Kelsie Seehusen is pursuing a Master's in English at University at Albany. She holds a B.A. in English and music from Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs. Her writing has appeared in The Writing Cooperative and is forthcoming in bioStories.

When not studying or writing, Kelsie teaches classical piano.

"Choosing a favorite writer is like choosing a favorite child, and yet I don't find it as difficult as I should. I've long been in love with Virginia Woolf: Her writing more than anyone's illuminates the world for me. After reading Woolf, the minutiae, the everyday shimmers with beauty, not just aesthetically but conceptually--a dying moth; flowers I bought myself. To quote from one of her 1934 diary entries, reading Woolf makes me "want to raise up the magic world all around me and live strongly and quietly there."

Life and literature at the Albany Book Festival

By Kelsie Seehusen

“We live in a world of shadows,” said Albany native and Wicked author Gregory Maguire in his talk at the inaugural Albany Book Festival. Indeed, shadows abound—“fake news” and willful ignorance; grave social injustices compounded daily; distrust of the world and of each other. What, then, is the use of a weekend spent celebrating literature?

 

While fear and despair are easy traps to fall into, we need not be hopeless: Where there is conversation, there is potential for change and, according to William Kennedy, “Literary conversation is the best conversation in the world.”

 

The sheer size and scope of the Albany Book Festival proves that people are still talking about literature, and with excitement. From writing workshops and author panels to children’s programs and a “book nerd dance party,” the festival offered something for every age and interest. The evident theme throughout, however, was the ways in which literature unites communities, whether in food, fairytales, or even in grief. The festival itself, with thousands of attendees, was a testament to this fact.

 

The food writing panel, featuring such authors as Michael W. Twitty and Francis Lam, set the communal tone for the festival. If there is one thing that brings people together faster than a good story, it’s a hot meal, even across cultural divides. Like literature, we all have a personal relationship to food: we consume it, create it, share it; it becomes a part of ourselves.

 

The panel’s focus on food in relation to culture, including immigrant recipes and soul food, highlighted how food brings together the personal and the public in a way not likely considered. To cook the dishes of your culture is to respect where you come from; to share them with others is to tell a story without words.

Where does that leave the stories with words, the ones we read to ourselves in private moments? At the inauguration of State Author Colson Whitehead and State Poet Alicia Ostriker that preceded the festival, New York State Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy described reading as a kind of “intellectual escapism.” Although reading does feel like breaking from reality, I believe it is only a seeming escapism.

 

We may not be faced with the world directly, but reading provides us with the tools we need to wrestle with it: empathy, perspective, critical thought; self-awareness; understanding and caring for lives that are not our own. I’m inclined to say we need these skills now more than ever, but we’ve always needed them, whether to respond to society or to discover ourselves.

 

Don’t we all have that special book, poem, essay, or film that changed the way we live, and made us more fully who we are? Literature is not confined to the page; it lives in us, around us, and through us.

 

Though we may live with shadows, “books,” Maguire went on to say, “do nothing less than illuminate the world.”

Cassie Andrusz- Ho Ching

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