At the end of the Decatur Book Festival, there was hardly a soul in attendance who wasn’t still chatting about the heated keynote opener discussion between Erica Jong, representing the old guard of second-wave feminism, and Roxane Gay, a modern intersectional feminist extraordinaire (a good recap of that discussion can be found at Electric Literature).
I, on the other hand, spent most of the event talking about a hug. Asking us to hug nearby strangers was the way Joey Reiman started a session promoting his book, Thumbs Up!: Five Steps to Create the Life of Your Dreams. It was a hug I wasn’t altogether enthusiastic about giving, to be honest, considering the hot and humid ten-minute walk I had just taken to the conference center. But as I bent down to hug the woman in a wheelchair seated at the end of our aisle, I felt my shoulders relax, and I couldn’t help but chuckle hearing the entire room murmur apologies about sweaty backs.
The hug stuck with me because it represented what made the Decatur Book Festival so different from other literary events I’ve attended. From starting my Saturday with a craft beer before noon, to stopping to share a shady bench with a local who has been attending the event since its start a decade ago—and who insisted I should not miss the children’s parade—I felt the entire weekend as if I were being softly reassured that the world of books was a welcoming, safe place. The ultimate expression of vulnerability and love, the hug represented what I came the book festival in search of: the connection to and acceptance by my tribe, a broad group of strangers who bonded over our collective love of stories. I left the festival with a stack of books—listed in this month’s Now Reading—feeling a little lighter on my feet, a little more prepared to put my own story out there.