The Virginia Festival of the Book

The Virginia Festival of the Book

It’s an online world these days, but here in Central Virginia we still love books. We still love books a lot. See us read. See us hold a book festival. See us celebrate reading, literacy, and literary culture with five days of events for print and language lovers on every level and with every taste, from Dick and Jane to democracy and gender studies. Recent surveys have found that even readers raised on screens prefer the printed page when reading for pleasure. We’re glad that the rest of the world loves what we love best. Our 21st annual Virginia Festival of the Book will run March 18-22, 2015 at the University of Virginia, on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall, and at other locations in around the city.

Produced by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and presented by The Virginia Center for the Book, the Festival has been a spring tradition here since 1995, drawing a cumulative audience of more than 20,000 attendees in each of the last eleven years. New Festival program director Jane Kulow moved here from western Canada in 2006 and began helping to program the event that same year. Kulow and her husband had been looking for a “a small university town” to relocate to when someone suggested Charlottesville. She’d never heard of it. “I thought they meant Charlotte,” she says today. “I looked up ‘Charlottesville,’ and the very first thing that came up was the Festival of the Book, and I turned to him and said, ‘I’m in.’” For Kulow’s first Festival as director she is inviting 393 authors, from National Book Award recipients to Newberry Award medalists, who will read and discuss their work in 199 events, most of them free. History, poetry, and spirituality; politics, the environment, and food . . . the long list of Festival categories is like a table of contents for an encyclopedic page-turner.


This year’s Festival officially kicks off with the Opening Ceremony, noon Wednesday, March 18 at the Central Branch of the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library, when the Virginia Center of the Book recognizes winners in the statewide Letters About Literature contest. Contest participants, grades 4-12, write letters to favorite authors, explaining how their books instructed and inspired them. The students’ letters are inspiring in turn Kulow says. “They are a lovely reminder, each year, of how captivating a book can be for any one of us.” Historical novelist Karen Abbott, author of Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy, will speak about the impact of literature on our lives and the lives of the characters she writes about.

Author Beth Macy will be the guest at the annual Leadership Breakfast at 7:30 am. in the ballroom of the Omni Hotel. Macy’s new book Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local – and Helped Save an American Town, tells the story of businessman John Bassett III’s fight to save American jobs, and the effect of globalization on the people of southwest Virginia.

Back at the library at 4:00 p.m. in the McIntire Room, the subject will be The Dogs of Our Lives. Mikita Brottman is the author of The Great Grisby: Two Thousand Years of Literary, Royal, Philosophical, and Artistic Dog Lovers and Their Exceptional Animals. Barbara J. King is the author of How Animals Grieve. Ann-Janine Morey is the author of Picturing Dogs, Seeing Ourselves: American Vintage Photographs.

Pigskin fans still pondering Deflategate can hash out that and other suddenly topical issues at 8:00 p.m. at UVa’s Culbreth Theater. Football in the Red Zone: Perspectives from the Player, Coach, and Fan will feature former NFL player, college coach, and ESPN analyst Bill Curry (The Ten Men You Meet in the Huddle), Mark Edmundson (Why Football Matters: My Education in the Game), and Steve Almond (Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto). Tickets are $10 ($5 for students), and may be purchased at the UVA Arts Box Office.


Twentieth-century battles for equality will be the topic in The Historic Struggle to Attain Gender and Civil Rights, Thursday, March 19 at 2:00 p.m. at UVa Bookstore. Authors Melissa Blair (Revolutionizing Expectations: Women’s Organizations, Feminism, and American Politics, 1965-1980), Corinne Field (The Struggle for Equal Adulthood: Gender, Race, Age, and the Fight for Citizenship in Antebellum America), and Lisa Tetrault (The Myth of Seneca Falls: Memory and the Women’s Suffrage Movement, 1848-1898) will take part.

Charles Marsh directs the Project on Lived Theology at UVa, and is most recently the author of Strange Glory: The Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Marsh will speak at 4:00 p.m. at the Senior Center on the Lutheran theologian and hero of the German Resistance, who died in a concentration camp just weeks before Hitler’s fall.

The conflict that almost split the country a century and a half ago continues to fascinate us today, and we keep finding new aspects of it to explore. In Women of the Civil War: Uncovering Their Lives and Letters, at 4:00 p.m. in UVa’s Small Special Collections Library, Casey Clabough (Women of War: Memoirs, Poetry, and Fiction by Virginia Women Who Lived Through the Civil War), Carolyn Curry (Suffer and Grow Strong: The Life of Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas 1834-1907), and Karen Abbott (Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War) will talk about their work.


James Magruder will present the UVa Department of Drama’s Keenan Lecture at 4:00 p.m., Friday, March 20 in the Culbreth Theater, with a question and answer session to follow. Magruder has been honored by the American Literary Translators Association for his translation of three classic French comedies. He is the author of the story collection Let Me See It, and his first novel, Sugarless, was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award.

The Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts that encourages citizens to read for pleasure and enlightenment. The Festival’s 2015 Big Read event, Books and Bollywood!, will take place at 6:00 p.m. at The Bridge PAI, as novelist A.X. Ahmad reads from The Last Taxi Ride, about a New York cabbie’s search for the killer of a Bollywood actress. The evening will include film clips and a question and answer session.

