The programming of the annual Virginia Festival of the Book—now in its 23rd year—always seems to strike a beautiful balance of gravity and levity, tragedy and comedy, difficult reality and the dream of a better future. The organizers draw from a vast array of writers with different lived experiences and this year is no exception. The subjects touched upon encompass our messy human experience: inequality, mental illness, war, but also love, mindfulness, peace and that great community-builder—food. Among these stories there is something for everyone.
Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets
March 22, 7pm at UVA’s Culbreth Theatre
The title of Kwame Alexander’s illustrated book of poetry comes from a quote by poet and children’s book author Lucille Clifton: “Poems come out of wonder, not out of knowing.” Alexander co-wrote the book with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth with the aim of introducing young readers to 20 different poets through original poems written in their honor. Alexander says, “Poetry can really transform the human spirit.” And having grown up in a literary household, he knows firsthand the effect poetry can have on a young person.
Alexander, who has written more than 20 books for young people, says, “First I want to entertain them because I want to entertain myself. Inspire them because I want to be inspired. I want to empower them, I want them to feel they can change the world or themselves. It’s a lofty goal but it’s something I aspire to.”
The book is gorgeously illustrated by Ekua Holmes, who Alexander says “captured the mood, spirit and energy of each of these poems in a dynamic way that no one else could have done. They’re so full of verve.”
We Love You, Charlie Freeman
March 25, 10am at the Central Library
Kaitlyn Greenidge’s debut novel begins when Laurel and Charles Freeman move with their two daughters, Charlotte and Callie, from Boston to the Berkshires to live at the Toneybee Institute and teach sign language to a chimpanzee abandoned by his family. What follows is an exploration of communication within families, the language of love, as well as the legacy of racism in America and the individuals and institutions that have propagated it.
As the African-American Freeman family learns to navigate its new predominantly white community, a parallel story arises in alternating chapters of an African-American woman who had encounters with an anthropologist at the Toneybee Institute in the 1920s. As Charlotte uncovers the institute’s racist past, she confronts her mother and her decision to bring the family there.
Greenidge writes in an e-mail to C-VILLE that the mother, Laurel, is “faced with the choices that a lot of us who are not born to privilege, either class-wise or gender-wise or race-wise or a combination of the three, [face]: Instead, you are offered these situations that are not really choices, that are actually asking you to partake in something harmful. But you make allowances, you make arguments, that it won’t be that bad. Every employed black person, certainly every employed black woman, in the U.S. in the last 100 years has been presented with a version of this dilemma. This novel presents a dramatized version of that choice. But it’s the impossibility of those choices that I wanted to talk about.”
March 23, 2pm at the Central Library
There are road novels, full of noise and bustle, and then there is the more meditative, ambulatory novel. Jane Alison’s nonfiction novel, follows the protagonist J as she walks the boardwalks and bridges of Miami, swims and translates Ovid, pondering her dilemma: whether to retire from romantic love. Alison, professor and director of creative writing at UVA, writes in an e-mail that the impetus for the book “emerged when I was walking one evening on the Venetian Causeway (in Miami, where I lived until three years ago), thinking about a (distant) man or two who had caused me grief, and about the (dead) Roman poet Ovid, whose stories of sexual transformation I was translating, and about the whole troublesome enterprise of sexual love and whether it was really worth having, when a striking man appeared suddenly in the doorway of a house I’d thought was abandoned. A volley of ideas came together in that instant, about hopelessly dead or distant men and sexual longing and fantasy and Miami’s sensual splendor.”
Though her quest is an internal one, J encounters interesting characters along the way: the upstairs neighbor who drops something invisible from her balcony every day into the plants below; the hairstylist who clues J in to the culture of boat girls in Miami who lie like ornaments on the bows of ships, one of whom meets a violent end (connecting threads of violence against women that ripple out from Ovid’s stories and reflect J’s lived experience). “My book,” Alison writes, “is largely about the functions of both desire and time upon a female body: both transformative and erosive.”
GET MORE IN-DEPTH
Christina Baker Kline, author of the international best-seller Orphan Train, is on tour for her latest work of historical fiction, A Piece of the World. The novel takes its inspiration from Andrew Wyeth’s painting “Christina’s World” and explores the relationship between the painter and his subject, Christina Olson, a neighbor disabled by polio. March 23, 6pm at Christ Episcopal Church.
Kathleen Grissom of Lynchburg will discuss her latest novel, Glory Over Everything, a follow-up to her New York Times bestseller, The Kitchen House. This historical novel follows Jamie Pyke, born to a slave and master—and passing for white in 1830s Philadelphia—as he returns south to help two enslaved friends escape through the Underground Railroad. March 22, 4pm at JMRL Central Library.
Margot Lee Shetterly by now needs no introduction. The Charlottesville resident and 1991 UVA graduate is the author of Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race, which was adapted into an award-winning feature film last year. She will appear at the Paramount alongside Dava Sobel. March 25 (sold out)
Sue Klebold, mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the two shooters in the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, penned the powerful memoir, A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy. In it she shares the details of her family life as well as what she has learned since about brain health, depression, suicide and violence prevention. March 26, 1pm at UVA’s Culbreth Theatre.
Lisa Russ Spaar, poet and UVA professor, will discuss her latest collection, Orexia: Poems. With such evocative lines as “Bitten moon. Perfect. What’s to come,” these poems explore desire as well as feelings of mortality later in life.
Debra Nystrom, poet and UVA professor, weaves a narrative of two abandoned children, Will and Ellie, in her fourth collection of poetry, Night Sky Frequencies and Selected Poems.
Tim Seibles, the current Poet Laureate of Virginia and a professor at Old Dominion University, explores aging, mortality and the obstacles injustice and inequality pose to a peaceful life in his latest collection, One Turn Around the Sun.
Spaar, Nystrom and Seibles appear March 23, 8pm at Christ Episcopal Church.