The poet, Rilke, came to mind when I visited the AJC Decatur Book Festival today. "Love consists of this," he wrote. "That two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other." I began the day by introducing Ahmad Meradji's talk on self-publishing on the City Hall stage. I stopped for lunch at the divine Cafe Alsace when there was no hope of getting into William Ferris' talk on The Storied South at the Decatur Library, not even for standing room.
There were seats, however, at the 12:30 discussion of Slavery and Spirituality, and I'm glad I did not miss that. As an African-American, I sometimes have to fight back the feeling that white people don't have anything to tell me about slavery. But as I listened to Elaine Nell Orr (Author, A DIFFERENT SUN) and Margaret WRINKLE (Author, WASH), I was reminded, as I am in my own stories, that the institution of slavery has touched all Americans, black and white. I was grateful to these fine writers for their perspectives on how white experience has been shaped by West African traditions and the indelible legacy of slavery. This was when Rilke first popped into my mind.
Later, during a seminar on the Strength of Character: Self-Discovery in Fiction, Rilke nudged me again during the Q&A with authors, Jill McCorkle (LIFE AFTER LIFE) and Jennifer Haigh (NEWS FROM HEAVEN). What you noticed, listening to readers query writers, was that the room was filled with solitudes. They could have subtitled the festival, A Gathering of Interiors. It's the inner life, not the outer one, that matters. Here was an entire festival set aside to celebrate that - and people came in droves to protect and touch and greet each other. How awesome is that? Eight years in a row they've done this - and we've still got another full day of events tomorrow (9/1). Surely they hold this on Labor Day each year because it is, most assuredly, a labor of love.
Speaking of which, the piece de resistance for me, was the 3:00 PM seminar "Where Did Our Love Go: Love and Relationships in the African-American Community." Attorney David Horton, Author Gil Robertson, IV, Poets Lita Hooper and Tanya Gipson, Psychiatrist, Dr. Cassandra Wanzo, and Spelman College Adjunct Professor Edward Garnes were panelists who also contributed essays or poems to the anthology by the same name, which Robertson edited. Must own this book. Though I'm awfully glad I did not miss the sound of Hooper's voice reading "We be" or Gipson reading her lovely poem on coming to terms with being single, "Life Partner." Being single. Coming to terms with that. Solitude.
Naked and alone we come into exile. (Might as well add Thomas Wolfe to this mix.) And that's how we're going to leave. People who move through the world understanding that - and respecting it in others - found a place to be alone together at this year's Decatur Book Festival. Glad I didn't miss it.
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