Book lovers flock to fair Festival: The second Baltimore Book Festival drew 20,000 devoted readers to Mount Vernon Place to mingle with authors, poets and storybook characters.

September 28, 1997|By Marego Athans | Marego Athans,SUN STAFF

Taimak Holland, 10, has about 14 unread books waiting at home. Still, the Randallstown boy attached himself to a table of smooth hardcovers in front of the Washington Monument yesterday until his father came up with the cash.

"My first customer," cheered Lisa Saxton, first-time novelist and author of "Caught in a Rundown," about two major-league wives on a wacky adventure looking for a former Negro League ballplayer.

"He's in fifth grade and reads at a seventh- or eighth-grade level," said Taimak's proud father, Gregory, about his son, who devours pages about dragons and dinosaurs. "Books were his first toys -- those little ones, the Golden Books."

The Hollands were among roughly 20,000 people who streamed into sun-splashed Mount Vernon Place yesterday for the second Baltimore Book Festival. The event drew acclaimed authors and poets from around the country and book lovers from the stroller on up for a weekend of readings, signings, music, history, cooking demonstrations and schmoozing with giant storybook characters like Curious George, Arthur the Aardvark, Lyle the Crocodile and Winnie the Pooh.

Flawless skies, a gentle breeze, flutes, guitars, grilling portobello mushrooms and a flotilla of pastel balloons turned the hilltop neighborhood of brick buildings and brownstones into a sea of satisfied smiles.

"It must be the biggest book festival in the world," exclaimed Toi Derricotte, author, poet and co-founder of Cave Canem, a workshop retreat for African- American poets, who read from her works yesterday.

The festival started last year when Bill Gilmore, executive director of the city's Office of Promotion, decided to replicate a book festival he had visited in Edinburgh, Scotland -- and subsequently discovered that state officials were planning one, too. What better place for it, everyone thought, than "The City that Reads"?

As they usually do, the children took over yesterday; a square block bustled with children's book readings, computer activities and face painting.

Popular author and illustrator Steven Kellogg, best known for "The Island of the Skog" and the Pinkerton books, charmed a tent full of children with his retold "Three Little Pigs."

"You can hear how he feels about his books," said Nora Feinstein, a second-grader at Mount Washington Elementary, where Kellogg is "author of the month."

"I think he likes his job, because he makes children happy when they read his books," she said.

The mood was more sedate inside the stately buildings where writers read from their works.

Derricotte led off by explaining how her Caucasian features, which mask her African-American genealogy, have produced deep and conflicting emotions and inspired much of her work.

From "Black Notebooks," she read a story about the moment, at age 15, when she discovered that conflict.

Riding cross-country on a train, she became friendly with a white man, who -- not knowing that she was black -- refused to sit next to a black soldier seated behind them. When she told the man she too was black, he moved to another seat, but eventually tried to apologize. She froze him out, though she wanted his company.

On the last night of the journey, she saw the man seated next to the black soldier.

"Perhaps he had gotten sick of sleeping in the bathroom," she wrote (there were no other empty seats). "Or perhaps my suffering had done some good."

Outside, the air was filled with music, from classical to rhythm and blues to the funk tunes of Jay Jay, which had young people dancing by late afternoon.

In a cooking tent, Marcel Desaulniers, "the guru of ganache" and author of "Death by Chocolate Cookies," baked the wicked recipes from his newest book.

Propped in the middle of everything, a "coffee bar" featured talks and readings by well-known authors and unknowns, many of them high school students. With the smells of sizzling onions, peppers, basil and tomatoes swirling about, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke emerged from a demonstration by healthful-cuisine author and literacy advocate Curtis Aikens: "I hope we've established something that will be an ongoing tradition," he said.

The festival continues today from noon until 6 p.m. in Mount Vernon. Admission is free.

Pub Date: 9/28/97

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