Festival of Words…You NEVER Realize Where Reading Will Take You.

I honestly cannot remember a single time is has occurred, close at times, but never to this extent.  Reading this made me realize how much school libraries and the experiences that occur outside of them, as much as what happens inside of them, matters to so many more other than the school librarian themselves.  Add to this the partnership of public libraries with school libraries, the sky is the limit. The students from Woodbridge High as well as Greenwood public librarian never cease to surprise me with how committed they are to what is in front of them – it motivates me so so much. Then there is Andrea Rashbaum who I remember as in December of 2018 – no speakers and look where we were March 2019? – making it look like a wave of the wand occurred.

I am referring to Festival of Words that occurred on March 9, 2019.  Of course I am referring to the student presenters that attended with me and while I could go into detail about this event, how much it excited me etc I will only relay one event then premiere the essay a student chose to write about this event as an assignment.  I can honestly not remember a time when a student wanted to choose a school library event to use as the focus of an assignment, let alone writing something so honest and personal, and taking in so much of the day – and that is what make this so powerful to me, the power that school libraries, school librarians, and the effect they can have on students in and out of the library.  Powerful.

The one memory I do have is figuring out another school’s project and laptop configuration, having the excellent luck to be supported by a student named David at that school, and then once figuring out that system with our school’s laptops, I heard – “Hey, can you maybe come down to the next classroom and help this presenter’s situation as well….” at first I panicked with about 10 minutes left to go for the keynote and thinking “I don’t have time…” and yet, what if it were me?  I knew I’d desperately need help and be worse if I was the presenter and in the same situation, so I thought, “What the heck…”…and ran to the next classroom.  After trying every possible connection, I was desperate, and ran back and grabbed the laptop I had brought assigned to me from my own school.  By SHEER luck, the HDMI cable that I took out of another connection in that room, and attached to the back of the school laptop I brought – BING!  it worked! Eureka!  The feeling was amazing…then the next door classroom heard we discovered it and asked, “Hey, can you…”  yes.  I ran to the next door classroom, tried the same thing with THEIR laptop and yes! it worked!  With only three minutes late, I tore down to the keynote with author Paul Volponi, and from that moment on, I was hooked into Festival of Words from the very beginning.  Every ounce of passion, interest, and energy that the authors  Paul Volponi, Cordelia Jensen, Juliana Baggot, John Micklos, Chimere McLean, LaVern Robinson, and The Twin Poets – every bit,  oozed out into the attendees.  I could keep going but I saw on the end of the program, there on the stage, was author John Micklos, who I had JUST helped with the HDMI cable, who I realized I had run into and seen at Bethany Beach Bookstore when I had FIRST returned to Delaware a year ago, and it was true.  You NEVER realize where your reading interested will take you.  As you will see from the essay below written by one of our very talented student presenters, a day can change everything.  Thank you Festival of Words and thank you Alastornia, Alexis, Donna, and Regan.

Alastornia –  March 9th, 2019

Festival of Words

    Saturday morning. The morning teenagers look forward to to sleep in and relax for the day. When a teenager is awake at 6:30 on a weekend, something important has to be going on. Waking up early to go to a festival that you have never even heard of, with no expectations on what is going to happen while you are there, and being a presenter on top of that, is nerve wrecking. Recently, I attended the Festival of Words, in Wilmington, Delaware, at DelCastle Technical High School. Festival of Words is filled with students, librarians, educators, authors, poets, coordinators, and writers. When I first woke up to go to this event, my expectations were in the middle, I knew I would enjoy the ride to the school and the company of Regan Todd, Alexis Durham, Harry Brake, and Donna Carter, all people that were presenting that day for Channel Surfing Your Community and The One Memory of Flora Banks discussion with myself. After going to the event and seeing what it is all about, if given the chance, I would definitely attend again, if not as a presenter but as a guest, to explore all of the workshops available.

