Second Annual East of the River Book Festival Comes to Anacostia on Sept. 12

Photograph By
Courtney Davis

The 2014 East of the River Book Festival at Saint Elizabeths East Pavilion.

On Saturday, Sept. 12, from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., the Anacostia Arts Center will host the second annual East of the River Book Festival, organized by Anacostia resident, author, and pedagogue Courtney Davis. She has partnered with River East Emerging Leaders (R.E.E.L.), the American Poetry Museum, the Historic Anacostia Block Association (HABA), and DC Public Library for programming and promotion of this event. The festival, which is free, will host local authors and poets and provide an opportunity for visitors to acquire books and to explore the Anacostia neighborhood. While Davis looks forward to connecting with her community at the festival, she welcomes all bibliophiles from the region to experience this event.

Davis traces the origins of the East of the River Book Festival to the first LUMEN8ANCOSTIA festival in April 2012, where she ran a pop-up to showcase her children’s book “A Is for Anacostia.” She also presented a few local authors whose programming included book readings. The impetus for writing a children’s book came to Davis when she saw elementary school students struggling to learn the alphabet. She wanted to provide students with a mnemonic device to learn their ABCs by connecting letters to their community. “I could not find anything like this for children. So, like what most teachers do, I created what I needed for the classroom.” She shared the draft of the book with students and  colleagues to refine the content for publication. 

Davis recounts the story of a grandmother who was reading “A Is for Anacostia” to one of her grandchildren. Her grandchild would shout “B” every time they passed Anacostia’s iconic Big Chair (B is for big chair in the book). Children who do not live in the community have told their parents, “I want to visit Anacostia!” as a result of reading Davis’ book. Subsequently Davis partnered with the Anacostia Smithsonian Community Museum and Stanton Elementary School to lead tours of her neighborhood. Members of the “A Is for Anacostia Tour” boarded chartered buses with newly recruited teachers assigned to schools east of the river and explored the community. In May 2014 Davis expanded her offerings by organizing and operating the first East of the River Book Festival. The event took place at the Saint Elizabeths Pavilion in Congress Heights. Building on the success of last year’s turnout, Davis has expanded programming for this September’s event.

At this year’s Book Festival you can expect to meet local authors Dianne Dale, Dr. Barbara Parks-Lee, David Miller, Christine Turner Jackson, Lori Nelson Lee, young authors from Reach Inc., and of course Courtney Davis. The authors will have stage time at the Anacostia Arts Center’s black-box theater, providing a novel format for audience engagement. In addition seasoned story-tellers will offer dramatic narration throughout the event. For those who enjoy poetry and the spoken word, the American Poetry Museum has lined-up a series of poets to recite and perform as part of the day’s programming.

Aside from the writers and poets, book sales, and storytelling, the East of the River Book Festival also serves another purpose, one which will have a tremendously beneficial impact on Wards 7 and 8. At the intersection of Alabama and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE, Academy of Hope Public Charter School specializes in educating adults 18 and over. Programs include coursework in basic literacy, math skills, and GED (high school diploma equivalency) test-training.

Jamie Kamlet, advocacy manager at Academy of Hope, offers staggering statistics which provide a snapshot of the struggle many DC residents face. One-third of adults in DC cannot read a bus schedule, a job application, or a map. Some 60,000 adults do not have a high school diploma, with Wards 7 and 8 hit the hardest at 19 percent and 22 percent respectively. By 2018, according to Kamlet, most jobs in DC will require postsecondary training, increasingly isolating adults with literacy problems.

To encourage children and adolescents to read, Davis has partnered with the Anacostia and Bellevue branches of DC Public Library, both located in Ward 8. The Book Festival provides an opportunity for DCPL to showcase its offerings and to remind the community that it is an important public resource for learning. Yvette Davis, branch manager of the Anacostia Library, says that “we are looking forward to it; we can engage with the community and make those great community connections.” She also points out that the festival’s September date coincides with the return to school and National Library Card Sign-up Month, making it a fitting occasion for student outreach.

In addition, according to Courtney Davis, the festival will engage children by providing them with free book so that they can build home libraries. Observing that many homes in DC do not have any books or magazines for children or parents to read, she explains that “the best way for children to learn how to read is for them to practice.” More importantly she regards the Book Festival as an opportunity to form lessons and build relationships. “We want children and parents to know that we are also in their school. This is a way of getting kids excited about reading and writing.”

Courtney Davis reminds people that this festival is a celebration and an opportunity for Anacostia residents to show off their neighborhood. “Come and visit us and see all the cool places and experience the neighborhood’s history,” she says. “There is a signed walking tour in Anacostia like on U Street.” The East of the River Book Festival “is for those who love and cherish the written word.”

For more information visit the East of the River Book Fair website at www.eastoftheriverbookfestival.com. The Anacostia Art Center is located at 1231 Good Hope Road SE, Washington, DC 20020.

 

Phil Hutinet is the publisher of East City Art, dedicated to DC’s visual arts. For more information visit www.eastcityart.com.


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