“We’re absolutely thrilled to have him as the keynote at the festival,” says DBF Programming Director Philip Rafshoon, who previously owned Outwrite Bookstore & Coffeehouse.
Lewis’s graphic novel may seem like a radical departure from most Beltway autobiographies, but its appeal is to a much wider audience.
“It opens up the window to so many people who may not have lived through [the Civil Rights Era], may not understand the changes the world has gone through, and really shows the difference that John Lewis has made,” Rafshoon says.
Lewis organized lunch counter sit-ins, was a Freedom Rider, registered African-American voters across the South, and was one of only 10 people to speak at the March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King gave his “I Have A Dream” speech, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. He also was beaten severely, sustaining a deep skull fracture, at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965.
As a longtime friend of the LGBTQ community, “John’s somebody we all know. We see him on a regular basis; we see John Lewis walking down the street, but the difference he’s made in history, and the fact that he stood up for causes which might not have seemed ‘politically correct’ to do, has made such a difference, and it should be a lesson to people,” Rafshoon says.
First openly gay inaugural poet
Richard Blanco became the nation’s first openly gay inaugural poet when he read at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration, will give two readings at this year’s festival.
On Saturday at 11:15 a.m., he will read the inaugural poem “One Today” at the Decatur Presbyterian Sanctuary Stage. On Sunday at 11:55 a.m., Blanco will discuss “Poetry in the Public Life,” also at the Decatur Presbyterian Sanctuary Stage, with Kevin Young, Esther Lee and P. Scott Cunningham.
“Of course we’re very excited to have Richard Blanco,” says Rafshoon. “He read at the inauguration in January, he put a face on poetry for so many people around the world, and being openly gay, I think, is very important to so many people out there.”
Born in Spain to Cuban exile parents who fled the island when Fidel Castro took power, Blanco grew up in the United States and makes his living as an engineer.
His latest book, “Looking for the Gulf Motel,” combines what Blanco calls “the blurry lines of gender, the frailty of my father-son relationship, and the intersection of my cultural and sexual identities as a Cuban-American gay man presently living in rural Maine.”
As in his earlier works, “Directions to the Beach of the Dead” and “City of a Hundred Fires,” Blanco explores the complex reality of Cubans living in exile from la madre patria, the delicate threads linking family members, and the human drive for belonging in an increasingly fragmented world.
His poetry captures the shimmering, untouchable mirage: the vivid memory of a childhood vacation in old Florida, the words unsaid to a dying aunt and a dead father, the idealized Cuba of exile.
LGBT writers from around the nation
This year’s Decatur Book Festival includes the largest LGBT track in the event’s history. Among the LGBT authors from around the nation who will attend:
• Wayne Koestenbaum, a New York avant-garde poet-critic who rubbed elbows with Andy Warhol, John Ashbery, Diane Arbus, Brigitte Bardot, Cary Grant, and Lana Turner, will read from “My 1980s and Other Essays.”
“Wayne is a brilliant writer, he’s a great poet,” Rafshoon says. This book is a series of essays, some of them just random rants on his feelings during the 1980s and living through the whole AIDS epidemic in New York.
• Manil Suri returns to Atlanta after being the keynote speaker at the Atlanta Queer Lit Fest several years ago. Suri will be reading from his controversial novel, “The City of Devi,” that is set in the apocalyptic future and includes one of the first openly gay characters in Indian-American literature.
“This [book] has caused quite a stir both here and in India. Manil has given several interviews on gay rights in India since the recent Supreme Court ruling on same sex marriage equality,” says Franklin Abbott, founder of the Atlanta Queer Lit Fest.
• Abbott is also excited about Alysia Abbott’s (no relation) visit to DBF to read from her book, “Fairyland,” a memoir about her father. She tells the story of growing up with her openly gay father, a noted poet, during San Francisco’s glory days and as the AIDS crisis descended on the city.
Alysia was born in Atlanta and her parents attended Emory University. Her father served as president of Emory’s student body in 1972 and was also a cartoonist for the alternative newspaper The Great Speckled Bird. The two moved out west after Alysia’s mother died in a car accident.
Top photo: Gay poet Richard Blanco, who read an original poem at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration, reads on Saturday, Aug. 31. (Courtesy AJC Decatur Book Festival)