March 12, 2009 — The University of Virginia is one of the main characters in the annual saga of the Virginia Festival of the Book. For the 15th year, U.Va. poets, authors and scholars will convene in bookstores and other venues on Grounds and around town March 18-22 to talk about books, read from their work and support the festival.
Several poets in the creative writing program of the English department will read from their recently published books, including Rita Dove, Gregory Orr, Lisa Russ Spaar and Debra Nystrom, not to mention Ted Genoways, M.F.A. alumnus and editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review.
Dove will read from her new book, "Sonata Mulattica," about the 19th-century Euro-African violinist George Bridgetower, whose music will be brought to life by Boyd Tinsley of the Dave Matthews Band. Tickets for the performance, set for March 20 at 8 p.m. at the Paramount, are $10.
The Virginia Quarterly Review will host a poetry reading from its book series, featuring Genoways, whose latest book is "Anna, Washing." He'll be joined by alumni Victoria Chang and John Casteen IV and another poet, Susan B.A. Somers-Willett. The event will be held March 20 at 2 p.m. in the U.Va. Bookstore.
Also at the bookstore, Nystrom and Spaar will read their poetry alongside Michael Chitwood, a graduate of U.Va.'s creative writing program, whose most recent book is "Spill." Nystrom, a Virginia Literary Award winner, recently published "Bad River Road," and Spaar's latest is "Satin Cash." The March 19 event begins at 4 p.m.
Orr, the author of 10 books of poetry, most recently "How Beautiful the Beloved," will give a reading with Dorianne Laux, whose fourth book, "Facts about the Moon" was a finalist for the National Book Critic's Circle Award. Orr, founder of the U.Va. Creative Writing Program, also has published a book of essays and a memoir. Their event will be held March 21 at 4 p.m., also at the U.Va. Bookstore.
The Jefferson-Madison Regional Library's Central Library, located at 201 East Market Street, will host a March 18 session on doctors whose work informs their creative writing. Dr. Daniel Becker, who practices and teaches internal medicine at the School of Medicine, also writes poetry and founded the online literary journal Hospital Drive; Dr. Sharon Hostler, a pediatrician, will talk about writing with students, primarily through blogging. They will be joined by Drs. Lynn Eckert, a physician with Partners Harvard Medical International, and Bruce Hillman from Reston, Va., who is working on a non-fiction book, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," co-written with Jeff Goldsmith, a U.Va. associate professor of public health sciences. The event begins at 6 p.m.
Goldsmith is author of "The Long Baby Boom: An Optimistic Vision for a Graying Generation." He will discuss the book's thesis that boomers' career plans, health trends and cultural and political values will not bankrupt society but substantially enrich it. Goldsmith is also president of Health Futures Inc., a firm specializing in corporate strategic planning and forecasting future health care trends. His talk is set for March 19 at 4 p.m. in the Senior Center, 1180 Pepsi Place.
Whether young or aging, those who are wondering what to read can look for recommendations at the session, "So Many Books: The Pleasures of Reading," with English professor Jessica Feldman and doctoral student Robert Stilling, who co-authored "What Should I Read Next?" Michael Dirda, a columnist for the Washington Post Book World and a Pulitzer Prize-winning critic, who has published "Classics for Pleasure" and "Book by Book," also will be on the panel, to be held March 20 at 10 a.m. in the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library's Central Library.
Two U.Va. law professors have co-edited a book that makes for interesting historical reading. "Law Touched Our Hearts: A Generation Remembers Brown v. Board of Education," published this month, consists of 40 personal essays compiled by professors Richard Bonnie and Mildred Robinson, each by authors who were in elementary or secondary school when the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the end of school segregation or in the immediate aftermath. The book explores the profound impact the Brown decision had on that generation. Authors Derek Catsam and Peter Wallenstein will join Bonnie and Robinson in sharing their stories on March 19 at noon in the U.Va. Bookstore.
If book collecting is your hobby, here's a chance to listen to Terry Belanger before he steps down as director of the Rare Book School this summer. Belanger, a 2005 MacArthur Fellow, founded the school at Columbia University in 1983, and in 1992 moved it to U.Va., where he is University Professor and Honorary Curator of Special Collections. He will speak March 20 at 4 p.m. about "What Should Book Collectors Collect Now, and Why" in the auditorium of U.Va.'s Harrison Institute/Small Special Collections Library.
For a discussion of international literature, hear Jahan Ramazani, author of "A Transnational Poetics" and chairman of the English department, and Michael Malouf, an assistant professor of English at George Mason University, cover North America, the North Atlantic, Africa, South Asia and the Caribbean. Ramazani is co-editor of "The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry" and has written four books of criticism. They will appear March 18 at 4 p.m. in The Student Bookstore, 1515 University Avenue.
On another international topic, alumna and former U.Va. track and field athlete Susan Brownell will talk about China and sports. Brownell discovered the field of anthropology as a U.Va. undergraduate when she took a course from the late Victor Turner. The Lexington, Va., native was a six-time All-American in the heptathlon. Now the chairwoman of the anthropology department at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, Brownell has combined her expertise in anthropology with her love of sports, specifically China's. She joined the track team at Beijing University in 1985-86 and represented Beijing in the 1986 Chinese National College Games, setting a national record in the heptathlon.
Brownell and Kate Merkel-Hess, author of "China in 2008: A Year of Great Significance," will discuss their research on contemporary China. The moderator for their discussion is Brantly Womack, a U.Va. professor of politics who specializes in China and international relations. That talk will be held March 20 at 10 a.m. in City Council Chambers, 605 East Main Street.
U.Va. associate professor of religious studies Charles Mathewes will be part of a panel looking at politics from another angle — that of religion. On the faculty of the U.Va. Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, Mathewes and institute postdoctoral fellow Christopher McKnight Nichols co-wrote "Prophesies of Godlessness: Predictions of America's Imminent Secularization from the Puritans to the Present Day." They will discuss religion and politics with Shaun Casey and Douglas Hicks on March 20 at 6 p.m. at St. Paul's Memorial Church, 1700 University Avenue.
The politics of the Middle East will be the subject of two panels with Robert Earle, a U.Va. alumnus who served as senior adviser to the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq in 2004-05. Earle wrote "Nights in the Pink Motel" about his efforts to develop a counterinsurgency strategy after the U.S.-led occupation ended.
Along with Earle, CIA analyst Steven R. Ward, author of "Immortal: A Military History of Iran," and Michael Fischbach, author of "Jewish Property Claims Against Arab Countries," will discuss prospects for peace March 20 at Noon in City Council Chambers, 605 East Main Street.
Immediately following that event, Earle will remain in the chambers to talk with journalist Charles Jones and former CIA officer Rufus Phillips about the American presence in Iraq. That event is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m.
This selection is just a sample of the writers who will be converging on Charlottesville next week. For a complete, up-to-date schedule, see vabook.org.
Organized by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, most festival events are free and open to the public. Several ticketed events are sold out.