Tuesday, October 15, 2013

District of Lit

The other week marked a rare event: the Library of Congress and the Folger Shakespeare Library – two of the country’s most venerable institutions – noted that our city has a lively, bubbling book scene.
    Organized by PEN/Faulkner, the event, called District of Literature, took place on the eve of the federal shutdown. After a reception at the Folger where small press authors chatted with notable officials of the word, I crossed the street to the Lutheran Church of the Reformation, and joined fellow Washington Writers’ Publishing House author Brandel France de Bravo in the audience. To my left in our pew, bestselling authors Elliott Holt and Danielle Evans huddled. And to our right, after her duties as emcee, Emma Snyder of PEN/Faulkner took a seat. A few rows ahead I saw Sunil Freeman of The Writer’s Center. Poets, fictionistas, authors of histories – all found a seat under this roof.
    The four readers that night laid out a rich banquet of life and death found in the city, from Elizabeth Alexander’s poetry – encompassing a girl’s early anxieties, Stokely Carmichael's public confab with A. Philip Randolph, and even the outsider vision of James Hampton’s Throne, from its garage near Seventh Street to its current home at the American Art Museum – to Edward P. Jones’ Hurston-esque story, ‘The Devil Swims Across the Anacostia River.’ And from E. Ethelbert Miller’s poems of life and everyday struggle on the streets to George Pelecanos’ tale of mortality in The Night Gardener, based loosely on the Freeway Phantom who terrorized Washington in the early 1970s.
    By the time we spread out into the night, with the Capitol’s lighted wedding cake just blocks away, I felt full from a shared feast.
    You find guideposts to many of these offerings in DC By the Book, a website connecting fiction to the city’s landscape created by the DC Public Library, which has always nurtured local writers and readers.
    And you can find your own place here, whether in fiction, poetry or nonfiction. One way to do that is with a Writer’s Center workshop - including mine this Saturday, Putting the Pieces Together: Researching and Writing Local History. Whatever you choose, I hope we get to read your stuff soon.