LitFest 2005

Last week I had the chance to visit the town of Red Bluff, in northern California, home of the world’s largest two-day rodeo and LitFest 2005. It was an amazing, hectic, week, and over the course of five days I visited nine different schools and gave eighteen presentations.

I shared the bill with John Grandits, author of an amazing book of concrete poetry called Technically, It’s Not My Fault. Not only is he a great writer and a very funny guy, he also owns one of the coolest vests I’ve seen in a long, long time. His work is for slightly older kids (later elementary & middle school) and if you’re ever looking for an author to speak on poetry, I’d highly recommend him. He’ll have you in stitches.

Throughout the week, John and I spoke to all different sizes and types of schools through Tehama County. Some were pretty big, others tiny. The smallest was a school up in the mountains: K-8, twelve students. Several grades had only one kid!

They took good care of us in Red Bluff. Every day some poor volunteer who had drawn the wrong straw had to spend the day ferrying us around. One day, I traveled in class in Tom Moisey’s ’64 Mustang, a beautiful car that somehow managed to make even a guy like me look cool.

I met some really interesting people along the way, far too many to list. Here’s an example: This is Ahmad Rana, a student at the high school where we had the big LitFest event. A couple years ago, Ahmad finished twelfth in the National Spelling Bee. This year, his sister has a good chance to go there as well. (In case you’re interested, the word that got him was “kurtosis”.)

At one of the last schools I visited, Jackson Heights, a student approached me at the end of the visit and asked if I had seen the mural yet. He took me outside, where I posed for a picture with the class.

It was only later that he explained that the mural was full of hidden pictures, done in a similar style to Absolutely Not. I wish I could show you what this thing really looked like, because it had to be seen to be believed. It was painted by a guy named George Williams in 1996, and the story I was told was that shortly after this he gave up painting to join the state police. Good thing; I really don’t want the competition.

Hidden within the light blue branches of the tree are all sorts of images, including presidents (see George Washington on the left) and all types of animals. Can you find the dolphin, the boar and the bird in the photo below?

My thanks go out to Maureen Lasley, our tireless host for the week, and the entire staff for all they did to make LitFest so much fun. Just the fact that they were able to put up with with the two of us for seven days has surely bought them some positive karma. I can’t imagine how tired they all must be right about now.