Sunday, August 31, 2014

National Book Festival 2014, Part 1

The locals were concerned about the National Book Festival's move from the green, green grass of the mall in front of the Smithsonian to the Washington Convention Center. No need. The grass was no longer green anyway (a problem that will soon be remedied), and on a 90 degree day in the District of Columbia, with showers threatening, there was no better place than the convention center to celebrate books and reading.

For my sister Cynthia, it was the culmination of a dream. The minute the list of speakers' names was released and civil rights icon, Representative John Lewis's name was included, she made her plans to visit. I warned her as best I could.

"There's thousands of people there Cynth, you may not get to talk with him, you may only see him from afar, blah, blah, blah...."

I should never have underestimated her. As we came off the escalator, well ahead of the crowd in order to get a front-row seat, there he was! Minus an entourage, no secret service, she soon had his ear, into which she whispered, "I bless the day you were born."

I admit that when he rose for the first of three standing ovations, my eyes misted over. We were witnessing living history. The cause for all the attention is the story of John Lewis's life and work in the civil rights movement written for a new generation as a graphic novel called "March." This is the first volume in a projected trilogy, the brainchild of Andrew Aydin, a comic book aficionado, and member of Representative Lewis's staff.

The book has already won numerous awards and has been added to required reading lists in schools across the country. But that isn't what made yesterday's presentation so memorable. It was the passion of the two speakers and the obvious affection they have for one another that choked me up.

It was so gratifying to see this history maker from my generation interacting with and igniting the mind of someone decades younger, a thirty-something who gets it and who, we feel assured, will take up the mantle when the time comes. The struggle for equal rights in the United States continues unabated, but today I feel more confident that the work will go on long after we children of the sixties are gone.

Though being in the same room with Representative Lewis was the highlight of our day, there are many more fantastic speakers to write about, not to mention all the friends we ran into among the throngs of bookies. More on that tomorrow.

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