17 October 2007
What Becomes a Legend Most
The Baltimore Book Festival was held at the end of September here, around our Washington Monument. Events like these are always mixed blessings. One gets to see a number of 'big names' (Nikki Giovanni was here, for example, as was Zane sitting in the Strebor Books booth, along with some ab-tastics who looked like they stepped out of one of her book's pages. And unlike the young lady mentioned in this article, I didn't scream for Clifford the Big Red Dog, but did have a giggle-fit on seeing one of Maurice Sendak's Wild Things wandering around, much to the confusion of The Other Half).
But the Festival can also be very difficult, not only for visitors with so many different programs going on at the same time, but also for small press and self-published authors, or someone who does not have a 'name' (Baltimore City has also put most of its book eggs into the Book Fest basket, making little to no room for things literary at other events, like the annual summer fest, Artscape). Sitting in a booth or walking around for three days, enticing people to purchase or even look at your book....it's tough. But what can I say? It's hard out here for a...n author! These are the dues one pays on the road to becoming an Overnight Success.
The festival was also a chance for many of us in the Maryland Literary Community to pay respects to one of the hardest working women in our number, the late Barbara Simon. She taught at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (and elsewhere), was president of the Maryland State Poetry & Literary Society, and was involved in a wide variety of literary and writing-related projects in this area: Poet’s Ink, Attic, the 3rd Sunday Reading Series at Minas Gallery, the Baltimore Book Festival, and the Maryland State Arts Council Arts in Education and Poetry OutLoud programs. She along with Rosemary Klein was also half of 3 Conditions Press, and published my book, and others.
She had so much time for other people, and other's work, that she never got around to pulling together a collection of her own work. Fortunately Rosemary and others including MiMi Zannino, Alan Reese, Dan Cuddy, Leslie Miller, and Karen Elliott, worked to change that, and debuted the collection The Woman from Away at the Book Festival on Saturday.
The biggest draw of the weekend by far, however, turned out to be Tim Gunn of Project Runway and TG's Guide to Style fame. The crowd of people there to see him was IN-credible, and the line waiting for him to autograph his book snaked down the street. Word is that the bookseller sold out of copies of his book while Gunn was still talking, and had to go back to the bookstore for a couple more boxes -- and then sold all of those as well!
Tim Gunn talked and answered questions, signed for over an hour and a half and got to everyone's book, posed for pictures, and was smiling and as gracious and dapper the entire afternoon. And it's true: the man apparently does not sweat and is a model celebrity (unlike, say, someone else who appeared at the festival, speaking to the audience for only about two minutes before saying, "If you want to talk to me more, buy my book!"). Unflappable and stylish, Gunn makes everything look easy.
More recently Mr. Lake Woebegone, Garrison Keillor, came to the library for a program launching his new book, Pontoon. Rumpled but stylish (his red sneakers with white striped matched the trademark white shirt and red tie he wore with his dark blue suit -- Tim would approve I'm sure), he'd done a Prairie Home Companion show here the night before, and we had a good deal of publicity thanks to our connection with the local NPR station, WYPR, and the place was packed with somewhere between 550 to 600 people. We've had similarly large crowds here before -- most recently for Terry McMillan, John Hope Franklin, M. L. King biographer Taylor Branch, and Chris "Pursuit of Happyness" Gardner (and let's not even talk about the mass hysteria that occurred when Dexter King was here!) so it wasn't completely unusual. But it is still astounding to see so many people show up for a person who still considers himself a writer and storyteller.
So: do we all need a radio program or a reality show to 'make it big'? McMillan famously sold books out of the back of her car going from city to city hitting beauty parlors to small book groups. Mr. Franklin has been toiling in the field of History for longer than I've been alive. Tim Gunn was at Parsons for over 20 years, and Garrison Keillor talked about how he started by filling in at a small radio station as well as how slight and unassuming Prairie Home was when it began. Most of us won't luck out and be
Soulja Boy and Crank That on Youtube: It usually takes a long time -- and a lot of hard work -- to become an "Overnight Sensation."
UPDATE: Listen to a podcast of Keillor's presentation from the Pratt Library website