A Debut Introduction at the Festival

The following is a guest post by Caitlin Rizzo, staffer for the Poetry and Literature Center at the Library of Congress.

This past weekend marked the celebration of the Library of Congress’s 12th annual National Book Festival and the second year in a row that the Festival sprawled over two days, both Saturday and Sunday, for a weekend long celebration of the book.

The National Mall filled early in the morning with visitors from all over the country. Parents and children, and even a few furry friends on leashes, seemed to be out to enjoy the lovely weather and delightful speakers. My own aunt and uncle came all the way from South Carolina to see the Festival, and to come support me as for the first time ever I was honored to introduce one of our authors, Laura Kasischke.

Caitlin Rizzo with her aunt, Annie Maier.

In preparation for my very first introduction, I spent the last few weeks reading all of Kasischke’s writing—a fantastic experience! There’s something for everyone in her work: mystery and murder haunts her newest novel The Raising; history and fiction weave together seamlessly in her novella Eden Springs; and the poems in Space, in Chains are stunningly beautiful portraits of the burdens and joys of everyday life and relationships. After all that reading, I found myself feeling rather anxious about meeting the woman behind the books.

It wasn’t until Sunday before the reading that I finally met Laura Kasischke. I had spent the last half hour pacing nervously around the Poetry and Prose Pavilion as Junot Diaz, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, filled the crowd with laughter. When I saw Laura Kasischke with her author escort, (the unbelievably gracious) Kathryn Mendenhall, I began to feel more at ease.

LC POP Director Kathryn Mendenhall, Laura Kasischke, and Caitlin Rizzo.

By the time I got up to do my introduction, I had completely forgotten my own fear of being on the stage. My mind was racing as I tried to remember all the last minute concerns: tell the audience they will be videotaped, ask for cellphones to be shut off, look to the camera for five seconds and wait for the thumbs up, etc. Before I even realized what was happening, I was back in my seat, relieved and ready to listen to what Kasischke had to say.

Over the course of the reading, I learned that Kasischke owns a junk shop and seven chickens, and that her young son once believed himself to be a reincarnated Civil War soldier. The woman I had imagined (the prolific writer and professor, perhaps decked out in a tweed overcoat or a sophisticated trench) slowly began to disappear and to reveal an even more amazing person. Kasischke is undoubtedly one of the sweetest authors I have had the pleasure to meet at the Poetry and Literature Center.