It’s a busy sports month with American Pharoah rolling to victory in the Haskell Invitational; Ryan Lochte hoping to regain swimming glory at the FINA World Championships; Rafael Nadal returning to his winning clay court ways at the Hamburg Open as the Rogers Cup gets underway in Toronto; and Tom Brady moving for a decision on his suspension before the NFL season begins.
But today I want to touch on my first real out-of-town trip with my debut novel, “Water Music” – to the OutWrite Book Festival at The DC Center in Washington D.C.
I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with the American capital. (I suspect many New Yorkers do.) I fell in love with Washington as a child of the late 1960s on a visit to the city arranged by Emil Mosbacher, President Richard Nixon’s chief of protocol and a customer of my father. I can still remember the sheer joy of leaving the National Geographic building with a copy of “Greece and Rome: Builders of Our World,” with its long chapter on Alexander the Great and modern illustrations that depicted him just as I had imagined him.
Fast forward to the spring of 1974 and the end of my freshman year at Trinity College there and, as it turned out, of the Nixon Administration, a dark time in America and in Washington literally as Nixon turned the lights off of the monuments to save on energy.
My freshman year was both successful and yet, not quite what I had hoped for. I couldn’t wait to flee Trinity and Washington for Sarah Lawrence and home but ended up having to stay an extra day when the school term came to an end due to a spring storm in New York.
It’s as if Washington and I were never meant to let go of each other permanently. Returning to it for the festival and to see my sister Jana and her family on a perfect summer weekend brought back everything I had first loved about the city, particularly its radiating layout and neoclassical buildings, so reminiscent of the Paris Thomas Jefferson adored. I particularly enjoyed the stately marble Organization of American States building and the smaller memorials that are no less dignified than their monument counterparts.
The festival was a similar mix of old acquaintances and new. I dropped by the table of Interlude Press, which had been my neighbor at Manhattan’s Rainbow Book Fair in April. Now my neighbors were Stephen B. Anderson, author of “The Resilience of Love,” a novel that is both a love triangle and a meditation on amnesia and thorny parent-child relationships by a man who spent years in the mental health field; and Tim’m T. West, the educator/hip-hop performance artist who’s the author of “Flirting” and the poetic memoir “pre/dispositions: affirmations on loving.”
As with other experiences in Washington, this one was a mixed bag. I sold less than I did at the Rainbow Book Fair. (Others who attended both reported the same.) On the other hand, I bought more books for far less. Perhaps that is a reflection of the difference between New York and Washington – a die that was cast in a deal struck by Founding Fathers Alexander Hamilton, who knew that “power without revenue is a mere bauble,” and Thomas Jefferson, who did not. Washington is the seat of government. But New York is the money town.
Having said that, I must acknowledge that my reading was better in Washington than in New York. I had a minute more – that’s a lot of time when you’re reading – and I read full out, trying to capture the different inflections in the characters’ voices (although I’m hardly a Dickens or, for that matter, an Olivier.)
Mostly, though, the OutWrite festival gave me a short but sweet time with Jana and her two younger sons – Andrew, who served as my chauffeur, and James, who acted as executive assistant, go-fer, cheerleader and computer analyst. If the Pew Research Center ever needs someone else to crunch the numbers and see what’s trending, he’s their man.
And he found the experience enjoyable if tiring, learning as Milton observed in his sonnet “On His Blindness,” “They also serve who only stand and wait.”