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Louisiana authors to represent state at the 2022 National Book Festival

The Louisiana Center for the Book in the State Library of Louisiana has selected one youth book and one adult book by Louisiana authors from Louisiana publishers to represent the state at the 2022 National Book Festival.

The youth book chosen is When I Was an Alligator by Gayle Webre (the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press). The adult book chosen is, Economy Hall: The Hidden History of a Free Black Brotherhood by Fatima Shaik (The Historic New Orleans Collection).

Both titles will be part of the Library of Congress Center for the Book’s Great Reads from Great Places program. The program features books and authors representing the literary heritage of all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and Northern Marianas. For over 20 years, this program has included a highlighted youth title from each affiliate center, and for the first time will feature adult titles this year.

“We appreciate any opportunity to celebrate Louisiana authors,” says Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser, “There are not many better stages to do that on than the Great Reads from Great Places program of the National Book Festival. I am proud to have authors Gayle Webre and Fatima Shaik represent us.”

This year’s National Book Festival is Saturday, September 3, in Washington, D.C. The festival is in person but includes many livestreamed and recorded virtual programs. Gayle Webre will take part in an online panel conversation with the chosen children’s authors from other state Centers for the Book in the Central II Region. Webre and Director the Louisiana Center for the Book Jim Davis will discuss how she and her book connect with Louisiana; how it fits with the theme of the festival, “Books Bring Us Together;” and more. This and other panel discussions will be posted toward the end of August on the National Book Festival website and the Library of Congress’s YouTube channel.

“We are thrilled for the return of an in-person National Book Festival where we can represent Louisiana, just as we are ours at the end of October, and where people from around the world can experience examples of what Louisiana has to offer to the world of literature,” says State Librarian Rebecca Hamilton. “We are just as excited for the opportunity to showcase these two Louisiana authors’ books at the festival and Gayle’s children’s book as part of the virtual programming so that anyone in Louisiana and beyond can share this experience.”

Gayle Webre’s lifelong home is the heart of Cajun country. She holds a master’s +30 from the University of Southwestern Louisiana, working in elementary education for 25 years, primarily designing and implementing enrichment curricula for gifted children. Webre generally lives with her nose in a book or talking about books she has read. You might also find her writing, hosting gatherings for family and friends, playing with her grandchildren, or riding her tricycle.

Fatima Shaik, 2021 Louisiana Writer Award recipient, has written for The Southern Review, Callaloo, Tribes, The Root, In These Times, the Review of Contemporary Fiction, and The New York Times. Her seventh book is Economy Hall: The Hidden History of a Free Black Brotherhood (“lyrical and mysterious and always captivating” -- NY Times). She is the recipient of grants from the NEH, LEH, and the Kittredge Fund. A member of The Writers Room in NYC, Shaik is an ex-officio Trustee of PEN America.

Both of Louisiana’s Great Reads authors will be making appearances at the Louisiana table and signing books, and another Louisiana author, Alex Jennings (The Ballad of Perilous Graves), a featured National Book Festival author, will drop by to say hello.

The Louisiana Center for the Book, established in the State Library of Louisiana in 1994 for the purpose of stimulating public interest in reading, books, literacy, and libraries and celebrating Louisiana’s rich literary heritage, is the state affiliate of the Library of Congress Center for the Book.