    Festival of Words is a free workshops designed for students, teachers, and civilians of Delaware and other states to “encourage a love of reading and writing” (Delaware Festival of Words 2019) in the youth and adults that attend. Festival of Words has been held annually for 19 years, with the most recent event being held on March 9th, 2019. This year, the festival had more than four hundred people, with a turnout from a mixture of middle and high schools, along with public libraries from all over. All the people that I met at the event were extremely friendly and willing to help, and everyone that was there shared something in common. They loved to read, write, or both. The Festival stuck to a schedule, starting with a keynote speaker, author Paul Volponi, moving into the first workshop of the day, which everyone attending got to choose where they went, this being the first year where a journalism workshop was available. After the first session came lunch, where everyone that had registered was given a turkey sandwich, potato chips, a rice crispy treat, and a small container of macaroni salad. Not able to eat meat? The coordinators thought of the vegetarians and made a vegetarian option lunch available for those who wanted it. Lunch was a 45 minute affair and then we moved on to the second workshop, in my case, a discussion on the book my group and I had read, The One Memory of Flora Banks. The second workshop concluded at 2:10, and everyone gathered back into the auditorium for a raffle of free books, and a presentation by the Poet Twins, who had earlier done a poetry workshop and shared not only their own poetry, but the poetry of those who attended the workshop. The Twin Poets concluded their reading and a book signing occurred of all the authors who had attended, from Julianna Baggott, author of the Pure Trilogy, to Paul Volponi, and Cordelia Jensen, author of Skyscraping, The Way the Light Bends, and more.

    Paul Volponi, the first person the group heard from at the Festival, set a high bar for whoever was too come after him. Paul Valponi is an author who has written several books, many based off of things he has seen in real life, or things he made up using a photo, including; Black and White, Rikers High, The Final Four, Top Prospect, Game Seven and others. He was very interactive with the crowd, getting people out of their seats and up to the front of the auditorium to speak, play games, and demonstrate parts of his books. Valponi was a very relatable keynote speaker, relating to the students and the educators. One of the most memorable things about Paul Valponi was how he connected education into his whole speech. While he was discussing the books he had written, the literature he has seen, the history he has learned, he shared random knowledge with the crowd. After Valponi finished his kick off speech for the Festival of Words, I asked him why he decided to come today, in which he answered, “…because I love connecting with students” (Paloni). With such a strong start from Paul Valponi, I looked forward to the rest of the event, and I was not disappointed.

    Upon registering for the event, everyone that was attending got to pick two workshops in which they wanted to attend. Since I was a presenter, I had to do the two workshops that my group had been assigned, which was a community workshop and a workshop on the book The One Memory of Flora Banks. First up we had the community workshop, which about 8 people attended. Not many, but they were involved and interested in what we had to say. Being from Sussex county, the only presenters from Sussex County, many of them had never heard of the events we were discussing. Donna Carter, head of the Greenwood Public Library, talked about as librarians, the goal is to create workshops and events that everyone wants to attend, educators, students, and children. When Donna finished discussing the programs she has at the library to try and make Greenwood a more connected atmosphere, Harry Brake, the Library Media Specialist at Woodbridge High School took the stage. Mr. Brake is constantly working to improve the school, planning gaming competitions, open mic nights, and battle of the bands. This workshop was very informative, it told people how they can help in their community, where they can go to see all the things happening around them, and what they can do to make more things happen. The set up of the workshop was intriguing as well. The workshop itself was about 45 minutes, so how does one fit all that information into that one period? We channel surf. We had 5-10 minutes per topic, depending on how much needed to be said on it, and when that time was up, whether we were done talking about it or not, we had to change the channel, and if anyone in the audience had any questions, they could talk to us after.

