by Le Selle Benjamin

The second annual Albany Book Festival took place Saturday, September 14th, 2019. The event served as a soiree for creators and bibliophiles alike, featuring prominent literary legends, and brilliant authors of Albany and the greater New York area. The event featured a diverse line up of authors, whose interests spanned a plethora of genres, such as History written by Eric Foner, Young Adult books by L.M Elliott and literature that explores Foreign Experience by Helon Habila.

The Albany Book Festival hosted several panels facilitated by the invited authors. These talks provided those in attendance with the invaluable experience of hearing works read by the writers who created them. As well as, the opportunity to pose questions to those authors. I was among the audience that attended a talk facilitated by brilliant novelist Jamaica Kincaid, and the remarkable illustrator and author Ricardo Cortés. The two artists recently collaborated on a picture book, entitled, Party: A Mystery. This book recounts Kincaid’s experience at a literary event in the 1980’s through the modern lens of three young girls.

They began with Jamaica Kincaid reading from the book; both she and Cortés insisted on it being a called a “picture book” rather than a children’s book. When questioned why, Ricardo Cortés answered that “…the book was not created for children. It just so happens to be a story, starring children, that has pictures”. When comparisons were drawn between Party: A Mystery, and other children’s books, Kincaid offered further context by recounting her experience at the actual event that inspired the story, the 50th anniversary party of the Nancy Drew books’ first publication.

Kincaid drew the audience’s attention to the beautifully illustrated cakes featured in Party: A Mystery. She accounted their prominence in the picture book to the fact that as a young and poor writer for The New Yorker she often chose to report on events that served food. Kincaid’s choice to compare her personal experience to that of Pam, Bess and Sue, the story’s protagonists, showcased how masterfully a journalism article by 29- year-old Kincaid can be translated into a story to be appreciated by all ages.

Equivalent to Kincaid’s amazing writing is Ricardo Cortés astonishing illustration that further transports the reader into the world of Party: A Mystery. The captivating images illustrate the setting of the Nancy Drew anniversary party so vividly, that I felt as though I was in attendance of the event. Cortés’ keen attention to detail is seen in the brick wall encasing the staircase of the venue, and the lifelike features of the African American girls around whom the story is set. Throughout the talk, Cortés was praised for his stunning and complexed illustrations. Cortés, however, guided those in attendance to his less intricate, but equally thought-provoking drawings. This nudge by Cortés stimulated dialogue between the authors and the audience about the audience’s interpretation of the singular, outstretched hand and pointed finger featured on page 17 of the book.

Although an unexpected pairing, Jamaica Kincaid and Ricardo Cortés have created a literary marvel that can be enjoyed by picture book lovers of all ages. I look forward to more collaborations by Kincaid and Cortés. Until then I will hold tight to my autographed copy of Party: A Mystery.