WOSTER: Festival of Books boasts strong female charactersI suppose it might seem somewhat out of the comfort zone for an old, retired newspaper guy, but there I was at the South Dakota Festival of Books, sitting in the audience listening to a presentation called “You Go, Girl! Writing Strong Female Characters.”
By: Terry Woster, The Daily Republic
I suppose it might seem somewhat out of the comfort zone for an old, retired newspaper guy, but there I was at the South Dakota Festival of Books, sitting in the audience listening to a presentation called “You Go, Girl! Writing Strong Female Characters.”
The festival gives attendees eight or 10 choices every hour on the hour, all day long. If there’s a criticism, it’s the one my friend Jill Callison voiced on Twitter or somewhere last Friday or Saturday. Jill writes features and columns and all sorts of other stories and essays for the Argus Leader. She possesses the softest heart of anyone I’ve ever known in the newspaper business, and she reads books with a passion. Her criticism of the Festival of Books was simply that it offers too many good things at the same time.
(Full disclosure: My daughter, as I said last week, is deeply involved in the festival. What I wrote above about too many good things at once could be considered a show of bias if I’d said it — but Callison said it, so it must be the objective truth.)
Given my druthers, I might have chosen a different offering for the 10 a.m. slot on Saturday. A session on life in an Indian boarding school seemed promising, as did one on living with Parkinson’s disease. I was with my 16-year-old granddaughter, though, and she was torn between the strong female characters and a session on “An Englishman’s Take on South Dakota.”
She’s fascinated with England just now, with theater and Shakespeare and all else about that country and its citizens. She intends to visit there one day — sooner rather than later, if she has her way.
She’s also a writer and has been for years and years. It seems like she was barely starting grade school when she began to write in a journal. When she visits her grandma and grandpa in Pierre, not a day goes by that she doesn’t spend some alone time writing in the journal. I have no idea what thoughts and words she captures between the covers of that book, but I trust it would be interesting, intelligent and lively.
Nancy and I drove after work on Friday to Brookings, stayed the night and made it to Sioux Falls with our granddaughter on Saturday morning in time for the 9 o’clock sessions. Our granddaughter chose “This London: Reading and Writing about a City That Changed the World.” As we waited for that session to begin — and after I had noted proudly that in the very same building in 1968, I took photographs for the Argus Leader when Bobby Kennedy campaigned through South Dakota — the granddaughter worried over the 10 o’clock conflict between the Englishman’s Take and You Go, Girl.
She and Nancy decided on the Englishman and assigned me to the strong female characters. I agreed, although I think the decision had been made well before that. That’s often the way of it when Nancy and this granddaughter plan things. With instructions to take good notes and be prepared to share later, I left for the top floor of the building.
Sure, I was a bit nervous. I envisioned a room filled with young, aspiring female writers, eager to learn the secrets of creating strong characters and wondering why an old guy in a Grateful Dead pull-over would be interested in this topic. “Hey, I’m here for my granddaughter, not myself,” I wanted to announce. Fearing Nancy and the granddaughter would learn about such behavior, I kept my mouth shut and my ears open. I enjoyed the time immensely, although later in the crowded lobby when my granddaughter asked for my report, I drew a blank.
“They talked about, you know, strong female characters and, well, how they interact, like mothers with daughters and grandmothers with, um, daughters and granddaughters,” I said. “Trust me, you would have loved it.”
The granddaughter might have become disappointed at my empty answer had we not turned just then and found ourselves right next to Ellen Baker, author and creator of strong female characters from the session I’d just attended. I introduce her to my granddaughter and left them talking.
You go, gramps.