    The second workshop we did was about the book, The One Memory of Flora Banks. We had read the book, and had been anticipating that everyone who had signed up for the workshop had read it as well. Wrong. Half of the people attending had just bought the book that day. How were we supposed to talk about  the mother giving Flora the drugs ; was that ethical?  Also, the emails, the trip to Svalbard, the trip to Paris, without giving away any spoilers, how? Well, we decided to talk more about the setting and the symbolism in the book. The One Memory of Flora Banks is about a 17 year old girl who has no short term memory. Anything that happened after the age of 10, she can’t remember. Well, except one thing. The kiss. She kissed her bestfriends boyfriend, Drake, one time. But that memory stuck with her. It’s all she could think about. She believed that Drake could help her memory come back. So, what does she do? She takes a trip to Svalbard, since he moved there for college. The book takes us on this journey, giving us many twist and turns along the way, making us question our own memory. Before the workshop began, we set up bear prints all down the hallway leading up to the door, with messages on them. Messages that Flora told herself throughout the journey, from “Be Brave”, to “Just breathe”, and “The Kiss”. For anyone that had not read the book, all of this would be confusing, and confusing it was. Even more confusing, why did the three teenage girls giving the workshop have writing all over their arms? To represent Flora. In order to remember, she wrote herself notes, constantly writing on her arm reminders of everything she needed to know. Our idea was to have the crowd write on their arms as well. As a group, we thought they might be a little hesitant, but they jumped right in and didn’t even question why they were doing it, and when they finished we told them the whole point to our introduction.

    These may have been the only two workshops that I was able to attend, but there were so many more available. The Twin Poets had a poetry workshop where they aided guest in writing poetry, Paul Volponi hosted a writing for fun workshop, there were community workshops, like the one we had started the day with, librarians and teachers had workshops on books like The Hate U Give. Authors gave insight on how to review, analyze, and publish works. Whether you are a reader, a writer, an artist, or a critique, there was something here for you.

    Andrea Rashbaum, the director of The Festival Of Words for this year, has been helping to plan the festival for 7 years, and this was her first year doing it alone. Festival of Words used to be “more focused on book discussion” (Rashbaum) but over the years the festival has integrated poets and authors, making it “50% authors and 50% books” (Rashbaum). Andrea hopes that the festival will continue to grow in the years to come, and would like for it to become a school and state wide phenomenon. With a festival like this, a lot goes into it. In order to fund it, they rely heavily on grants and donations, never asking the students and educators in attendance to pay a fee. The whole atmosphere of the event was welcoming, organized, and friendly. The volunteers there were always willing to show us where to go, and all of the presenters helped each other along the way.

    The end of the day came around and everyone joined back in the auditorium for a raffle of free books, a discussion from the Twin Poets, and a book signing. The Twin Poets did not focus on themselves in the end. They brought up three people that had attended their workshop and had them read aloud the poems they had written. Everyone was quiet, ears open, to see what they came up with. The Twin Poets then shared two of their poems, “Science” and “Homework for Breakfast”, both filled with comedy and a message

    Festival of Words just celebrated its 19th annual festival, and after going to one, I hope to attend again next year, if not as a presenter but as a guest. This festival is an amazing opportunity for anyone to learn more about writing, reading, and analyzing in a fun manner. It allows you to meet published authors and get advice from them on how to do things. The event lasted from 10:00 in the morning to 3:00 in the afternoon, but it went by so quickly I wish it were longer. The festival really encouraged students to write and do what they want to do. The speakers there really connected with the students and made everyone feel welcome. As someone that is not big on writing workshops and activities, I suggest this event, there’s no pressure, you can learn things new in a fun way, and you can meet extraordinary people and see how they do everything they do in their career, getting advice, tips, and if it’s Paul Volponi, extra credit.


Works Cited

“DELAWARE FESTIVAL OF WORDS 2019.” DELAWARE FESTIVAL OF WORDS 2019, www.festivalofwordsde.com/.

Rashbaum, Andrea. Personal Interview. 09 March 2019.

Volponi, Paul. Personal Interview 09 March 2019.







About Harry Brake

Employee of Woodbridge High School, Library Media Specialist, Media crazy! :)
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