Thursday, August 30, 2012


America’s Poet Laurete is Keynote Speaker

By Doc Lawrence
DECATUR, GA—This is the little city that could and did. Literally surrounded by Atlanta, it is one of the country’s most livable and enlightened towns, totally urban, full of academics and brimming with rather good restaurants. It’s the Labor Day weekend home of the wildly popular AJC Decatur Book Festival, the largest community supported, independent book festival in the nation. The festival is run by a small, non-profit organization that operates the event in trust for the general public, who are, according to festival managers, the actual owners.

This year’s festival keynote speaker is Natasha Trethewey, the new U.S. Poet Laureate who will deliver her address at the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts at Emory University. Rumor has it that she will introduce her newest collection of poems, Thrall, to the standing room only audience. Ms.Trethewey received the Pulitzer Prize in 2007 and is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of English and Creative Writing at Emory, and is also the Poet Laureate of Mississippi, her native state.

On a cold winter morning not long ago at Emory, I sat in a class led by the engaging professor as she talked about growing up in the Deep South, the child of a racially mixed marriage, the murder of her mother and that tumultuous day when the student killings at Virginia Tech occurred just before she learned of her Pulitzer award. Her daughter, unharmed she later learned, was a student at Virginia Tech. I asked Ms Trethewey while she was inscribing my copy of her 2006 collection, Native Guard, where she wanted to live during her final days. “Mississippi,” she replied with a smile. “It will always be my home.”

Decatur, with its romantic courthouse in the middle of everything nice, is home to Agnes Scott College, a close neighbor to Emory University, the childhood home of humorist Roy Blount, Jr. and has emerged as one of the most popular places for fine dining in the Atlanta region. Try Café Alsace on Ponce de Leon just off the square if you yearn for some authentic French cuisine with a bottle of wine from Burgundy.

Launched in 2006, the festival brings more than 300 authors to Decatur for the holiday weekend, attracting crowds estimated to be beyond 40,000. The authors give readings, talks, and panel discussions. The event is free and open to the public.

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