Virginia Festival of the Book:  Come Celebrate All Things Literary

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Virginia Festival of the Book:  Come Celebrate All Things Literary

By Ken Wilson –

Before there were pixels there was print, and before there were tweets there were books, and in Charlottesville we haven’t forgotten. We love our books and their authors, and we love “our” Virginia Festival of the Book, the annual celebration of all things literary with everything from story times for the pre-literate to brunches with the “literati.”

More than 400 speakers—authors, illustrators and other publishing professionals—and as many as 30,000 happy readers, are expected for the readings, discussions, book signings, film screenings, and musical performances of the 24th annual Virginia Festival of the Book, Wednesday, March 21 through Sunday, March 25 in Charlottesville and Albemarle County.

Produced by Virginia Humanities, the Festival is a program of the Virginia Center for the Book, an affiliate of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. With more than 250 programs this year, including 83 school classroom visits by Festival speakers, it’s the largest community-based book event in the Mid-Atlantic region. More than 150 of its programs are free and open to the public with no tickets or reservations required. 

“So many books, so little time,” as the saying goes. Where to begin then?

For Virginia Center for the Book Assistant Director Sarah Lawson, one of the “true highlights” of the 2018 Festival will be hearing The New Yorker’s David Grann discuss his page-turner, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI. I read his previous book, The Lost City of Z,” Lawson says, “and loved it. Reading this latest book from him, I was amazed how his writing is so adaptable to different historical narratives, but also how thorough his research is!”

Grann will join Rutgers University history professor Erica Armstrong Dunbar (Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge) and New Yorker poetry editor and Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture director Kevin Young (Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News) for In Pursuit of Truth: An Evening with the National Book Awards, Saturday, March 24 at 8:00 p.m. at the Paramount Theater.

The Gridiron to the Space Shuttle
Kids grow up dreaming of glory and adventure, but not many find it both on the football field and in outer space like Leland Melvin. Born in Lynchburg in 1964, Melvin played wide receiver for the University of Richmond Spiders and was drafted by the Detroit Lions before being sidelined by a pulled hamstring during training camp.

After earning a Master of Science degree from UVA, he began working for NASA as an engineer in 1991, and was selected as an astronaut in 1998. Despite a severe injury that left him partially deaf, Melvin flew two missions on the Space Shuttle Atlantis in 2008 and 2009, logging over 565 hours in space.

Melvin will share stories from his memoir Chasing Space: An Astronaut’s Story of Grit, Grace, and Second Chances at this year’s Read & Lead Lunch, Wednesday, March 21 at 11:45 a.m. in the Ballroom of the Omni Hotel. As part of the Festival, Melvin will also speak to more than 2,400 elementary school students in Charlottesville and Albemarle.

American History, African-American Food
A body can work up a good appetite just reading about good food, and a lot of folks will be getting hungry on Friday March 23, during two back-to-back programs on the history of African-American cooking.

Kelley Fanto Deetz’s Bound to the Fire “recasts the image of the plantation cook as a figure of power, dignity, and, frequently, resistance” in a “lively and insightful account of a still-largely-unfamiliar aspect of the history of American slavery,” says Publishers Weekly.

“Certified barbecue judge” Adrian Miller’s The President’s Kitchen Cabinet: The Story of the African Americans Who Have Fed Our First Families, from the Washingtons to the Obamas

is further subtitled The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time. Both men will be on hand for Histories of Food & Eating: African-American Perspectives at 4:00 p.m. at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center.

Renowned culinary historian Michael W. Twitty offers fresh thoughts on the old American problem of race in his memoir of Southern cuisine and food culture, The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South.

This very personal work of history  “traces his ancestry—both black and white—through food, from Africa to America and slavery to freedom.” Twitty will share his story in UVA’s Ruth Caplin Theatre, in the same building as Culbreth Theatre, at 6:00 p.m. The program is free, but tickets must be reserved through the UVA Arts Box Office.

Left, Right and Center—American Politics 2018
As a Democratic Congressman from Pennsylvania, Jason Altmire was a centrist known for working both sides of the aisle to find bipartisan solutions. He has written about the experience and what it taught him in Dead Center: How Political Polarization Divided America and What We Can Do About It.

Nicole Hemmer is Assistant Professor of Presidential Studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. Her book Messengers of the Right looks at three men instrumental in the rise of conservative political media: radio host and political organizer Clarence Manion, book publisher Henry Regnery, and longtime National Review publisher William A. Rusher.

As a radio and television correspondent working in Washington, but hailing from long-divided Ireland, Caitriona Perry brings a valuable outsider’s perspective on disaffected America in In America: Tales from Trump Country. The three writers will discuss our polarized political state in American Politics: Left, Right & Center, Saturday, March 24 at 12:00 noon in the City Council Chambers. Carlos Lozada, nonfiction reviewer for the Washington Post, will moderate.

Book on a Wall
If a picture is worth a thousand words, a sketchbook must be a graphic novelist’s best source of inspiration. Art educator and graphic novelist Laura Lee Gulledge’s Sketchbook Dares invites readers to sketch objects from memory, doodle with their non-dominant hands, and tell their stories with both drawings and words.

