Call it an inspiration. What better place to launch a celebration of books than in Baltimore, where the motto is "The City That Reads"?
It all began a few years ago when Mayor Kurt Schmoke pulled together a broad range of people for a brainstorming session on ways to improve the city. Bill Gilmore, who sat on the committee for tourism and culture, participated in that economic incentive task force.
"It was the mayor's suggestion to create an annual event at a time when discretionary tourism is over because the kids are back in school and before the big conventions start in October," says Gilmore, who is the executive director for the city's office of promotion.
Gilmore got the idea from a visit he made to Scotland, where an annual book festival is held in conjunction with the theater festival.
"Well, I thought, this could be what we are looking for," he says. "We are the city that reads! The mayor was incredibly supportive, saying this is exactly what we need."
And so it is that the first ever Baltimore Book Festival kicks off this weekend at Mount Vernon Place. The title of the festival aside, you don't have to be a voracious book lover to enjoy the bounties of the festival, Gilmore says.
"This is not a highbrow event, but a fun event. I want people to know there will be something for everybody even if they are not book lovers."
Costumed characters will entertain the children along with storytelling, a puppet theater, educational games from the Maryland Science Center and a software demonstration allowing children to customize their own stories.
There will be a demonstration of the Internet provided by CharmNet and Graffito/Active 8, and Baltimore multimedia company OzMedia will sell copies of "The Raven," a CD-ROM about Edgar Allan Poe.
Besides the food and drink sold at the festival, many area restaurants and clubs will offer discounts to diners over the weekend. Visit the festival's two information booths for more details.
There will be music, too, because good books go well with good sounds.
Live jazz, reggae, Latino sounds and chamber music will go on during the two-day festival. Saturday's performances include chamber music from D'Amore, Caribbean sounds from the Baltimore Islanders Steel Band, blues by the Scott Cunningham Killer Blues Band, a Latino beat from the Rumba Club, alternative rock from Love Riot and jazz from vocalist Natalie Carter.
Sunday's musical performances include Bobby and the Braggers with their Motown and R&B hits, reggae from Jah Works, contemporary jazz from DeWayne Jones and Premonition, the a cappella sounds of Part Harmony and jazzy tunes from the Jazz Caravan.
However, make no mistake, books will be the primary focus, although it is not a "retail event," Gilmore says.
"There will definitely be things for people to buy who want them," the executive director says. "But we didn't over-promise publishers that they would sell a lot. We want to promote the literary arts and to get people in the future to enjoy, buy, read and share books."
Among the many poets reading will be Sharon Olds and Mark Strand. Author readings include Sen. Barbara Mikulski and co-author Marylouise Oates ("Capitol Offense"), The Sun's film critic Stephen Hunter ("Black Light") and Chef Marcel Desaulniers ("Death by Chocolate").
There will be plenty for cookbook lovers at the "Food for Thought" festival area featuring, besides Chef Desaulniers, author Nancy Baggett ("100% Pleasure: The Low-Fat Cookbook for People Who Love to Eat"), Marlene Sorosky ("Entertaining on the Run: Easy Menus for Faster Lives") and Jim Gabler ("How to Be a Wine Expert").
One reason the Mount Vernon neighborhood was chosen is the many nearby institutions that complement the festivities, Gilmore says. "The institutions and businesses in the area lend themselves to the book festival," he says.
Some readings will take place in the Walters Art Gallery, while the Maryland Historical Society will hold an exhibit on Camay Murphy's children's publication "Can a Coal Scuttle Fly?"
The Enoch Pratt Free Library will have a bookmobile in place, where there will be storytelling and puppet shows, among other activities. The Baltimore City Life Museums will hold a "Literary Walking Tour" of the Mount Vernon neighborhood with more than 30 sites, including H. L. Mencken's house on the 700 block of Cathedral St. and Ogden Nash's house at 425 N. Charles St.
The free tours will begin at the festival on Saturday at 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. On Sunday, the tours will be at noon and 3 p.m.
Local presses and bookstores will be at the festival providing workshops and offering items for sale. The Black Classic Press will hold a self-publishing workshop, Ariadne Press will have a signing with author Deborah Churchman ("Cross a Dark Bridge") and Bancroft Press will have signings with several Baltimore-area writers.