For many, the notion of literary endeavor evokes isolation and a dash of depression, the image of a lonely writer drinking Scotch in a frozen garret, warming herself with a burning manuscript. Though I can’t promise that those things never happen—say, in the course of writing a newspaper article—this year’s Festival of the Book turns such stereotypes on their heads. Hosted by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, these five days of literary celebration (beginning March 20) will draw more than 20,000 attendees. According to Rob Vaughan, president of the VFH, “it’s the largest festival east of the Mississippi, if not the country.”
Since its inception, the Festival has grown from 55 to 210 programs, most of which are free and open to the public. Ninety-four fiction and 235 non-fiction authors will discuss subjects ranging from romance to art, memoir to aging, fantasy to family to literacy and leadership. Twenty-six professional poets will share insights and readings, and 30 participants from the publishing field will give practical advice to aspiring writers. Check out the highlights below, and build your own “book bag” personalized schedule at vabook.org.
On Saturday, March 23 at 8pm at the Paramount, see two American icons in conversation: The Honorable John Lewis (D-GA) was a Freedom Rider and a founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and 1968 Olympian Dr. John Carlos made history when he and fellow Olympian Tommie Smith gave the black power salute on the winners’ podium. They will discuss how vision and action can change the world.
For sports lovers
If you love athletics as much as you love books, don’t miss Sports Night at the Paramount. Panelists include 50-year Sports Illustrated veteran and multi-genre author Frank Deford, former Washington Post sports and feature writer Jane Leavy, political sportswriter Dave Zirin, moderator and author of Summer of ’68: The Season That Changed Baseball Tim Wendel, and Charlottesville’s own John Grisham.
“Kids get really excited during the Festival,” said Susan Coleman, director of the Virginia Center for the Book. StoryFest!, a series that caters to youth, includes a kids’ book swap, live animal viewing, empowerment workshops, and plenty of readings, including 40 in-school events. Eric Wight, whose graphic novel Frankie Pickle and the Closet of Doom is a nominee for the Virginia reader’s choice list, will bridge the gap between adults and children with his lectures at the Omni Hotel and middle schools around the city. “The point I focus on most in my workshops is that we are all creative,” he said. “Anyone can create stories.”
Suspense lovers are in for a treat with Crime Wave, a series of genre-specific panels including Murder in the Name of God, Who Knew This Work Could Be So Dangerous? and Friday Night Thrillers. Even if thrillers aren’t your thing, don’t be afraid to stop by. As Ed Falco, Scenes of the Crime panelist and author of cinematic Mario Puzio-inspired The Family Corleone, explains: “good novels are good novels regardless of genre.”
Of the festival’s myriad non-fiction topics, one of the hottest will be Thomas Jefferson. This is Charlottesville, after all. Three separate programs focus on T.J., including Jefferson’s Legacies with Henry Wiencek and John Ragosta (Friday at 4pm at CitySpace). Wiencek’s Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves received much attention for its highly-charged topic. “There was so much about Jefferson I didn’t understand,” Wiencek said. “There’s a saying among authors, ‘I write to find out.’”
For lovers of verse
Current U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey first read at the festival in 2000, alongside then-Poet Laureate Rita Dove. “It was the first time I’d gotten to spend any time with a poet whose work was deeply important to me,” Trethewey said in an interview with Kevin McFadden, COO of the VFH. “My father, who is also a poet, was in the audience, beaming.” Relive the moment on Saturday at 2pm at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, when Trethewey will read from her latest book, Thrall.
For party hoppers
Kick off your literary weekend with opening ceremonies that include winners of the Letters about Literature competition and The Hook short story contest. At 6pm that night, winners of the Bus Lines Community Poetry series will read at the Downtown transit center, and Thursday offers more local talent: Verbs & Vibes Open Mic (7pm, Student Bookstore) and Big Blue Door, a night of true stories on the theme of books (8pm, The Bridge PAI). On Friday, trade happy hour for a literary soiree. At the Sweet Reads Reception, parents and kids can eat dessert with festival authors (6pm, Charlottesville Catholic School), and at the Emily Dickinson After Party, Paul Legault will trade verse with Dickinson herself, then deejay a night of dancing (8pm, The Bridge PAI).
Saturday at the Omni Hotel is Publishing Day, a series of seminars for writers that includes Promoting the Smart Way, How to Make Writing Pay, and Creating a Great Writing Group. Writers will critique audience submissions in How to Hook an Editor on the First Page. Perennial favorite Agents Roundtable returns, along with Digital Publishing for Your Book and Digital Publishing in 2013 with Jen Talty of Cool Gus Publishing and Jon Fine, director of author and publisher relations at Amazon.com.