Two novelists who are former Columbia residents will return to town today to read from their books and lead a discussion on writing as part of the last day of the Columbia Festival of the Arts.
In line with the festival's theme, "Reunion," John Gregory Brown and Carrie McCully Brown are expected to speak to an audience of friends and former colleagues with whom they worked at a Columbia weekly newspaper.
"I think we're going to get a nice, warm, nostalgic crowd," said Ellen Kennedy, president of the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society, co-sponsor of the event. "It's going to be almost like a private party, I think."
The reading is one of the last events in the 10-day, 60-event arts festival, which ends tonight with a performance by the Miami City Ballet.
Most of the festival's ticketed events were sold out days in advance, and attendance at the free events last weekend -- which commemorated Columbia's 30th birthday -- was about 10,000, according to Katherine Knowles, director of the festival.
"I couldn't be happier," said Knowles. "You put all this thought and planning into it, but you really don't know if it's going to work."
She and assistant director Lorraine Padden, both in their first year staging the festival, plan to do it again next year, they said.
The festival marks Columbia's third decade in existence. Several events -- including a gathering of local dancers and a tribute to Columbia founder James W. Rouse -- were organized to bring former and current town residents together.
The reading by the Browns -- who are married and now live in Sweet Briar, Va. -- will reunite them with friends they met when they lived and worked until 1994 at the Columbia Flier, which is now in the process of being purchased by the company that owns The Sun.
Carrie Brown was an associate editor at the paper for several years when she hired her future husband as a reporter in 1989.
Within months, he was reassigned to another editor so the two could start dating. Eventually, they married and lived in Columbia's Wilde Lake village.
While reporting on county politics for the paper and working on a novel, John Brown won a prestigious writing award -- the Lyndhurst Prize, which has been awarded to such writers as Cormac McCarthy and Reynolds Price.
Soon thereafter, his first novel, "Decorations in a Ruined Cemetery," was published and he was offered a job as director of creative writing at Sweet Briar College in western Virginia.
Last year, his second novel, "The Wrecked, Blessed Body of Shelton LaFleur" was published.
Carrie McCully Brown's first novel, "Heaven and Earth," also was recently accepted for publication.
At the reading tonight -- the first that the two have done together -- they will read from their books for about 30 minutes and answer questions about the craft of writing and the publishing industry.
Usually, questioners at such workshops want to know where novelists get their ideas, how to get an agent and how to get published, said John Brown.
"I suspect we'll also get questions about reading each other's work," he said.
But both novelists expect there will also be a personal touch to the questions.
"We have a feeling we're going to know 99 percent of the people in the room," said Carrie Brown. "We lived there for a long time and still have a lot of friends in town."
That's why they were an obvious choice to come back and help mark Columbia's 30th birthday, Kennedy said.
Although neither of the Browns was born or grew up in Columbia -- John Brown is from New Orleans, where he sets his fiction, and his wife is from Connecticut -- they covered the planned community together as journalists, forming close ties in the process.
They say they loved Columbia and left reluctantly.
Asked if he would ever write about Columbia, John Brown said, "I really don't know what I'd say."
However, Columbia -- and their time as journalists here -- led both toward their work as novelists, they said.
"When I heard about the theme of the event [reunion], I did start to think about how Columbia and Howard County worked its way into my fiction," said Carrie Brown. "Being a journalist, I learned so much about storytelling. I think my time there served as an apprenticeship to being a fiction writer."
Of 240 tickets available for the talk, about 100 had been sold by Friday morning.
The Browns will read and talk at Slayton House in Wilde Lake village at 4 p.m. today. Tickets are $5. Information: (410) 715-3055.
Pub Date: 6/29/97