Power of the Pen 

Readers swarm to Charlottesville for the 10th Festival of the Book.

“Initially the festival was going to be a very small thing,” says Kevin McFadden, the festival’s associate program director. “There were only about eight programs. But as local writers got involved, it ballooned almost immediately. The first year, the directors found that they had enough interest for fifty different programs and panels.”

Now there’s so much interest that the festival selects its writers carefully. More than 300 authors from across the country are scheduled to participate in more than 200 programs and panels.

While the more local James River Writers Festival, which debuted in October, focuses on the act of writing, the Virginia Festival of the Book takes a different approach. “It’s more of a readers’ conference than anything else,” McFadden says. “It’s more getting the authors together with people who read their books. It gives the audience the chance to ask questions and get books signed, things like that.”

The headliners of the festival are some of the biggest writers in the business. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon and Booker Prize winner Michael Ondaatje will give readings, along with author and host of public radio’s “A Prairie Home Companion,” Garrison Keillor.

Charlottesville may be one of the most beautiful areas in Virginia, but its name hardly conjures an image of the mecca of modern-day literature. So how does this festival get better every year?

“I think it really says a lot about the writing community in Virginia,” McFadden says. “Believe it or not, Charlottesville is a kind of lightning rod for it, I guess. You’ve got the creative writing program at U.Va. as well as the history of William Faulkner, who taught there for a number of years. The persona of Charlottesville seems to attract a lot of writers to the area, such as John Grisham, George Garrett and Rita Mae Brown. And I guess it’s that same persona that allows us to get such an enormous amount of talent here in the fall. Well, that and the fact that it’s pretty easy to sell the fact that Charlottesville, when the daffodils are blooming, is a pretty good place to be in March.” S

The Virginia Festival of the Book runs March 24-28 in Charlottesville. For a schedule go to www.vabook.org or call (434) 924-6890.

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