On Bookmarks in Winston-Salem



On Bookmarks in Winston-Salem —

Bookmarks – that’s where I was yesterday. It was a head-exploding experience. What is Bookmarks? It’s a festival of books, of writers, of writing.

I’ve seen it morph from a semi-bohemian frolic on Trade and 6th, where attendees could duck in and out of tents and galleries at will, with chairs set up with just enough wobble to call for constant attention to balancing butt and psyche. In one session, a hot and humid day, I ducked into a venue simply because it was air conditioned. In one session, saw a delightful young woman, in sun dress and sandals, come to the podium. I assumed that she was there to introduce the speaker – Gone Girl’s author, Gillian Flynn. So I was surprised to see that this sweet, unassuming gamin was, in fact, the author of that deep, disturbing, Machiavellian, torturously-mapped-out mystery. Her appearance surely belied her writing style, and I’ll never forgot it.

But with success and crowds, come more officialdom, structure. So the once, seat-of-the-pants informality has disappeared. It’s still wonderful – the planners never fail to impress – with their organization, with the atmosphere they manage to project, with the wholesome friendliness that is engendered when a bunch of readers, of book lovers, get together to experience, in real life, some of their favorite, as well as new-to-us  writers.

Over the years I’ve heard lots of writers speak – some have so endeared me to them that I treasure even the books that I’m not so crazy about reading. Others, whose books I fell in love with andrecommend,  have come across as arrogant and bored. While I hope that they were just having a bad day, and while it didn’t change the way I felt about their writing, it surely did make me think twice before purchasing, or reading, any of their new work.

This year, my morning began with John Hart, who delivered a delightful, seemingly off-the-cuff presentation, though since he was finishing up a 40-day promotion tour, I would think that his cuffs have seen a lot of action.

I also got to see a newly discovered (for me, at least), favorite. When I picked up Jacqueline Woodson’s Another Brooklyn, I had no idea that she would to be a Bookmarks participant. I made sure to get my seat early to see and hear her, and I wasn’t disappointed. Her depiction of the life of a writer, albeit a successful one, warmed the hearts of her audience.

Colson Whitehead, whose The Underground Railroad is now number one on the NY Times Best Seller list, spoke to a packed room. He read, he talked, answered questions from the audience, and was wonderfully gracious in fielding comments from one gentleman who had obviously not read the book and wanted to take him to task for  not being “historically accurate.”

My day ended with two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Alan Taylor whose presentation on Colonial American showed us a view of the colonies that few realized.

I stayed all the way to the end to see Jonathan Saffron Foer – his first two books absolutely took my breath away, and I didn’t want to miss the chance to see him and hear what he had to say about his latest book. But the 93-degree heat and torpid humidity, coupled with an outdoor line over two blocks long, was just too much for me at the end of a word-filled day. I walked to my car disappointed about that, but filled with inspiration from writers who opened my mind, my eyes, my life.

A wonderful way to spend a Saturday, so many ideas, so much inspiration.

And this week I passed my novel-in-progress on to my beta-readers. Waiting with “beta-ed “breath to hear their comments. Ah, the life of a writer – to hear from and about others who share the craft, and who do it so well.

Thanks, Winston-Salem.