Where the books and writers are

September 24, 1998|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,SUN STAFF

Jamie Hunt steps out of the shadow of the Washington Monument and into the warm, bright September sun like an explorer about to cross the Sahara on foot.

He's the Indiana Jones of the Baltimore Book Festival. The director of the Mount Vernon Cultural District, Hunt leads the Great Book Hoof, which may not be as exciting as the search for the Temple of Doom, but it's a lot more literate. And you don't usually have to contend with any snakes.

The Book Hoof is the literary tour Hunt leads each year at the book festival, which opens for the third year on Saturday and runs through Sunday, all around the base of the monument at Mount Vernon Place. Hunt repeats his 1.5-hour tour five times over the weekend.

"The festival is wonderful," he says. "And it's a good opportunity to see what's around the neighborhood - because there is so much."

Armed with John Dorsey's definitive "Mount Vernon Place" and Frank Shiver's evocative "Walking in Baltimore," he leads his expedition into the deep, rich, complex literary heritage of Mount Vernon, from Francis Scott Key to Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald to H.L. Mencken to, well, John Waters.

He expects a couple of hundred trekkers on his literary safari.

"We drop them off and pick them up," he says. "It's sort of a roving caravan. There are any number of people who know so much more than I do, and I'm always getting bits from people."

He launched the tour three years ago, and the tour has grown with the festival. William Gilmore, executive director of the Baltimore Office of Promotion, which runs the show, says the book fair has grown into the biggest festival at Mount Vernon Place. Between 30,000 and 40,000 came last year. This year, it made made Publishers Weekly's fall festival list.

The 1998 festival will have National Book Award winner Andrea ** Barrett, who scored the literary prize with a collection of stories called "Ship Fever," along with such dazzling literary luminaries as Carolyn Kizer, David Simon, Juan Williams, Sheneska Jackson and Stephen Hunter.

The Mystery Writers Panel assembles a lineup of some very unusual suspects, including Edgar Award winner Laura Lippman, with murder in Butchers Hill; Agatha winner Sujata Massey, murder in Japan; and St. Martin's newcomer award winner, Barbara Lee, murder in Anne Arundel.

The always-jumping children's area will have two Caldecott Award winners: David Wisniewski, who won in 1997 with "Golem," and Paul Zelinsky, 1998 for "Rapunzel." There's lots of hands-on stuff, puppets and costumed characters from Madeline, Bunnicula and Wild Thing. But no Xenia.

The always aromatic Food for Thought section offers cookbook authors showing how to do it in a demonstration kitchen. Cooking will be Bobby Flay of the Food Network; Linda West Eckhardt, "Entertaining 101"; and Lidia Bastianich, "Lidia's Italian Table."

The Food Network's Bobby Flay canceled his appearance.

Black Classic Press will sponsor a panel discussion, "The Black Panther Party Reconsidered," with W. Paul Coates, BCP founder and publisher; Clarence Lusane, author and professor; and Audrea Dunham, refugee coordinator.

The Book Festival Cabaret and Brew Garden offers blues shouter Big Jesse Yawn and microbrews. Starbucks offers cappuccino and a poetry slam. Baltimore artist Stan Edmister offers grilled portobellos and shiitakes.

And, of course, enough books will be on sale - new, used and antiquarian - to satisfy the most obsessive bibliophile.

Jamie Hunt leads his Book Hoof in a sort of spiraling loop around all of this, following the terrain like a contour farmer to ease the trek. At no time is he more than three blocks from the monument. If you get tired, you can feel free to go, and the monument is your landmark.

"But I'll tell you, people are pretty hardy," he says. "If you start with 50, you'll end with 35. And that's an ideal number."

A literary history as wonderfully convoluted, intermeshed and entwined as the folk life of a Mediterranean village unfolds as Hunt circles the monument.

"The official start is right here at the Francis Scott Key plaque at the United Methodist Church," Hunt says. "He died at a house that was there, in 1843."

Hunt sits his tourists down on the church steps and explains that Key's daughter married one of John Eager Howard's sons, Charles, who owned the house. Howard, a Revolutionary War hero, once owned the hilltop that is Mount Vernon.

Hunt recalls the story that James Madison, then an ex-president, traveled to Baltimore to see the street named after him and was not at all pleased to find it was a narrow dirt road.

"George Washington was good friends with the Marquise de Lafayette," Hunt says, "whose statue is on the other side of the hill.

"Both Washington and Lafayette were both good friends of David Poe, Edgar Allan Poe's grandfather, deputy quartermaster the Continental Army.

"Then, as you leap forward into time, F. Scott Fitzgerald called Francis Scott Key his great uncle."

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