Well the Bay Area Book Festival came to town this past weekend – 300 authors, more than 100 sessions, tens of thousands of attendees, held in downtown Berkeley, and it was a wonderful experience. I’ve never had a bad book festival experience, mind you – I used to go to Hay-on-Wye every year, I went to the Edinburgh one once, Auckland for many years and Melbourne. Yes I know the Auckland festival is getting better and better, I don’t want to know.
And though the Berkeley book festival had some international writers, it was the locals who made it a fun experience, confirming that we picked a good place to live.
A public art installation made out of 50,000 books was the centerpiece for the event, a temple of books constructed in the central city park. People did as they were meant to, browsed among the shelves and took books away with them – it was a truly live piece of art.
The first session I went to, dragging the child who prides himself on his techie-ness, was a fantastic way to kick things off. Local, Robin Sloan, author of the wonderful “Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore” was just the man to chair the cosy session, which was looking at how technology is changing the way stories are presented. Panelists were two of the men behind The Silent History, Eli Horowitz and Russell Quinn, as well as publisher Lise Quintana. Sloan likened the current state of publishing to a time when fonts were just being talked about or soft back books were just being introduced.
Writer mothers were meanwhile given a platform at the festival, women including Kate Schatz, author of Rad American Women A-Z and Katrina Alcorn, known for Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink as well as UC Berkeley’s Aya de Leon and Carolina de Robertis. De Robertis talked about the time she was hanging out with French male writers at an overseas event and they asked her how she found the time to write when she was the mother of young children. They didn’t seem to think this was a question that was relevant for them. Katrina Alcorn said very honestly that she was gathering the energy to write again – there just wasn’t the time at the moment on top of her job and her kids.
Aya de Leon summed it up: “Writing is hard, being a mother is hard, and being a writing mother is hella hard.”
The last session I went to, a real highlight, was Kelly Corrigan, author of “Glitter and Glue” interviewing husband and wife writing couple, Ayelet Waldman and Michael Chabon talking about writing in the same house and not strangling each other (my words…). They obviously really make it work and at one stage even shared an office which is what I call ambitious. Both are writing TV pilot scripts as well as novels these days. Chabon is also working on a screenplay about Frank Sinatra for Martin Scorsese – based on the fantastic article written by Gay Talese in 1966, “Frank Sinatra has a cold,” . Can’t wait to see that on screen. Meanwhile, a great inaugural book festival organized by Cherilyn Parsons and her team. She should feel proud.
I think the authors at the Auckland Writers Festival should just come straight on to Berkeley next year. That would really solve all my problems…