyable. It took place on the Main Stage outside. Despite the ambient noise and people wandering around, somehow it worked out fine.
My other highlights were briefly meeting Margaret Atwood and listening to the brilliant T. Geronimo Johnson. Johnson’s panel was about race. He pulled no punches. He tackled the issue of “things getting better” for Black people, and his comments reminded me of something I once heard: “Justice delayed is justice denied.” He was electrifying.
I also saw a panel involving Larry Siems, the editor of Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s Guantánamo Diary (which I wrote about here), and journalist/artist Molly Crabapple, who has also reported on Guantánamo. This was a thought-provoking session that took place at the juncture where art meets human rights.
Siems movingly talked about Ould Slahi’s writerly gifts: his use of all five senses, his irony and humor, and the fact that he sees beauty even under the most horrific circumstances, as when he describes the sky after a sandstorm even as he’s being illegally sequestered by the police. Siems, with great humility, also talked about how he spent months editing Slahi and then had to go back and un-edit. Slahi, you see, was just unbelievably accurate in his perceptions of place, nuance, and language.
Thanks, as always, to the organizers and the numerous volunteers. This was a fantastic festival. Brooklyn, I salute you!