At Studio IX from March 2 to April 2, Gulledge will exhibit a thematically related book on a wall: twenty-five illustrations and mixed media pieces, each with a caption by the artist and a space for guests to write their own captions. Collectively they illustrate what she calls her return trip from her “Hero’s Journey,” a personal vision quest that took her from Charlottesville to New York and parts far-flung.

“The interactive element is asking guests to share part of their story rather than giving captions to my story,” Gulledge says. “I want people to see their life as a story. There are rainbows in the gallery and I have yellow star post-it notes where I’m asking people to write down what’s at the end of their rainbow. What are they working towards in their life? What do they need to finish their quest? I can’t wait to see the wall of the gallery fill with people’s hopes and dreams!”

Gulledge will speak about her work at Studio IX on Thursday, March 22 at 6:00 p.m.

Pub Day
As Festival Director Jane Kulow puts it, “In Charlottesville, if you don’t know a writer, you must know ten people who want to be a published writer.” That’s why every Festival Saturday is Pub Day—six events at the Omni Hotel this year and one at Village School—featuring literary agents, editors, publishers, and writers, aspiring writers, and ghostwriters, all designed to aid, instruct and encourage both published and not yet published authors. 

An all-day (9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.) Lit Fair will feature literary magazines, university presses, small publishers and academic and non-profit outfits dedicated to supporting writers.

Thirty-two authors will sign books in half-hour shifts beginning at 10:00 a.m.  Four award-winning authors—Meredith Cole, Jennifer Elvgren, Deborah Prum, and Andy Straka—will critique 100-word writing samples (fiction only) submitted by email during the Winning Beginnings program, from 2:00 to 3:30 p.m. in the Omni’s Ballroom A.

Gilded Age, Absorbing Lives
John Singer Sargent painted over 900 portraits, so it’s no wonder it took author Donna Lucey over a year to figure out which ones to write about. In Sargent’s Women, Lucey uses four of Sargent’s sitters as a “portal” into the Gilded Age, its “extraordinary architecture, its outsized subjects, and the larger than life lives they lived.”

“I was drawn to these particular characters because each woman was unconventional in her own way and did something to break the social conventions of her time,” Lucey says.

“They look so placid and beautiful. They were so privileged and wealthy and charmed, and ergo they led these perfect lives. Yet when you read the stories, it’s a shock how crazy they are. They were constantly traveling and consorting with all of the most famous people in the world. They lived life at the highest volume.”

And what they left behind, in addition to those intriguing portraits, is an historian’s dream: “voluminous correspondence of the sort we don’t have anymore.”

Donna Lucey will be joined by Johanna Neumann, author of Gilded Suffragists and Denise Kiernan, author of The Last Castle (Biltmore in Asheville, NC) for The Gilded Age: Exploring the Arts, Architecture, and Social Activism, Saturday, March 24 at 2:00 p.m. in the Harrison Institute at UVA’s Small Special Collections. 

Crime Wave
Northern Virginia author Ellen Crosby has a master’s degree in international relations, worked on Capitol Hill, and written feature stories for the Washington Post, but there was a time when she could have used some good Pub Day advice herself after her husband was transferred overseas.

“I really loved writing,” Crosby says today. “We moved to Switzerland and I was kind of at loose ends and I thought, ‘I’ll write a novel, how hard can it be?’ and of course it was pretty hard.” Crosby buried the manuscript of that first novel in a garden in England (sleuthers take note), but she kept writing, joined writer support groups, and is today the author of the eight-volume Wine County Mystery series, set about fifty miles from Washington, D.C.

The most recent entry in the series, The Vineyard Victims, concerns a Virginia vineyard-owning presidential candidate (no, not that one) and deals in part with a 30-year-old murder at UVA. “I’ve had help from Monticello—since Thomas Jefferson was such a wine aficionado—with two previous books,” Crosby says, “so there is a lot of local history from your neck of the woods.”

Crosby will join Maya Corrigan (The Tell-Tale Tarte), Mollie Cox Bryan (Macrame Murder), and Sujata Massey (The Widows of Malabar Hill) for Caught Up in Murder, Saturday, March 24 at 4:00 p.m. in the Omni Hotel’s Ballroom B. The program is one of eight panels and signings comprising the ever popular Crime Wave portion of the Festival, beginning the night of Friday, March 23 and running throughout the day on Saturday. 

Crime Wave will begin with Friday Night Noir, Friday, March 23 at 8:00 p.m. in the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, in which three popular crime authors—Lyndsay Faye (The Whole Art of Detection: Lost Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes), Attica Locke (Bluebird, Bluebird) and Amy Stewart (Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions)—will make their first Festival appearances.

Little Island
“Book festivals are little islands of goodness and sanity in this world,” Stewart says, which explains why she’s coming all the way from Oregon for ours.

Donna Lucey agrees. “We came here from New York where we knew lots of writers, but in New York everyone had their knives at your back,” Lucey says. “There wasn’t this camaraderie or community feeling. Here in Charlottesville everyone is very generous and appreciative of each other’s work. It’s a great writing town and book loving town, and the Festival is just fantastic.”

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