For Rick Bragg, the Louisiana Book Festival is like coming home.
“I’ve been coming to the Louisiana Book Festival for almost as long as I’ve had a writing life,” the bestselling author and Pulitzer Prize winner says. “It’s like old home week for me. And it’s in one of the most interesting places on Earth.”
The gravity of the festival’s location in the state capitol complex isn’t lost on Bragg.
“Let’s start with the bullet holes,” Bragg says, talking about the dark holes in the Capitol’s marble walls, worn smooth by hundreds of visitor’s fingers, reminders of Huey Long’s assassination and the ensuing shootout. “I always thought Huey Long was a dangerous and captivating figure at the same time. I’ve always been fascinated by the messiahs that my people — the working people and the poor people — chose.”
Bragg will be in the bullet-pocked house that Huey built on Saturday, Nov. 1, the day of the festival, to promote his latest book, “Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story,” a biography of the iconic rock ’n’ roller from Concordia Parish.
Lewis, Bragg says, is another one of those messiahs. “Sometimes, when people are poor and they’re desperate, they don’t choose their saviors wisely.”
The intimacy the capitol’s grounds offers both authors and readers is central to the festival, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne says, and it’s part of the reason big names like Bragg make it a habit.
“We got a pretty good recipe,” says Dardenne. “We’re not looking to change it.”
This year’s festival will also be dedicated to artist George Rodrigue, who died in December.
“We considered George Rodrigue a friend,” says State Librarian Rebecca Hamilton. “He would be smiling down on us. The whole day will be an homage to our good friend.”
Hamilton’s State Library of Louisiana, through the Louisiana Center for the Book, runs the festival, which, in addition to author discussions, also includes music, an author’s party on Friday, the presentation of the Louisiana Writer Award to poet Darrell Bourque, kids’ crafts, workshops and food.
Jim Davis, the director of the Center for the Book, said that Book TV will record sessions at the festival for later broadcast, and the C-SPAN Bus, an interactive public affairs learning center, will also be on hand.
Considering the long list of authors on the festival’s schedule, Davis notices that there’s yet a third theme to the 2014 festival.
“A theme that emerged this year is New Orleans,” Davis says. “We don’t set out to do this. It just happens.”
Follow Beth Colvin on twitter, @bethcolvinreads.