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Revenge of the nerds

The legacies of Labor Day weekend's Dragon*Con and Decatur Book Festival

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Atlanta has never been a particularly whimsical city — not in the freaky and surreal way that New Orleans or San Fran can be. Nor is it a terribly literary place, at least not compared to the bookish scenes in Seattle or New York.

Of course, try telling that to any of the tens of thousands of Atlantans who stuck around town for Labor Day. Whimsy and intellect were on full display last weekend. And of the many well-attended events on what's become a holiday weekend worthy of a staycation — Black Gay Pride and the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, to name a few — it was a downtown sci-fi convention and, over in Decatur, a book festival that drew the biggest crowds.

What do these two wildly successful, drastically different, and far from traditionally "Atlantan" events say about the progress of our fair city? We think it means Atlanta is becoming more hospitable than ever to freaks and geeks. And we couldn't be more thrilled.

Dragon*Con has grown into the world's largest fantasy convention, and its highly notable presence offers more than a mere opportunity to gawk at stormtroopers and steampunks. It helps set the stage for smaller scale but similar events, including the annual Zombie Walk, which hits the streets of Old Fourth Ward and downtown in a few weeks, and the glorious Little Five Points Halloween Parade, which will celebrate 10 years of gore next month. These events help build the kind of communities we want to rally around — communities populated by the kooky and macabre, the artful and the walking dead.

In a similar way, but for a notably different crowd, the Decatur Book Festival doesn't just attract tens of thousands of bookworms and hundreds of authors — including this year's biggest literary superstar, Jonathan Franzen, who delivered the festival's rousing and eccentric keynote address. It also provides a podium for emerging authors and a source of inspiration for aspiring ones. And the festival's afterglow helps shine a brighter light on the readings and signings taking place in warehouses, galleries and indie bookstores across the city.

The success of these two events speaks to a portion of the Atlanta experience that's been previously untapped. We're excited to see these subcultures emerge, in all their freaky, geeky glory. And we're proud that what we've always held true — that this is a city of artists and thinkers, exhibitionists and nerds, writers and weirdos — has proven itself in such emphatic, exhilarating ways.

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