For five days later this month, Charlottesville will become a reader’s dreamland as the 23rd annual Virginia Festival of the Book kicks off March 22. Hosted by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, the festival includes more than 260 free and low-cost programs and will feature more than 400 speakers from all over the globe.
“We pride ourselves on bringing diverse and talented speakers to the festival each year, and 2017 is no exception,” Jane Kulow, the festival’s director, said. “We have programs featuring authors who have won the Nobel, James Beard, Newbery, PEN America and Dayton Literary Peace prizes, plus a few that have made the National Book Award long list.”
Exciting new additions to the 2017 festival include an expanded short fiction contest that will be judged by the fiction editor of The Atlantic, C. Michael Curtis; a new Festival Writer in Residence Program, presented in partnership with the Tom Tom Founders Festival; and a newly expanded festival book fair, dubbed “Lit Fair.”
This year, the festival is collaborating with the University of Virginia’s President’s Speaker Series for the Arts to give festival-goers the opportunity to attend “A Conversation with Bryan Cranston” when the actor and author of “A Life in Parts” takes the stage March 26 at John Paul Jones Arena.
In addition to Cranston, attendees can hear from major festival headliners like Margot Lee Shetterly, a UVA alumna and celebrated author of “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race,” and Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz, author of “The Great Divide: Unequal Societies and What We Can Do About Them.” Both Shetterly and Stiglitz are part of a larger effort by the festival to shine a light on vitally important stories of history and culture.
With headliners and debut authors, the festival showcases a wide range of views from across the literary world.
“We really placed an emphasis on diversity in festival programming and I think that shows up in a couple of notable places,” Kulow said. “We have an incredible slate of women historians – academic and public – who will be presenting their work in a variety of programs, including a panel specifically dedicated to women writing history. We also have wildly diverse fiction offerings this year, from cheeky humor to dramatic memoirs, international to Appalachian, and plenty of excellent debuts.”
As always, a major goal of the festival is to share the joy of literature with more young readers and inspire a new generation of writers among area schoolchildren. Planners have scheduled more than 100 school visits by more than 40 authors as part of the festival. Authors will meet with students of all age groups and grades at both public and private schools in Charlottesville, Albemarle County and Waynesboro.
Young readers will also find a number of interactive events to choose from outside of school and children and adults alike can look forward to a discussion with New York Times bestselling children’s book author Kwame Alexander. Alexander and his collaborator Ekua Holmes will speak at UVA’s Culbreth Theatre on the evening of March 22.
Other festival highlights include:
- Opening Ceremony with UVA Dean of Libraries John Unsworth: The University librarian and dean of libraries will open the festival with an address at the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library.
- Food Traditions and Women Chefs: Authors Ashley Christensen, Shane Mitchell and Ronni Lundy discuss their experiences as female chefs, explorers and entrepreneurs.
- Heartbreaking (& Heartbreakingly Good) Fiction: Jane Alison, professor of English and director of UVA’s Creative Writing Program, joins fellow authors to discuss their newest work and stories of lives caught in a particular time and place.
- Crime Wave Bestsellers: Popular thriller and mystery authors Megan Abbott, Bill Beverly and John Hart discuss their craft.
- Reading Under the Influence with Jack Hamilton: Hamilton, a UVA assistant professor of media studies and American studies, discusses his book, “Just Around Midnight: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination,” followed by a live deejay set and dancing at the Ante Room.
“The Virginia Festival of the Book adds immeasurably to the life and vibrancy of our community,” Kulow said. “Locally, each year’s five-day event provides an influx of creativity and new ideas, which reaches beyond the Charlottesville-Albemarle area to impact people across the state and region.”
The full schedule of events and ticket information are available on the Virginia Festival of the Book website.