About 7,500 book lovers flocked to this year’s Bookmarks Book Festival, which was held Saturday in and around the Downtown Arts District on Trade Street. Now in its fifth year, the Festival is staged by the literacy
advocacy nonprofit Bookmarks and is one-of-a-kind, according to Bookmarks Executive Director Ginger Hendricks.
“We are the only book festival in North Carolina that is free and that is annual,” she said.
More than 40 authors were on hand, and readings, book-signings and cooking demonstrations were seemingly set-up at every turn. The Downtown School on Cherry Street was home to “Young Readers Central,” a hub for games and activities and readings by authors like Kelly Sterling Lyons, who read from her book, “One Million Men and Me.”
The illustrated children’s book was inspired by the 1995 Million Man March in Washington, D.C. After her reading, a little girl in the audience asked if there had been other similar marches, Lyons responded by talking about the Million Woman March and the follow-up Millions More March in 2005.
Lyons, a native of Pittsburg, Pa. who now lives in Raleigh, was inspired to become a children’s writer when she was a girl and read trailblazing black author Sharon Dennis Wyeth’s “Something Beautiful.”
Though Lyons features African American characters and culture in all of her books, she said she has had no trouble connecting to young readers of all races.
“I think some people (and) parents are worried that if it’s an African American face on the cover, kids won’t tune in because it’s from a different background, but kids are just kind of naturally open to different understandings, and they always find some kind of connection to the story,” said Lyons.
At the Urban League, Esmeralda Santiago gave a bilingual talk and reading from her latest novel, “Conquistadora.” Santiago, a resident of Westchester County, N.Y. who was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, came to the United States when she was 13. While she loved reading books by great American authors, she said she didn’t see herself or her culture in those pages.
“One of the reasons I became a writer was that I’m an avid reader and I couldn’t find books or any reading material about an experience that was familiar to me,” said Santiago, whose books are required-reading in Puerto Rican schools.
Santiago was a filmmaker who wrote essays for newspapers and magazines when an editor asked if she would write a memoir. She’s now penned three memoirs, a children’s book and two fictional novels set in her native land. She said her works focus on people struggling to make a place for themselves in life.
Bookmarks also offered a venue for new authors like Christian N. Wynn, who came from Dover, Del. to sell and promote his book, “The Holiday Hotel,” at a street display. He released the book through his own publishing company, CNWynn Publications. He says it is the first book in the “Jack Taylor Cases” series, a supernatural mystery collection that he described as “Harry Potter meets Sherlock Holmes.”
Each book in the series will represent one of the five stages of grief as the title character deals with the death of his father. Wynn, who lost his brother two years ago, said he drew from his own life. He calls the release of his book, which he began writing on his iPhone while working at AT&T, his biggest accomplishment to date. He encourages other aspiring writers to follow their dreams.
“You never know what thing will lead to another,” he said. “If it’s something you’re passionate about, don’t quit.”
Local authors and books were well represented. Nick Barry of Kernersville promoted his “Ethan Sparks Adventure” series; Salem College students pushed the “Sister Maus” series by Professor John Hutton set in 1785 in the Single Sisters House on the Salem campus; Members of Centenary United Methodist Church sold the church’s congregational cookbook, “Be Present at Our Table;” and Thomas Perry of Mount Airy, the author of 20 books on Southern history, pushed his latest, “Beyond Mayberry,” about the late actor and Mount Airy native Andy Griffith.
Nationally and regionally-known personalities took part too. Retired UNC sports announcer Woody Durham discussed his memoir, while Kevin Fox, a writer/director on the show “Lie to Me” and the screenwriter behind the Samuel L. Jackson flick “The Negotiator,” talked about his first novel, “Until the Next Time.” Gillian Flynn, author of New York Times bestseller “Gone Girl,” drew a standing room only, capacity crowd at the Urban League.
The Food for Thought” stage, complete with a kitchen table and oven, allowed cookbook authors to prepare recipes in front of an audience. A beer talk was given by Erik Lars Myers, author of “North Carolina Craft Beer and Brewers” at Finnigan’s Wake.
Attendee Rene Boles of Rural Hall has been a Festival regular, coming each year to hear her favorite authors speak. She compared the festival, with its massive amount of books and the chance to hear and interact with authors, to the popular Star Trek conventions, which regularly draw cast members from the original series and the spin-off show.
“It’s like a sci-fi convention for readers,” said Boles.