Current National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Gene Luen Yang, has had a busy two years touring the country and spreading his message of “Reading Without Walls.” Recently those travels led him to the South Dakota Festival of Books where Gene spent three days meeting and speaking with kids and adults about the joy of reading, his platform as Ambassador, and his love of books.
Gene spoke with audiences about diversity in books, led a conversation and workshop on “Writing Without Walls”, signed books for festival goers and met with 180 students at a Rapid City middle school.
The South Dakota Humanities Council, founded in 1972 in response to an act of Congress, is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit and the only cultural organization in the state whose sole mission is to deliver humanities programming to the people of South Dakota. As a steward of the state’s cultural awareness and heritage, SDHC cultivates statewide interest in South Dakota history, literature, and other related humanities subjects, while stimulating an interest in the state’s place as part of the universal human experience. This programming vision forms the core mission of SDHC “to support and promote the exchange of ideas to foster a thoughtful and engaged society.”
In 2002 the Library of Congress designated the South Dakota Humanities Council as the home of the South Dakota Center for the Book. Since its inception, the Center has carried out its mission to celebrate the written word in South Dakota, extol the rich heritage of the state, and encourage authorship, literacy and reading. It houses a variety of community reading programs, the One Book South Dakota program, the South Dakota Festival of Books, and authorship and research opportunities.
The Festival of Books, now in its 15th year, annually showcases more than 50 distinguished authors, scholars, and publishing representatives. It has featured many outstanding writers and cultural figures, such as Sherman Alexie, Deborah Amos, Roy Blount Jr., Neal Conan, Pete Dexter, Dave Eggers, Louise Erdrich, Ian Frazier, Jim Harrison, Walter Dean Myers, Annie Proulx, Marilynne Robinson, and Gary Schmidt. The 2016 Festival featured six Pulitzer Prize winners, including 2016 One Book South Dakota author Jane Smiley, and the 2017 Festival featured Vietnam veteran and National Book Award winner Tim O’Brien. The Festival hosts more than 10,000 total session attendees each year.
In 2014, SDHC enhanced its children’s/YA programming with the addition of a Young Readers Festival of Book and Young Readers One Book South Dakota. Kate DiCamillo was the first headlining author for Young Readers. Other participating authors/illustrators have included Ashley Wolff, Pete Hautman, and South Dakota’s own Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve. Each year, more than 5,000 youth attend Festival events on-site or in their schools. Through these programs, SDHC has given away more than 16,000 special edition books to elementary students across the state.