Monday, October 12, 2009

Heroes vs. superheroes and a southern weekend

From October 8 to 10, I was in Nashville—first time in Tennessee. I spoke at a dream school called Ruby Major Elementary and appeared at the wonderfully run Southern Festival of Books.
Buzz Aldrin spoke there, too, and I reckon the awe I felt to be near him came close to rivaling the awe he must’ve felt to be the second man on the moon. Yes, it was that profound for me. Twelve humans in history have walked on a celestial body other than Earth whereas I haven't even been to Mexico, and now one of them stood a foot away from me in the hospitality room, deciding between a box of raisins or a granola bar. (I recommended the raisins. His wife recommended neither.)

Why was Ruby Major a dream school? For starters, they responded to my first e-mail within hours and booked me by the end of that school day. I wish they were all so fast!

It only went up from there. Here was my warm welcome:

The following photos are courtesy of the school and photographer Bill Bernal:

After I spoke, my host was kind enough to mention I would be appearing at the festival over the weekend in case any kids wanted to bring their parents by. I found this so conscientious and considerate.

But what I found most revealing about the character of the school was a discussion the media specialist had with the kids before I arrived. She challenged them to distinguish between a hero and a superhero.

’ve had this discussion myself—mostly with myself. I took notice when reviewers of Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman referred to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster as heroes. Anyone who’s been to this blog before knows the reverence I have for Jerry and Joe, but I don’t call them heroes.

Yes, they were persistent, and yes, they overcame intense hardship, which takes a level of strength many don’t have. But the more liberally we use the term “hero,” the less value it has. Jerry and Joe certainly created a heroic ideal, and they were pioneers of the imagination, but I generally reserve “hero” for a different order.

Boys of Steel has taken me to numerous schools, libraries, and conferences across ten states, but I believe the Southern Festival of Books was the first with no major connection to Superman, Siegel and Shuster, or me. (Ohio is where Jerry and Joe lived. Kansas is where a young Clark Kent lived. The Northeast is where I live. And so forth.)

As I was walking into my hotel, a woman was storming out. I heard her stop and tell the security guard/doorman/concierge/unsure “I can’t stay here.” He said something and she left. A few minutes later, I didn’t mind my own business and asked him what irked her so.

“No room service.”

The festival took place at War Memorial Plaza in downtown Nashville. Here I am zooming in on my books:

My first of two appearances was a panel about marketing books in the digital age. It was the first panel I've been on where I was the only writer. The other panelists were entrepreneurs and publisher executives and lordy lordy were they sharp.

This panel took place in Nashville's House of Representatives. It was by far the most, well, stately location I've spoken in.
So just before the panel began, I had to take a photo of us on the political Jumbotron:

It turns out that my unassuming hotel thick with tourists was actually tourist-worthy in and of itself. It holds a distinction that no other site in the state can claim:

And typical me, I didn't get my photo taken in front of the 6th floor guest rooms.

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