Books in the Park

RVA Booklovers' Festival offers respite for computer-bleary eyes.

Just over a quarter of U.S. adults say they haven’t read a book in whole or in part — and that encompasses reading in print, electronically or in audio form — in the past year, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in January.

The second annual RVA Booklovers’ Festival may not be for them.

A local small press, Brandylane Publishers and its imprint, Belle Isle Books, was the first to realize that despite an abundance of festivals — folk, yoga, beer, Hispanic music, mac and cheese, to name only a fraction — there was no book festival in Richmond.

Organizers saw writing conferences and literature crawls, but no large festival dedicated to books and the people who love them. Last year was the event’s first edition and they used the interim to attend and take notes from older events such as the Fredericksburg Independent Book Festival and the Williamsburg Book Festival.

According to Christina Kann, the festival’s organizer, the primary goal of the festival is to share a love of books and a passion for the city.

“We’re delighted to incorporate a secondary goal of raising money for our charitable partners, local literacy organizations Excell and the Read Center,” she says. The Excell — it stands for excellence in children’s early language and literacy — program brings together families, educators, literacy specialists and community resources to support children’s early language and literacy development. The Read Center changes lives by helping adults with low literacy develop the skills they need to reach their goals as employees, family members and residents in the community by providing classes, one-on-one tutoring instruction and community programs.

The festival takes place in Jefferson Park in Union Hill with three stages: the main stage, the Stephanie’s Kindness Corner kids’ stage and the Poet-tree. One of Brandylane’s editors mentioned being especially fond of a gigantic tree in Jefferson Park and, as literary people, punning was inevitable. The Poet-tree is emceed by the Writer’s Den, a local poetry slam group, and will feature poetry group open mics, readings and workshops throughout the day.

The main stage features book talks from a diverse array of writers, including New York Times notable author Louis Bayard, BookRiot’s Amanda Nelson and Ben Campbell. Stephanie’s Kindness Corner kids’ stage is named after Brandylane author Stephanie Parwulski, who travels from Buffalo, New York, to participate in the festival.

Kann says they’ll have more than 50 authors in attendance.

“We invite our own authors, but most of the attending authors are not affiliated with Brandylane,” she says about the process of taking submissions and evaluating every author to determine suitability, while trying to be inclusive. “There are a lot of wonderful indie and self-published authors out there looking for a platform, and we want to give it to them.”

Children’s book author Parwulski, whose two books, “Beatrice and the Sunflower Gift” and “Gloria’s Hope Tree,” are published by Brandylane’s Belle Isle Books, is a festival favorite because, according to Kann, “She embodies the essence of what a good kids’ book should do: educate, respect and spread kindness.” Parwulski will be one of the children’s book authors doing scheduled story times on the kids’ stage throughout the day.

“I think events like this are important today because they’re a celebration of humanity: our gifts, our wisdom, our perspectives,” Parwulski explains. “When people come together at this festival to share their unique art forms, it’s such an inspiring experience. Also, I feel that literacy provides an individual with such a beautiful foundation in life, so I’ll always be a huge advocate of literary events.”

As befits a book festival, all of the authors will have their books available for sale, along with more titles available at the Brandylane booth, other publishers’ booths and local bookseller Fountain Bookstore’s booth. Bookish artisans and crafters will be on hand, along with kids’ activities at various author booths, book signings and a raffle.

And because no Richmond festival is complete without food and drink, attendees can count on Dank Eats’ pitas, Pulp Fiction’s smoothies, Two and a Half Irish-men’s bread, and Urban Hang Suite’s coffee and tea to keep them well fueled for literary endeavors.

One of those doing a reading at the festival is Anne Poarch, the author of two books of poetry, including her latest, “The Grit and Joy of Being.” Of the opportunity to meet a diverse group of authors, illustrators, artisans and vendors in a historic Richmond park, she says, “In a beautiful setting, an outdoor event paired with books and authors can be both relaxing and stimulating to our digitally taxed minds.” S

The second annual RVA Booklovers’ Festival takes place Oct. 19 at Jefferson Park, 1921 Princess Anne Ave., from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.


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