After a taking a year off, the Louisiana Book Festival was back and on Saturday proved bigger and better than those held in previous years.
“By far, this is one of the best I’ve attended,” Robert Mann said of this year’s book fair, which by about 12:30 p.m. was already packed with people on the grounds in front of the Louisiana State Capitol.
Mann holds the Manship Chair in Journalism at the Manship School of Mass Communication at LSU and is co-director of the school’s Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs.
Just after his presentation, Mann signed copies of his books, “Daisy Petals and Mushroom Clouds: LBJ, Barry Goldwater and the Ad That Changed American Politics” and “Wartime Dissent in America: A History and Anthology.”
Saturday’s festival was larger than life for visitors and the more than 225 authors, poets, scholars and panelists who presented book talks and participated in interviews and panel discussions in the State Library of Louisiana and the Louisiana State Capitol Welcome Center.
Most authors autographed their featured books in the Barnes & Noble Bookselling and Signing Tent following their presentations.
Colleen Fitzpatrick, a forensic genealogist, author of “Forensic Genealogy” and coauthor of “DNA and Genealogy,” said she was also pleased with Saturday’s turnout.
“I’m having a good time,” Fitzpatrick said, as she talked to the dozens of people who stopped to ask questions about her books.
“I’ve met a lot of authors, and I really like it. It’s so good to be out and about,” Fitzpatrick said.
Martha Wells, of Baton Rouge, left the Barnes & Noble tent with an armful of books and calling the 2011 Louisiana Book Festival “fantastic.”
“I visited with several of the authors and am now going to the cooking demonstration,” she said.
The success of this year’s festival was largely due in part to the late Sallie Farrell, the second state librarian of Louisiana, who bequeathed part of her estate to the Louisiana Library Foundation, organizers said.
Through her donation, the Louisiana Library was able to secure matching grants to fund the 2011 festival. Other private donations were used to help stage the event as well, organizers said.
The festival has grown since its inception in 2002, from 5,000 visitors then to 25,000 visitors now, said State Librarian Rebecca Hamilton.
And this year’s numbers were already looking good as of Saturday afternoon, she said.
“We have a rich literary heritage” in Louisiana, Hamilton said. “We have authors from all over who are inspired by Louisiana, or are transplants to Louisiana who want to celebrate the thing we’re really good at and instill a culture of literacy in our young people.
“We believe libraries and books change people’s lives, and let people understand the importance of reading and writing,” Hamilton said.
“That has to happen for our young people to be successful,” she said.
For Kyra Reeves, 9, reading is important, too.
Meeting writers Kirby Larson and Mary Nethery, and artist Jean Cassels, who together wrote and illustrated “The Two Bobbies, A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship and Survival,” was a life-changing experience for Kyra.
Kyra read the book at her school library, and immediately fell in love with the characters, a dog and cat, who helped each other survive following Katrina.
The book — a hit among many students gathered in the small auditorium — received the 2011 Louisiana Young Readers’ Choice Award at the Louisiana Book Festival.
“The nice thing about the book festival is that it is encouraging reading for our kids,” said Kyra’s mom, Christy Reeves. “They’re just not enough focused on Louisiana writers.”
In addition to meeting authors of children’s books, youths visiting the festival also were able to visit the storytelling tent, listen to musicians and write their own stories.
At the Writing Enrichment Tent, Laurie Carroll, of Northwestern State University’s Writing Project, read a book about dolphins to Gideon Davis, 7, before he began writing a story of his own.
Earlier Saturday, Gideon’s sister, Jennifer Davis, 10, had received an award for her French language story, “Le Petit Chaperon Blanc” during a French writing contest.
“It empowers people to get out of the house, and find their creativity,” said the girls’ father, Rory Davis.
“It inspires children to read books,” their mother, Michaela Davis, said.
The book festival, which Hamilton said she hopes would continue to be an annual event, also boosts the Baton Rouge economy, she said. In 2009, a survey revealed that the festival had a $2 million impact on East Baton Rouge Parish, Hamilton said.
“We’re seeing more and more people come from all over the country,” Hamilton said. “The book fest has become a destination.”
The Louisiana Book Festival is a leading book event for authors to attend simply because it is relatively intimate, and authors are able to connect with the crowds, Hamilton said.