Feb. 22-28, 2002
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Virginia Festival of the Book VA Book festival, March 20-24, will open minds as well as books

By Anne Bromley

Last year a man came to the Virginia Festival of the Book all the way from Montana, because he wanted to see what a “mature” festival was like before his state organized its own.

What does “mature” really mean? festival program director Nancy Damon wondered in the days leading up to the eighth annual event March 20 through 24. The term struck an odd chord with Damon, because even though she has worked on organizing the book festival for all eight years — this is her second as program director — there are always new books and authors to showcase. There are always more people, especially the young, to bring into the light of learning that shines from the pages of books. The discoveries inherent in reading lie at the heart of the festival’s purpose.

Marie AranaThis year, authors will share their experience and knowledge through non-fiction — from Washington Post Book World editor Marie Arana’s American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood, to NPR host Neal Conan’s Play by Play: Baseball, Radio And Life in the Last Chance League. In fiction, the power and extent of imagination come through the work of award-winning writers, such as Mary Lee Settle, author of I, Roger Williams, who will be part of a panel on writing about historical figures, and poet Rita Dove, who will give a staged reading of her play, “The Darker Face of the Earth,” a retelling of the Oedipus myth against the backdrop of slavery.

“We try to have programs that will reach the widest range of the community,” said Damon. What began as a way to present the humanities to Virginia citizens — the primary mission of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, the organization that produces the festival — has expanded to include the global community.

U.Va. participants

Jackie Brinton • graduate student in religious studies

Griffith Chaussee • lecturer of Hindi and Urdu

Roberta Culbertson • director of the Center for Violence and Survival at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities

Stephen Cushman • English professor and poet

Rita Dove • poet, professor of English

Glenn Gaesser • associate professor of exercise physiology, Curry School of Education

David M. Lawrence • doctoral student in environmental sciences

Bernard Mayes • (retired professor of rhetoric and communication)

William Lee Miller • (retired professor of history)

William Morrish • professor of architecture

Robert O’Neil • law professor and director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression

Gregory Orr • poet, professor of English
David Seaman • director of the Electronic Text Center

Tara Seefeldt • doctoral student in history

Trinh Xuan Thuan • professor of astronomy
ChristopherTilghman • fiction writer, professor of creative writing

Roy Wagner • anthropology professor

For the full schedule, see the March 17 Sunday Daily Progress insert or go to the Web site at www.vabook.org

Audience members came from 31 states and six countries last year, Damon said.

“Reading allows people to understand the world better, people and places that are different from you,” she added.

More than a dozen authors, including U.Va. alumnus David Baldacci, will be visiting schools, as well as giving readings and signing books, which Damon says expands youngsters’ perspectives.

“When authors talk to children, they see that people write about all kinds of things, all kinds of people,” she said.

Participants in this year’s nearly 200 events cover a wide variety of topics.

Besides Arana, the guest speaker for the annual festival luncheon March 20 at the Omni Hotel, Elizabeth Peters, well-known for her Amelia Peabody mysteries, will speak at a March 23 luncheon at Metropolitain restaurant as part of a day-long focus on mystery writers and their work. These two events are among the few that have a fee attached and require reservations; most events are free.

Among the 20 some authors featured in the mystery writers program will be Victorian mystery writer Anne Perry and up-and-coming writer George Pelecanos, whose books are set in Washington, D.C.

Homer HickamOther festival highlights include: StoryFest at the downtown Jefferson-Madison Regional Library, featuring storyteller Jim Weiss; a conference on electronic publishing; and the Carr’s Hill reception March 23, hosted by Settle and Homer Hickam, whose memoir, Rocket Boys, was made into the movie, “October Sky.”

Hickam, who also writes novels, will read with Southern writers Jill McCorkle and Lewis Nordan that night.

The challenges of science will also be explored with Australian anthropologist Tim Flannery, author of The Future Eaters and The Eternal Frontier, Michael Pollan on The Botany of Desire, and Charlottesville resident Jennifer Ackerman, whose latest book is Chance in the House of Fate. Three events will take on the Lewis & Clark bicentennial. Jane Henley, president of the National Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, will discuss the commemoration that begins next year; former mayor Kay Slaughter will discuss plans for the Lewis and Clark Exploratory Center of Virginia; and photographer Sam Abell will give a slide show from his work retracing the explorers’ voyage.

Looking at economic challenges will be Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed: Or (Not) Getting By in America, and Ben Cheever, who wrote Selling Ben Cheever, about trying to make a living working entry-level or service-type jobs. Writer Daniel H. Pink, the keynote speaker for the March 19 second annual business breakfast, will talk about his book, Free Agent Nation: How America’s New Independent Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live.

Book festival committees, one for adults and one for younger folks, began meeting last July to plan this year’s program, culling ideas from people who’ve been to the festival, heard something about it or seen the Web site. Publicists and authors send letters and books; local residents and U.Va. faculty also make suggestions.

Events sponsored with other U.Va. programs:

Michael Gelb, whose book, How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci, Darden students voted most influential book last year. As a fellow of the Darden School’s Batten Institute, which focuses on entrepreneurship and leadership, Gelb will give several presentations and work with Darden faculty and students. His March 21 talk, free and open to book festival-goers, will touch upon his recent book, Discover Your Genius: How to Think Like History’s Ten Most Revolutionary Minds.

Dorothy Allison, whose debut novel, Bastard out of Carolina, was a finalist for the 1992 National Book Award, will read March 20. Her visit is co-sponsored with the Women’s Center, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Resource Center and UVA Pride.

The Women’s Center and the book festival are hosting a reception March 21 to celebrate women writers. Call 982-2259 to reserve a space.

Cynthia Peters, author of From Carnival to Canon, reflects on the richness of deaf-American culture March 20 as part of the ASL/Deaf Culture Lecture Series.


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