Joseph Stiglitz, Kwame Alexander Headline 23rd Festival of the Book

Mar 21, 2017

The 23rd annual Virginia Festival of the Book kicks off Wednesday, March 22 in Charlottesville with some pre-festival events planned for as early as Tuesday evening. WMRA’s Sefe Emokpae spoke with organizers and several authors for this preview of what attendees can expect.

More than 400 authors and more than 200 programs… That’s what an expected 20,000 guests have to look forward to at this year’s Virginia Festival of the Book.

SARAH LAWSON: One of the great things about the festival is that every year is new because we bring in new authors and we really focus on bringing in new books.

Assistant Director of the Virginia Center for the Book, Sarah Lawson shares some of this year’s highlights.

LAWSON: We have headliner Joseph Stiglitz coming who is a Nobel Prize winning economist and he'll be part of a three part series on economic inequality and what we can do locally and statewide to address that issue. We also have Kwame Alexander coming, the youth headliner who has been making the news a lot recently with his new book and we're excited to bring him to Culbreth Theatre on Wednesday, March 22 for an all ages program as well.

Lawson says the festival has evolved in the past 23 years, growing more and more diverse and aiming to appeal to more and more people. Organizers strive to appeal to all ages, all genres and all interests.

LAWSON: Whether you like non-fiction history or if you like sci-fi and fantasy, we have something for you and it's low commitment. You can literally just show up to an event. There are no tickets, most of the events are completely free so you can just pop in, see if it's something that you like and if it's not move on.

According to Lawson, two good examples of the breadth of programming one will find at the festival are authors Jennifer Brody and Brendan Wolfe.

BRENDAN WOLFE: I am the author of a book called Finding Bix: The Life and Afterlife of a Jazz Legend.

While hundreds of authors will be traveling from around Virginia and across the country, Wolfe is based in Charlottesville and says he looks forward to participating as an author for the first time this year. His featured non-fiction revolves around the life and legacy of jazz legend Bix Beiderbecke.

WOLFE: With Louis Armstrong he was one of the most innovative Jazz soloists of the 1920s. He was white. He was one of the first important white players in jazz and he died very young. He was just 28 years old. He drank himself to death and became one of the first important legends of jazz.

As Wolfe explains, Beiderbeck’s story has flown relatively under the radar and his book aims to shine the spotlight in a unique way.

WOLFE: It's not a straight biography. It's a combination of biography, history, criticism, first-person reportage. So it's a story of his life but it's also the story of how people have written about him, what he means both culturally and to me.

While Wolfe focuses on non-fiction jazz, author Jennifer Brody is sure to appeal to lovers of science fiction.

JENNIFER BRODY: My debut novel is a young adult science fiction title and that's the first in a trilogy. The second book published in the fall called Return of the Continuum and the third book is coming out in July and that completes the trilogy.

Brody and her novel The 13th Continuum will be featured at two events during the festival. With a background in Hollywood movie production, the self-taught author says writing the young adult trilogy was an experience she’s looking forward to sharing.  Whether it’s science fiction or non-fiction biography, organizers say anyone on the fence about attending should take a leap and be surprised by what they find. 

LAWSON: We really encourage people to take an experimental approach and explore things that they might not think they care about and just see if it's of interest but then there's also always that favorite author that's coming to town that you want to make sure you see and that's pretty exciting as well.

All schedules and events can be found at VABOOK.ORG.