On the weekend of June 8 and June 9, 2013, Printer’s Row Lit Fest was held on a block of Dearborn where printing and publishing houses were located. In previous years, I have only ever attended Lit Fest as a casual observer of the beautifully bound vintage books, the old movie posters, the speakers, panels, and cooking demonstrations. This year, working with Here’s the Story, I helped man the table where we sold t-shirts, talked about our organization, and my gumball machine poem dispenser made its debut.
My overall experience of Printer’s Row Lit Fest was a warm one. In addition to the heat pounding on the tops of our heads, we were met by the warm words of countless people who stopped by at the Here’s the Story table. Setting up a gumball machine dispensing poems printed on brightly colored paper meant that people stopped to buy poems, take pictures, or talk to the poet and the organization that supported her.
With the exception of one vocal person.
“No, those aren’t candy, those are poems, you don’t want those,” a man said as he tugged on the hand of his son who was maybe eight years old tops.
I don’t know if he knew that I had heard him, but my outward reaction was a theatrical one for the benefit of the group that had stopped to buy poems.
“Ouch,” I said, clutching at my heart as if I had been mortally wounded by the unintentionally barbed words. “Happy Lit Fest!”
I must admit, this bothered me so much that even when I’m writing this up two and half weeks after the fact, those words are the ones that stuck with me most, well, along with: “I got one of your poems yesterday and it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read. And I’m a librarian!” The point is I was struck that this father would deny his son the chance to get something out of a gumball machine based on the assumption that a poem is something that he “doesn’t want.”
If this little kid had bought something for fifty cents and found out that it was a poem, there were a couple possible outcomes. One, he could have been disappointed and then he would recycle the paper and go on with his life. Two, he could have been pleasantly surprised and enjoyed it, this enjoyment leading to an appreciation of poetry or a wish to write it.
How many opportunities do we pass up simply because the people around us tell us that we “don’t want those” or because we’re too preoccupied with our preplanned agenda?
When Dan Boyd stood in his vest and bowler hat, asking the passerby if he could tell them about our organization, there were a number of people who just passed by, avoiding eye contact or shaking their heads that they weren’t interested, but the overwhelming majority of these people stopped to talk to us or listen to the awesome things that Here’s the Story does. I myself was pleasantly surprised every time a group nodded enthusiastically and approached our table to listen as Dan, McKenzie, Andrea, and I wove tales of races to evade the robot apocalypse, a task-based show, and the “poet-in-residence.”
In spite of, or perhaps to spite the one man pulling his son away from my poems and our table, we were met by far more open minds and poetry lovers than I could ever have expected. A young man who bought a t-shirt for Journey to the End of the Night spent the rest of his day at Lit Fest wearing it and telling other booths about how awesome it’s going to be. A handful of people asked me to read my poems aloud and autograph them afterward, making me feel like a rockstar. We passed out thousands of fliers to people who want to know more about Here’s the Story.
For Here’s the Story and for me, Lit Fest was an opportunity to engage with the literary community in a way that we might not have otherwise. Coming from a theatrical perspective, we were presented with a festival for bibliophiles, and there may have been a hand tugging on us telling us “you don’t want those,” but we found out that in keeping our minds open, those were the minds we met and enjoyed talking to. Many thanks to the Chicago Tribune for putting on the Lit Fest, we’ll see you again next summer!