“Part of the spirit [of the festival] is to stage different kinds of experiential encounters with literature that maybe aren’t possible in a standard bookstore space,” says Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis, lead organizer of the festival and curator of Asian Pacific American studies at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center. “We have a number of programs that ask people to think about literature in a new way.”
This year’s edition of the biennial festival, which debuted in 2017, features roughly 100 authors, artists and other creatives from the D.C. area and beyond. Events will be held at three locations: the Eaton DC hotel, the Library of Congress and the Freer | Sackler galleries. Name any subject and chances are it’s highlighted somewhere on the schedule, which includes poetry, fiction and queer stories in Asian literature.
“One of our featured festival performers, Franny Choi, recently wrote an essay with a line that’s stuck with me: The future is femme and queer,” Davis says. “She was writing specifically about Asian American arts and literature and pointing to the fact that so many important, emerging voices are queer-identifying.”
Choi, a queer-identifying Michigan-based poet, is one of about a dozen writers taking part in the festival’s Queer Literaoke event on Saturday. Participants will read their works and singa verse of their favorite song. “Shallow” from “A Star Is Born,” “Hello” by Adele and “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion are some of the picks.
“It allows us to see writers and poets that we may know in one capacity or know for certain kinds of work singing as well,” Davis says. “It’s a different look into their personalities.”
In addition to the experiential events are more traditional offerings, including readings by Ocean Vuong, who will discuss his recent New York Times best-seller, “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous,” and Sally Wen Mao, who will deliver a poetry reading under her moniker Anime Wong. There are also panel discussions and writing workshops where festival-goers can fine-tune their skills. Davis hopes attendees walk away with new ideas, and maybe a new book or two.
“We’ll have a station set up [at the Eaton] where people can bring an [Asian American literary] book and we’ll invite them to inscribe it with a note to say, ‘That was my favorite part’ or, ‘This was a part that was very moving to me,’ and [they can] leave it there,” Davis says. “In return, they’ll receive a book that somebody else anonymously donated. We like to think about this as a sharing opportunity and a way to guide one another into literature through the things that move us.”
Various locations; Fri.-Sun., various times, free; go to smithsonianapa.org for details
3 ways to get lost in more than just a book
There’s a dizzying amount of programming at this year’s Asian American Literature Festival. Out of all the immersive performances, workshops, installations and other events, here are three to consider checking out.
Eaton DC, 1201 K St. NW; Fri. & Sun., various times, free but RSVP required.
One of the festival’s more unique experiences is an escape room designed by award-winning crime author Ed Lin. Teams of five or six will have 10 minutes to escape the room, which the native New Yorker cheekily designed as an underfunded Asian Pacific American nonprofit office where a coffee machine known for causing nuclear meltdowns is about to blow.
Queer/Trans Ghost Stories
Eaton DC, 1201 K St. NW; Sat., 7-8:30 p.m., free but RSVP required.
Local collective p0stb1nary, composed of nonbinary and gender-fluid artists, will transform the Eaton hotel’s Crystal Room into an “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”-esque campfire setting where science fiction writer Mimi Mondal will share ghost stories related to queer experiences and identity. The floor will also open up for others to share their own stories.
Eaton DC, 1201 K St. NW; Fri., 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Head to the Literary Lounge to buy books and get them signed by your favorite authors. In addition, there will be a tarot card reading station, a place to make your own literary memes and an area where publisher Kaya Press will have calligraphy, portrait-drawing and other arts-related activities with featured authors.