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Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

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From page to panel: Reflections from Book Fest first-timer

From+page+to+panel%3A+Reflections+from+Book+Fest+first-timer
Martha Sanchez

The average age on campus rose by about 45 years as the New Orleans Book Festival arrived at Tulane University, but the excitement of book lovers of all ages was palpable. As a first-time Book Fest attendee, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I found intellectual conversation, a handful of new books in my library and an unadulterated love for books from everyone in attendance. 

One of the first sessions I attended was with novelist and Tulane professor Jesmyn Ward, which was moderated by Imani Perry, professor of African American studies at Princeton University. The two engaged in a conversation about Ward’s newest book, “Let Us Descend,” and her writing process, among other topics. Ward said she prioritizes “the musicality of [her] prose” when writing. Ward also offered insight into struggles she faced in the writing process, saying “I had internalized the idea that it was a competition … I had lost sight of why I [write].” After her talk was over, I scurried to the festival tent, where a line had already formed, to get one of her other books, “Salvage the Bones,” signed for my dad, who encouraged me to attend the session in the first place.

When I chose to attend their talk later in the day, frankly, I knew very little about either New York Times bestselling author Cleo Wade or fashion designer and actress Nicole Richie.  But the fact of Richie’s celebrity status and the title of the session, “Remember Love” — which is also the title of Wade’s book — compelled me to sit in. 

Wade spoke extensively about self-love, which is one the main themes of her book. More specifically, she talked about finding yourself after being lost and reminding yourself that “a homecoming is available to you,” which was a quote she heard in a guided meditation that stuck with her. Wade, a New Orleans native, also spoke about the inspiration that New Orleans’s “Bohemian spirit” has lent her, and her parents sat in the crowd, taking pictures and beaming proudly. Seeing Richie and Wade, who are best friends, interact was both inspiring and heartwarming.

The next day, I went to Sal Khan’s session, moderated by Walter Isaacson, about the future of AI and education. Khan recalled his first time realizing the power of generative artificial intelligence: the moment when OpenAI, the organization that started ChatGPT, reached out to him with the intention of collaborating with Khan Academy. Khan said that the possibilities of AI are practically endless, and the world is still thinking “too narrowly” about how we can harness the powers of AI. As a lifelong Khan Academy user, I bought his book and got it signed. Admittedly, I was starstruck.

Discovering new authors was one of the best parts of Book Fest. Signing books at the same time as Sal Khan was Dr. Jay Wellons, a pediatric neurosurgeon and author of “All That Moves Us,” where he tells stories of both the sorrows and joys of his job. I had the opportunity to speak with him about his journey in medicine and he advised me on mine. 

The final session I attended was with Stacey Abrams, former Georgia state representative and author of over a dozen books. Lawrence O’Donnell, host of “The Last Word” and Emmy award-winning producer for “The West Wing,” moderated the talk. The entire auditorium of the Dixon Concert Hall was full and even the balcony was standing room only. Abrams was clearly a personable and experienced interviewee, but more importantly, she was a woman whose personality is impossible not to love. Every snippet of conversation I heard while leaving the session went something along the lines of “She’s awesome.” 

She primarily spoke about her series of legal thrillers, whose topics she admits are “deathly boring” but that she revives by “focusing on the death, not the boring.” She joked that every book is more interesting when “someone’s life is on the line.” Although Abrams is an important political figure — she also used her time to urge listeners to vote in upcoming elections — her career as an author is nearly as significant. She says she writes fiction because she can explore real themes and topics, like the electrical grid or Supreme Court clerkship, but they’re not boring, or “broccoli,” as she puts it. Her new book, which is still in the works, focuses on AI, a popular topic among this year’s authors. 

My experience at Book Fest was nothing short of inspiring, and it is an event I feel honored to have on our campus. I found myself immersed into a world of authors, readers and book enthusiasts. Book Fest is an event for all ages and an opportunity to hear from authors you love. Maybe you’ll even discover new ones. Book Fest truly is “Mardi Gras for the mind,” and it reminded me of the ability of literature to bring us together and ignite imagination and discussion.

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