I love a festival, but a literary festival is particularly exciting for me because I studied creative writing in grad. school. And grad. school is kind of a funny place where you can immerse yourself in a community where the things you care about become very big and important. I actually love talking to people who study things outside my field and are as obsessed with their own subjects as I am with mine. I used to watch CSI with my roommate who was getting her Ph.D. in chemistry because I liked it when she geeked out on the science of the show. I adore it when people tell, like, math or philosophy jokes because it just hints at an entire culture I hadn’t previously known about complete with its own language, its own conflicts, and its own celebrities. I find that fascinating.
But, obviously, I’m part of my own group of people for whom writers are basically rock stars and people laugh at jokes about post-modernism and Foucault because that’s the kind of geek I am. When I heard Tobias Wolf read and hung around to get him to sign his book for me, I got really nervous and worried so much about not making an ass of myself that I actually just stood mutely until I had to tell him my name, which took me two tries to get right. So, I wasn’t an ass, but I was a big weirdo, making that whole situation a push basically. Last year, I saw Brad Land at the Arkansas Literary Festival and considered yelling, “I love you!” That isn’t really true, of course, because what I actually mean is: I loved your book, and your hair is really dreamy.
That might have been an acceptable thing to say, but I was manning a booth and didn’t feel like I could chase him down to say that. Instead, I yelled–and this is true–“Nice sweater!” I did mean it. It was a vintage-looking maroon Izod cardigan that looked very nice on him. He smiled and said, “Thanks!” as he headed out of the tent. You guys, I’m totally lame.
Still, I’m very excited about the Arkansas Literary Festival this weekend. I’m working Saturday, so I’ll be missing some good talks, which sucks. I did check out a panel this afternoon, and I’m looking forward to Pub or Perish tomorrow night. My friend Jay and I have a running debate about Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina because for some reason I thought it was going to be a funny, lighthearted read, which made the actual story that much more devastating as I read about Bone’s abusive upbringing. But Jay always points out the part in the book where they talk about washing a woman’s hair in baby pee to make it shiny, saying, “Come on, that’s hilarious!” I suppose it might also be a handy household hint, but I’ve never tried it. I’d like to hear her read, and maybe, if the opportunity presents itself, I’ll ask the top five questions I have about the collection and usage of an infant’s urine.
I’m also looking forward to Wells Tower because I read an article in Poets and Writers about how he was a carnie for a week and then ran away from the circus. Awesome. I hear his book is great, too, but he had me at “ex-carnie.” In tenth grade, our journalism teacher sent us to the fair to conduct interviews. I talked to a guy who told me his name was One Ball, and while I had a lot of questions about that, none of them seemed fit for a high school newspaper. Plus, I was scared. The only good quote I got was from another student named Travis Blakeney, who proudly told me, “Yeah…I touched a goat.” If the circus is anything like the fair, running away seems like a smart move.
If that angle didn’t hook me, this quote from a NY Times article on Tower would: “[F]or subsequent pieces he immersed himself in the disparate worlds of New Orleans voodoo, interstate truckers, a Pentecostal preacher, professional miniature golf players, compulsive gamblers and Wal-Mart workers.” You can read the entire piece here.
I’m looking forward to geeking out this weekend, and maybe I’ll even manage to say something as witty and charming as “Nice sweater!”