With today’s kickoff of the 22nd annual Virginia Festival of the Book, Charlottesville is transforming into a bibliophile’s paradise over the next four days. Together with its community partners, the University of Virginia-affiliated Virginia Foundation for the Humanities has organized more than 250 literary events around the city.
“This year, I was looking at the statistics and they really stuck out to me, because there are so many programs,” said Rob Vaughan, the president of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. “We’ve always had children’s programs, we’ve always have young adult programs, but there are so many this year. There are 89 writers who will be visiting schools in Charlottesville and Albemarle. There are 244 community partners here. We have 41 participating schools and 24 public children’s programs.”
Overall, more than 400 authors are involved in an exciting lineup of events that runs through Sunday evening. There’s something for people of all ages and interests, and festival organizers hope it will be a place for attendees to share ideas and reflections.
“Reading is something we often do as a solitary act, but sharing that experience elevates it to the next level and allows us to learn even more,” said Kevin McFadden, the foundation’s chief operating officer. “Gathering at the festival is like having the most massive book club in the state of Virginia.”
Festival guests will have the rare opportunity to share that book club-like experience with seven different Pulitzer Prize winners this year. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the prize, the festival is hosting Pulitzer panels on Wednesday and Friday.
“A Celebration of Pulitzer Authors” on Wednesday evening includes authors Ayad Aktar, Lawrence Wright and Rick Atkinson discussing their Pulitzer-winning works and their current writing. Friday’s discussion focuses on Pulitzer-winning poets, and will include UVA’s own Rita Dove alongside Gregory Pardlo and Vijay Seshradi.
Readers can also catch Pulitzer winner Charles Wright, professor emeritus of the UVA English department’s Creative Writing program. He will read his poetry as a part of the “Monticello in Mind: Fifty Contemporary Poems on Jefferson” event on Sunday.
One of the festival’s goals is to highlight the stories of Virginia’s diverse and ever-changing community, and this week’s programming includes a special focus on immigration as a part of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities’ yearlong project, “A State of Many Nations: Immigration and the Changing Face of Virginia.”
A panel discussion of the same name will take place at UVA’s Culbreth Theatre on Thursday evening, followed by a second discussion called “Beyond Background Characters: Life in Hyphen-American.” Both events will include acclaimed authors whose work focuses on the immigrant experience.
In addition to panel discussions and book readings, the festival also includes numerous interactive events for aspiring writers and for those interested in publishing and the craft of book making. Attendees can move seamlessly from an hour with a bestselling author to a reading by some of Charlottesville’s emerging teenage writers.
“I think that the key takeaway is the accessibility of the festival,” said Sarah Lawson, the program associate for the Virginia Center for the Book. “The vast majority of our programs are free. We have over 250 programs, and of those, only about five require tickets. You can just show up and attend and be exposed to these amazing authors, some really well-known and some new that you may not have discovered otherwise.”
One of the festival’s few ticketed events will bring New York Times bestselling authors Bryan Stevenson and John Grisham on stage together. During “An Evening with Bryan Stevenson,” Grisham will moderate as Stevenson discusses his book, “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption,” and how his experiences as a social justice lawyer continue to influence his support of criminal justice reform.
Other highlights and a full schedule of events can be found at vabook.org.
“We hope that people will leave the festival with a big stack of books and feeling inspired to read,” McFadden said. “We love hearing that someone attended an event to hear from one author, and ended up finding two new ones they’re interested in. That’s the kind of cross-pollination we’re looking for.”