Daren Wang is the AJC DBF Executive Director. He founded the AJC Decatur Book Festival in February 2005, convening booksellers, presenters, authors, arts advocates, and community leaders to start planning and fundraising. Before that, he had worked in public radio for 15 years, specializing in programming focused on authors, literature, and the arts.
“I can’t imagine that we had champagne, in my memory ten years on, there is a champagne glass in my hand. A coupe glass, like Fred Astaire would have had in some scene where he was wearing tails.
More likely, it was a can of beer, scavenged from the bottom of a plastic cooler full of lukewarm water.
It was dusk on September 3, 2006, and we were on the roof of Squash Blossom boutique, and we were watching fireworks.
The weekend of the first festival was a blur even then—authors, press appearances, rainstorms, friends, and crowds.
Everywhere the crowds.
The first crowd was a doozy—Arianna Huffington’s sold out and overflowing keynote on Friday night at Agnes Scott’s Presser Auditorium. We got a call a couple hours before asking if we could find a space for Senator Max Cleland. (Sure. How about on stage?)
And there was the one at the Children’s parade—five hundred strong heading to a tent with fifty seats. Then there was the three hundred rabid Diana Gabaldon fans gathered in the conference room lobby, trying to get into a 100-seat auditorium already packed with 150 people. (They were none too happy with me, but she calmed them and sat in the lobby signing their books and chatting with them for three hours.)
There was the crowd at the Old Courthouse on the Square that required a police escort to get Michael Connelly out of the building. (Every time I saw someone that looked like they could be a fire marshal, I ducked down and headed in the other direction.)
I remember pushing through a sidewalk crowded with happy attendees when someone recognized me, grabbed me by the arm and said, “All these people. I didn’t know all these people were here. My tribe!”
“My tribe.” Where so much of that weekend is a blur, those words remain clear. They still echoed in my ears as we crawled out of the fire door at the back of the second-floor offices of Lenz Marketing and onto the roof. I think there was probably ten of us up there, each exhausted in our own way. The next day, there would be a mess. Big bills to pay, garbage to clean. (Judy Turner, then President of Decatur First Bank, wound up her festival weekend by cleaning the toilets at the Old Courthouse on the Square.)
There were countless apologies to make for forgotten acknowledgements. That is still the thing that plagues me most in year ten of the AJC-Decatur Book Festival—“who did I forget to thank?” When an entire city comes together to make your hare-brained dream become reality, there is always someone else to thank.
But as we climbed onto the roof, all those worries were a million miles away. We were there for the fireworks.
From up on the roof, you could still see people fanned out in all directions, their faces lit up by the pyrotechnics. Some were in lawn chairs, some at tables at the pubs. Others lay on their backs staring up into the sky.
I had come to Decatur seven years earlier, the Atlanta area ten years before that. But for me, that was the moment when I too found my tribe. And as we watched the colors flash in the sky over my adopted city, I knew I had finally found a home.
And there is always someone else to thank for that too.”