VA Book Festival Recap — F2F with History of all kinds

Today I met one of the actual plaintiffs from Brown v. Board of Ed — John Stokes, who wrote about his high school’s stand against Plessy v. Ferguson in the book Students on Strike. I felt that telltale chill that says: You are witnessing something world historical.

Participating in the 15th Annual VA Festival of the Book was all about history, both personal and public. Since it was held in Charlottesville, I got to wander around the grounds of UVA, seeing the fingerprints of Jefferson in its architecture. I had lunch with old friends from Philadelphia, the Gunters, who moved to C’ville back in 1965, but with whom we’ve kept in touch.

I had the unexpected pleasure of my memoir panel moderator being Nancy O’Brien, the city’s first woman mayor. Former mayors make great moderators, as it turns out, plus the panel was a motley but wonderful, funny, and thoughtful crew consisting of Randall Kenan (The Fire This Time), Martha Frankel (Hats & Eyeglasses), and recent NBCC Award winner Ariel Sabar (My Father’s Paradise). In a small world meets smaller world moment, it turns out that the ex-mayor was a dear friend of the Gunters’ mom, the wonderful Mary Alice, who we lost a few years ago.

My other panel fell under the broad umbrella, “African American Voices,” and while Pig Candy might not seem to have anything in common with Randall Kenan’s The Fire This Time and Adam Bradley’s Book Of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop, we had a cohesive conversation, great readings, and a responsive audience.

Not for nothing, I also ran into mystery writer SJ Rozan. We lived in the same West Village co-op a million years ago. She still lives there, but I sold my teensy tiny apartment shortly after moving to Philly — apparently too soon, since the sales price for some of those puppies — less then 500 sq. feet, mind you — peaked a couple of years ago at $550,000. But I love the 6th borough. I do. I really do.

Other highlights included a well-attended Links Brunch this morning, full of interesting authors and gracious hosts. And I finally got to meet Bliss Broyard (One Drop), who’s been a virtual friend for some time. All in all, a well-spent weekend.