Experts abound at the Virginia Festival of the Book

Author John Casteen IV steps out to read from his latest book, For the Mountain Laurel, on Wednesday as part of the Virginia Festival of the Book. (Photo by Ashley Twiggs)

What do a basketball legend, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, a bestselling novelist, an acclaimed Mexican poet, a Nobel Peace Prize-winning climatologist and an African king have in common? Easy—you’ll find all of them at the Virginia Festival of the Book this week. We’ve highlighted some favorites below, but go to for the festival’s full schedule of more than 200 amazing literary events.

Wednesday, March 21
History buffs will love “Stories of Appalachia” (Student Bookstore, 2pm), featuring local historians Phil James, author of Secrets of the Blue Ridge: Stories from Western Albemarle, and Lynn Coffey, author of the Backroads trilogy. “There came a point when I realized those stories needed to be told,” James told us. “Visiting with my elderly neighbors and extended family, I began to learn more about the vibrant lives that preceded us in this place.” James’ book features selections from his long-running local history column in the Crozet Gazette, and he also penned the foreword to Coffey’s Backroads Volume 3: Faces of Appalachia. “Her trilogy reflects her genuine admiration for the mountain folks who live within shouting distance of the Blue Ridge Parkway near Love, Virginia,” he said. “Laurels and Laureates” (UVA Harrison Institute / Small Special Collections, 4pm) will bring together Virginia Poet Laureate Kelly Cherry, UVA’s Paul Guest and John Casteen IV, who shared his perspective as a festival veteran. “A lot of the work we do is lonesome; we tend to write, and to read, in solitude,” he said. “So to have an event like this gives everyone, free of charge, access to exciting work and the pleasures of the written word—it’s a great thing.” Casteen will read from his latest book, For the Mountain Laurel, as well as some more recent poems.

Thursday, March 22
Roald Hoffmann may have a Nobel Prize in chemistry and a slew of other prestigious science honors on his shelf, but he also has a knack for words. Fittingly, he’ll be reading his poems in Jefferson’s great hub of science and scholarship (The Rotunda, 1pm). And speaking of prizes, Harvard professor Louis Menand, whose The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America earned him a Pulitzer, will join UVA’s Matthew Affron and Michael Levenson for “The Education of Andy Warhol” (UVA Harrison Institute/Small Special Collections, 6pm). You’ll also want to catch Chad Harbach, UVA alum and author of bestselling novel The Art of Fielding, which the New York Times named one of its 10 Best Books of 2011 (UVA Harrison Institute/Small Special Collections, 8pm).

Friday, March 23
If you miss Harbach on Thursday, you’ll have another chance to see him Friday, when he’ll be reading with fellow UVA MFA alumni Jazzy Danziger, Brittany Perham, Mark Wagenaar, and Eleanor Henderson (UVA Bookstore, noon). We’re also excited for “Literary Icons—Their Lives, Their Works” (UVA Bookstore, 4pm), which will feature UVA’s Andrew D. Kaufman, author of Understanding Tolstoy, Michael Sims, author of The Story of Charlotte’s Web, and local author Charles Shields, who has written Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee, and And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life.

Saturday, March 24
“Dispatches from the Climate Wars” (UVA Clark Hall, 10am) will mark the triumphant return of Michael E. Mann, former UVA professor and Nobel Peace Prize-winning climatologist. Mann’s new book, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines, recounts his own experiences in the trenches, from authoring the first paper featuring the “Hockey Stick” temperature chart to the recent court battle with Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. “My hope is that, through the narrative of my own story, and the experience that I have had as an almost accidental and reluctant public figure in the debate over human-caused climate change, I have a unique opportunity to talk about these issues,” Mann told us. His visit will be “particularly gratifying,” considering the Virginia State Supreme Court’s recent rejection of Cuccinelli’s latest attempt to seize e-mails that Mann wrote while at UVA.

Sunday, March 25
In last week’s column we featured Greg Kelly’s Pigeon, and on Sunday he’ll discuss his work alongside fellow artist Randy Asplund, who uses authentic medieval methods to create beautiful illuminated manuscripts, books and illustrations (Virginia Arts of the Book Center, noon).

Beating the drum
Before sending you off on your literary adventures, we’ve got exciting news about another upcoming festival. The Tom Tom Founders Festival, organized by former City Council candidate Paul Beyer, recently announced its initial musical lineup for May 11 and 12. In addition to headliners Josh Ritter and The Walkmen, the festival will feature Brooklyn indie rockers Here We Go Magic and Hospitality, Nashville’s Those Darlins and local favorites The Hill and Wood, Diane Cluck, Birdlips, and Carl Anderson, just to name a few. Shows will take place at The Southern, The Main Street Arena, The Haven and Christ Church, and tickets go on sale today at

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