Local poetry lovers know that Charles Wright is not only a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets, and U.S. Poet Laureate for 2014-2015, but is also Souder Family Professor of English at UVa. The poet who once said “I hate personal attention, I just want everyone to read the poems,” will read from his work at 6:00 p.m. in the Culbreth Theater in a program entitled Shrines to Longing. Wright’s former student, 2013 National Book Award winner Mary Szybist (Incarnadine), will read her own acclaimed poetry. Free tickets are available through the UVA Arts Box Office.


Crime fiction buffs will trade clues with Karin Slaughter, author of Cop Town and fifteen other bestsellers, at this year’s Crime Wave Brunch, 10 a.m. Saturday, March 21 in the Omni Ballroom. “Karin Slaughter is simply one of the best thriller writers working today,” says Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl, “and Cop Town shows the author at the top of her game.”  A book sale and signing will follow Slaughter’s speech.

Young readers, meanwhile, will enjoy StoryFest!, a day-long mini-festival on and around the Downtown Mall. Parents and children can choose from sixteen events this year, beginning with a 9:30 a.m. appearances by Chubby the Bear and PBS character Daniel Tiger at the Paramount Theater. Margaret Wise Brown wrote the beloved children’s classic, Goodnight Moon.  Singer/songwriters Tom Proutt and Emily Gary will perform their songs based on Brown’s previously unpublished poems, 10:00 a.m. in the Preston Room of the Omni. At 2:00 p.m. in the Preston Room, the Monticello Reading Council will present a Q&A with Daniel Willingham on teaching kids to love reading in the digital age. Council members will offer book recommendations for individual children. This event will include a book swap and book giveaways. 2015 Newbery Award winner and Festival favorite Kwame Alexander will be back in the Preston Room for a conversation at 4:00 p.m. Alexander is the author of The Crossover and many other popular children’s titles.

The first 100 kids at Wild About Reading, 10:30 a.m. at the Virginia Discovery Museum, will receive a free wildlife-themed book. Even better, the program will include live animals. Oakley’s Gently Used Books will have fifty boxes of books to trade for at the 20th Annual Kids Book Swap, 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Alakazam Toys and Gifts will host the illustrator and author team of Chris Arbo and Joseph Anthony in a book signing event at noon. Over at the Village School at 2:00 p.m., authors Joy Hensley (Rites of Passage), Kristen Lippert-Martin (Tabula Rasa), and Tiffany Trent (The Tinker King) will discuss their books and the new adult interest in Young Adult fiction.

Every other book lover around here is also a published author, or wants to be, and that’s why “Pub Day” is the Festival’s most popular feature year after year. Like StoryFest!, it’s an all-day affair held mostly at the Omni. There are eight Publishing Day programs this year.

Publishing experts Peter McCarthy, co-founder of The Logical Marketing Agency, and Jane Friedman, author of Publishing 101, will discuss data-driven analysis and marketing strategies at 10:00 a.m. in Ballroom A of the Omni. Members of BACCA Literary will talk about writer groups – how to be in one, and how to find or create one – at 10:00 a.m. in in the Omni’s James Monroe Room. Children’s book authors Kate Samworth (Aviary Wonders, Inc.), Robert Anderson (Costa Rica), Cece Bell (El Deafo), and Madelyn Rosenberg (How to Behave at a Tea Party) will gives tips on “preparing the dummy” of an illustrated story for presentation to publishers and agents, 2:00 p.m. at the McGuffey Art Center.

Phyllis Leffler’s Black Leaders on Leadership: Conversations with Julian Bond  draws on 50+ interviews with prominent African Americans – including John Lewis, Clarence Thomas, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Vernon Jordan, Angela Davis, Amiri Baraka. Leffler will be at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center at 4:00 p.m. for Black Leadership: History Spoken Out Loud.

Writers Blake Bailey, Maureen Corrigan, Edwidge Danticat, and Katherine Paterson will swap stories and memories in Stories in Our Lives, 8:00 p.m. at the Paramount. Bailey has written The Splendid Things We Planned: A Family Portrait, as well as biographies of John Cheever, Charles Jackson, and Richard Yates, and is the designated biographer for Philip Roth. Maureen Corrigan, book critic for Fresh Air on National Public Radio, is the author of So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures. Edwidge Danticat is the author of Claire of the Sea Light, and the memoir, Brother, I’m Dying. Children’s author Katherine Paterson (“she has won every award imaginable, and some of them twice,” Kulow says) has a new adult memoir entitled Stories of My Life. Actor, author, and film studio owner, Tim Reid will moderate. Tickets are $15.00.


Philip Yancey will be the featured speaker for the annual Capps Lecture in Christian Theology, Sunday, March 22 at 3:00 pm in UVa’s Old Cabell Hall. Yancey’s bestselling books include The Jesus I Never Knew, What’s so Amazing about Grace?, and Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference?. He will speak on Two Themes That Haunt Me: Suffering and Grace.

By Ken Wilson

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