Leaves and Lit

2012 Brattleboro Literary Festival

Is it possible that I get to both live in Vermont in October and attend the Brattleboro Literary Festival as if I am a tourist? Yep, it’s true. And what I mean by a tourist is this…

For many years, with young children in the house, I’d race down the treacherous curves of Rte 9, scrabble for parking, drop nickels and pennies to the street while rummaging for  meter quarters, and finally slink in late to a reading by John Irving, Galway Kinnell, or Augusten Buroughs followed by a short Q and A.  Directly after, I’d huff up the sidewalk to look for my car, and scurry home to nurse a baby or play Candyland in my kindergartener’s tree house while yellow leaves fluttered around our ears to the ground.

If I got to do this all over again on Sunday, I’d give a cheer, pumping my arms like a sports fan.

As my kids grew, my time downtown at the festival increased. A few years ago, I signed on as a volunteer, making sure Sue Miller and Jamie Ford had their water bottles. I sweetly requested that visitors make generous contributions for attending another–admission by donation–event. This year, however, I missed volunteer sign up and when I looked at my baby daughter’s (now age 15) schedule indicating that she would be away all weekend, up flew my arms again…woot, woot, woot!

Total freedom! I could be like those literary leaf peepers who devote an entire weekend to tote black umbrellas and book bags up buckling sidewalks, break for coffee at Amy’s, browse the Broadside Show at the Catherine Dianich Gallery reading every line of printed word on vellum, and stand in line like rock concerts groupies to own a signature of one of their favorite all-time novelists.

(I even thought about booking a room at the Latchis Hotel to get the whole sleep-and-wake-up downtown experience, but I’m saving my lit mag money for AWP in Boston.)

I got out my yellow highlighter and chose one of out the two or three choices per time slot, totaling the 13 events I would attend.

Here are some highlights…

Literary Death Match

Most Fun: Hands-down the most fun I had was at Brattleboro’s premier Literary Death Match.

Hilarious host, Todd Zuniga, even cracked himself up which made me crack up even more. And Stewart O’Nan, Major Jackson, and Jane Yolen, all wordsmiths extraordinaire, should never be underestimated for their stand-up talents. Congratulations to Tayari Jones, Winner of the Brattleboro’s 2o12 LDM.

Best Story to Look Forward To Reading the Next Chapter: Ms. Jone’s reading at the First Baptist Church–where she edited out the F-Bomb in honor of the venue–and then again her slam performance in the River Garden, introduced me to her fiction. Her grace depicted both of her natures, the serious and the fun, exactly what she hopes to achieve by her craft. (Read Poets and Writers article by Rochelle Spencer, May/June 2011.)

Most Heart: Hard to pick just one, but I’d have to say that hearing Steve Almond and Courtney Maum talk about the importance of knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing in making art left me breathless with hard questions. Whether you want the perfectly-sized and styled to your personal aesthetic $5 self-made book or you want the big house hardcover with the movie option, know what you want and why you want it. After, did I have a brief existential crisis in the middle of my literary heaven weekend? Yes! And I loved it!

Best Flash: There’s no way I’m choosing just one of the five flash masters showcased on Saturday night in readings by Randall Brown, Kathy Fish, Jacob White, Sarah Rose Etter, and Steve Almond. Suffice it to say, I held my breath. Again and again. Held. My. Breath.

Best Elbow-Rubbing: Jacob White: writer, fiction editor (Green Mountains Review), and sweetie-pie. I can say that, right, it’s not creepy? After all I’m going to be a grandmother in two months and every time I talk to the guy he tells me to send him a story. Isn’t he a sweetie-pie? And his flash…see breath-holding above.

Best Q and A: Ben Dolnick and Matthew Dicks: engaging, relaxed, conversational, and the topic of childhood and coming-of-age doesn’t often leave me with the feeling that there’s much hope for the future, let alone the opportunity to look forward to it. I’d place any childhood experience into their capable hands, whether Proust or Alice Munro is involved or not. (Sorry, you had to be there. So next year, come.)


Best Read Aloud: Margot Livesey, not only because of her delightful presence and Scottish accent, but because I am a huge fan of her novels, and she read beautiful lilting prose in my favorite Brattleboro building, The Brooks Memorial Library, from which I first checked out Eva Moves the Furniture.

And, I also learned that her favorite one of her books is also my favorite one of her books: Eva Moves the Fruniture. And, she brought her best friend who happens to be Andrea Barrett. I want Andrea Barret to be my best friend.

Do you see what I mean by fan?

I get why some men break things over football games, or like Matthew Dicks, wears a NY Yankees hats in eastern Vermont even while he still hopes to sell books.

It’s the devotion to meter by the Vermont poet laureate, Sydney Lea who writes about cows in mud and his wife’s naked back. It’s the adrenaline of adverbs and adjectives, the suspension of disbelief, the jitters as the clock ticks down, the western light dimming against Mt. Wantastiquet and the final reading on Sunday afternoon.

When it was over, I climbed the hill to my car with a bag full of books and a bottle of wine from the Coop. Back home, I sipped and browsed.

I texted my daughter, “How was your weekend?”

“Great. Yours?” she asked.

“Like playing Candyland in an autumn tree house.”