Decatur Books Festival F. Wilson Literary Event Assignment

This year I ventured back to my hometown of Decatur to see the 2016 Decatur Book's Festival. I had been to this festival many times before, but primarily as a community member and student at DHS. This year I entered the festival from a very different viewpoint, as a determined future English teacher. This new view brought life back to an event I felt I had already experienced enough of in my life, and sparked my interest in other literary events and author panels.

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Growing up, the books festival was an event that I usually attended, primarily because my school would require us to volunteer at events like the festival, throughout the year. Most of my memories of the books festival are of me stumbling into the square around 5AM and helping unload thousands of books and other materials because the festival would open. I have always enjoyed volunteering, and I am happy that my school encouraged us to help out at the DBF, but this experience also shaped my relationship with the books festival. I saw the festival as something that I was less a part of as a viewer, reader and book lover. I saw myself more as a member of my community helping to set up a large event that would bring in many outside people. After I got my free Book Festival t-shirt and signed off for my hours of volunteering, I would wander around the booths, through piles and piles of books, but rarely did I stay to see many authors or take part in many of the events. I was always tired by the time the festival started up, and I always felt that I had done my duty and I could just go home.

My myself, my cohort and Jason Reynolds.

This year my perspective and relationship with the Decatur Books Festival radically changed. While in high school my interests in YA literature were pretty limited, and I never took much of an interest in meeting any particular authors at the festival. I had an interest in writing, so some years I went and listened in on author panels, regardless of if I knew the authors or not.

However, this year I came in having read All American Boys by Jason Reynolds, who would be at the festival and presenting on a panel. I was a little excited to hear him speak, and then once he began, and came a live on the stage, I fell in love with his books and his authorship. The books I had read by him came alive for me and I connected to them in a way that was not possible before. The characters felt real and I felt like when I read his words written on the page, I could hear his voice reading them, like he did at the festival that day.

As a future teacher, I saw the potential that an event like the Decatur Arts Festival could bring for my students. I thought about the ways my students could connect to a book, when they connect to the authors that write the words they read on the pages. My students could connect to the real-person-author in front of them, have the opportunity to ask them questions about the characters they love of the writing process they may be eager to begin leaving their mark on. My students could connect on a whole new level to literature through an event like this, a they could get something out of reading that I could not give them directly in my classroom. If I ever have the opportunity to provide my students an experience with an event like this, I will surely seize the opportunity.

I also thought about how I could bring aspects of the books festival into my classroom, for my students who may not have the opportunity to attend such an event. Author talks, with services like Skype or simple webcam connections could bring this type of experience into my classroom. I met several authors at NCTE that gave me their cards and offered to provide such services for my classes. I also thought about my own experience at the festival and what physical artifacts and ideas I could bring back to my classroom. I collected some signed books from the festival, and I thought about how these signatures could be beneficial for my students. Perhaps when they see the signatures they could reflect on the the story the books tell, not just in their plots, but also in their nature as artifacts of the writing process. Books are written by people. My students are valuable, intelligent and creative people. My students can tell their own stories in their writing, and I need to remind them of this as much as possible.

Also, on a closing note, I got a signed copy of Ghost by Jason Reynolds while I was at the Decatur Books Festival. He signed it "Awesome Hair" and I think when I get a classroom of my own I will pop this copy on my shelf and wait to see if any of my students discover the signature. They should know that my hair is appreciated :)

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