From the halls of the State Capitol down through Capitol Park to the State Library several blocks away, thousands of book lovers enjoyed a cool, sunny day on Saturday perusing publications and meeting their favorite authors at the 11th annual Louisiana Book Festival.
Dedicated to Louisiana’s famous “Blue Dog” artist George Rodrigue, who passed away in 2013 at the age of 69, the event attracted more than 200 authors who lined the park’s sidewalks and hosted seminars in the Capitol’s Senate and House chambers and meeting rooms. A display of six of Rodrigue’s works, including his famous Blue Dog wearing an LSU football jersey, called “Number One Fan,” were on display at the State Library.
The event was kicked off by Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and Rebecca Hamilton, state librarian, presenting the 2014 Louisiana Writer’s Award to Acadian poet Darrell Bourque, its 15th recipient. A professor emeritus at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Bourque has published nine collections of poems in both French and English and was named state poet laureate in 2007.
“He is a very deserving recipient and is a great ambassador for Louisiana literature,” Dardenne said, introducing Bourque.
Bourque credited his school teachers and librarians in St. Landry Parish for sparking his interest in poetry and literature, ranging from “Tom Sawyer” to Robert Frost.
“I was in love with what people can do with words,” he said.
Bourque said Louisiana has an incredibly active poetry culture of presses and journals that keep poetry alive.
Just down the hill, Kevin Guillard, 30, was one of the authors explaining their works to thousands of potential buyers. His self-published paperback, “Hood Struggle,” details the life of a young African-American man growing up in south Baton Rouge soaked in “murder, domestic violence and incarceration.”
Its preface dedicates the work to nine “fallen soldiers from my hood to ya hood.”
The message of his book, Guillard said, is that “it’s never too late” to get out. Writing the book, he said, is a great start for him and he hopes to inspire others to do the same.
Laura Bourg, who said she attends the festival every year, bought one of Guillard’s books because “it is about a part of Baton Rouge I don’t know much about. I want to support local writers.”
Just down the sidewalk, retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré was selling and signing “Leadership In The New Normal.” A few yards from him was James F. Hunt, an author of five books and first-time festival bookseller. Hunt’s books are a series of morality tales centered on the fictional Caleb Morgan, a country boy who fulfills the American Dream through “providence and hard work.”
“We’ve given away eight or 10 books but haven’t sold any yet,” Hunt said with a shrug. “We just want people to read it.”
At the bottom of the hill, inside one of about a half-dozen large tents and pavilions, a crowd of children sorted through boxes of crayons to color photocopies of Rodrigue’s Blue Dog or made masks of the dog’s face. Not too many of them turned out blue, however.
Rebekah Norwood and her nephew, Tucker Solar, 4, were with a Pecan Grove Primary School group from Gonzales, and he had colored his mask green because “that’s his favorite color,” Norwood said.
Victoria Dufour, 7, colored her mask in gold, red, green and pink stripes. “I like these colors,” she said, as her dad, Lewis Dufour, looked on.
Rosetta Bynum, a Zachary High School teacher and six-year volunteer, was overseeing the coloring table.
“I do this every year. I love helping kids with their crafts,” Bynum said. “I brought my kids when they were little, and now they volunteer, too.”
Over at another table, her son, Spencer Bynum, 14, was helping children fish for small toys with stick rods with magnets tied at the end of the string. “I like to help people,” he said. “It’s fun.”
Hamilton and Dardenne both remarked how the event could never be held without an army of about 400 volunteers like the Bynums.
“They really make it happen,” Hamilton said. “I have a staff of 48 who do the work of 78 jobs because we’ve been cut so deeply. Our volunteers do everything from bringing water to taking photographs to escorting the writers.”
The Volunteer Louisiana program is part of the Lieutenant Governor’s Office, Dardenne said.
“Louisianians have a great legacy of charitable giving both in money and in time, and it’s more important in many respects to share your time than it is to share your money because it is a much more precious commodity,” he said.