By: Pat Austin
You know you have reached the surreal when you are signing books fifteen feet away from Donna Brazile who was there signing her new book, Hacks, or riding the elevator with the legendary Ernest Gaines. I was fortunate enough to see Mr. Gaines last year at the Books Along the Teche literary festival: he is a gracious gentleman and gifted writer.
My husband and I drove to Baton Rouge Friday afternoon in time to make the author’s party at the State Library of Louisiana that evening. I’ll admit that I did think about Stacy McCain when we drove through Livonia. (You might ask him about that speeding ticket a few years ago!)
The author’s party was fabulous; there was a jazz band and enough superb Louisiana food to feast upon for days: gumbo, boudin balls, crab cakes, shrimp alfredo, bread pudding, etouffee, it just went on forever. I met the most fascinating people and added to my “want to read” list in a significant way. I even added a children’s book to my list: Poncho’s Rescue: A Baby Bull and a Big Flood, by Julie Thomas, who was working with the LSU Vet school during the floods of 2016 and was involved with the team who helped save the very sick little animal after his rescue. It’s quite a story!
I also chased down Karen McManus, author of the popular YA novel, One of Us is Lying, to tell her how much both I and my students love her book. She was very gracious and didn’t seem to mind my gushing fan-girl approach, thankfully.
Day two began with a little sightseeing around Baton Rouge; we spent a lot of time on the levee watching the tow boats and barges on the Mississippi River; we toured the old Louisiana State Capitol which is absolutely stunning. The stained glass, kaleidoscope dome is breathtaking. Then we headed over to the Capitol grounds for the festival.
The Louisiana Book Festival draws about 20,000 people and is one of the top book festivals in the South. This year there were 250 authors either giving talks about their books or participating in panel discussions. There are children’s events and various live music performances as well as food trucks all day long. The book presentations take place in the State Capitol Building in the various House and Senate Committee meeting rooms in thirty-minute intervals and then the authors are shuttled over to the signing tent to sign copies of their books.
My presentation was one of the last ones of the day and so we had plenty of time to browse the book tents while waiting. We picked up My Brother’s Keeper by Chris Blackwood, which is a true-crime thriller about the 1984 death of Gary Kergan from Crowley, Louisiana. The case went cold and was finally resolved thirty years later and it’s a wild one. Chris sat next to me as we signed books together and she signed our book! We also bought The Sound of Building Coffins by Louis Maistros, the epitome Southern Gothic novel filled with voodoo, quirky characters, and mysterious plot. It’s getting good reviews so I can’t wait to just get lost in this one.
Louisiana is home to so many terrific and talented authors, I think in part due to the cultural diversity we have in our state. From the southern tip of the state to the far northeastern corner, we are a mélange of swamps, rice fields, sugar cane and cotton fields. We are refineries and skyscrapers, blue collar workers and suits. We are the Shreveport Symphony, New Orleans jazz, and Cajun zydeco. We eat boudin, crawfish, alligator, and the infamous gumbo. We are fine dining with a river view in Baton Rouge, woodfired pizzas at the craft beer tap room in Arnaudville, and huge homemade burgers in Coushatta. We are magnolia trees, Spanish moss, azaleas, and cape jasmine. We are Spanish, French, African, Jamaican, Creole, Irish, English, Hispanic, but uniquely American. It is no wonder that Louisiana writers and authors create such a wonderful and diverse collection of material every single year which is celebrated at the Louisiana Book Festival.
Be sure to put it on your calendar for next year: you won’t be sorry!
Pat Austin Becker blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.