This week, 3/20

Last week, we wrote about Detroit-based letterpress artist Amos Paul Kennedy Jr. If you’ve been to the Mudhouse lately, or a dozen other spots around town, you’ve seen his work: the brightly colored posters with stylized “words of wisdom” chosen by community members (e.g., “If two wrongs don’t make a right, try three”).

Kennedy, who also designed the poster in this week’s cover package for us, left a corporate job to pursue printing full-time, and his delight is infectious. He was at the downtown library on Saturday helping children operate a small press to print their own signs (“Meet Me At the Library”), and will lead free workshops all month.

It’s part of a public art project sponsored by the Virginia Center for the Book, and just one of the highlights of the book festival this week.

Now in its 25th year, the festival brings everything from the topical to the esoteric. And while many of the discussions on social issues spring from nonfiction books, the lineup is a good reminder that fiction, too, can give us a broader understanding
of the world.

“Sometimes I think journalists can get the facts, and novelists can get the truth,” says crime writer Don Winslow. And studies have shown that reading literary fiction can increase your sense of empathy, a quality that’s especially critical these days.

After yet another hate crime and mass murder last week, books can seem a fragile shield against ignorance and violence. But Virginia Humanities founder Rob Vaughan, who died on March 6, was among those who believed in the power of stories to bring people together.

You still have to do the work—as Kennedy told us, “To have a community, it has to be created and maintained. You don’t inherit it.” Gathering to hear and discuss new stories is not a bad place to start. —Laura Longhine