Getting a read on a city's passion Mount Vernon book fest is joyous page for all ages

September 27, 1998|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

As thousands of Maryland book lovers descended on Mount Vernon Place yesterday, Dexter Durant settled on a shady bench with 6-year-old son Daniel for the main purpose of the Baltimore Book Festival -- reading.

Opening a copy of "Bermuda's Sidney the Sailboat" purchased minutes earlier at a used-books tent, the father and son enjoyed a few minutes of their nightly at-home ritual. The elder Durant read while the younger one smiled and turned the pages.

"By the end of the weekend, we'll have read all of these books," the elder Durant said, showing off the three children's books he had just bought for $3.

Similar scenes were repeated throughout the streets adjacent to Baltimore's Washington Monument yesterday as readers found empty patches of grass or sidewalk to sit down and explore their purchases.

More than 25,000 people attended the first day of the annual festival, said Tracy Baskerville, public relations manager for the Baltimore Office of Promotion. By the time it concludes today, event organizers expect the crowds to surpass last year's 35,000 to 40,000.

This weekend marks the third year of the festival, which began after William Gilmore, executive director of the promotion office, saw a book fair in Scotland and decided that Baltimore needed one.

After all, where but in Baltimore could the storybook character Madeleine be found dancing on Charles Street to the Latin rhythms of Rumba Club?

For the first time, the festival is expected to have two rain-free days, Baskerville said. Yet yesterday's humidity -- with summer-like temperatures reaching 86 degrees -- sent book lovers jockeying for spots in the shade and lining up for drinks ranging from lemonade and iced coffee to beer and wine. One man was overcome by the heat and needed medical assistance.

Like past years, the festival attracted book-sellers of all types: large and small bookstores as well as what seemed like every publisher in Maryland. Most said they were doing a brisk business.

Pikesville poet Marlene Rigaud Apollon found a new audience for her verses about Haiti in her booth beneath the monument.

"I've read about you," exclaimed Maura Conner upon finding Apollon's booth. "It's great to meet you."

Conner bought two autographed copies of Apollon's book of children's poetry, "The Moon's a Banana, I Am Me" -- one to read to her two children and another to give to her niece.

"I really like coming out and talking to people about my writing," said Apollon, whose adult poetry focuses on the repression she and her family escaped when they left Haiti. "Everyone here seems so interested in what I have to say and write."

Some of the biggest crowds could be found in the cooking demonstration tent, where dozens lined up to sample the crab soup prepared by Chesapeake Bay cooking author John Shields, and the empanadas of South American chef Rafael Palomino.

"A lot of people think that Latin American food is just rice and beans, but by no means is that the case," said Palomino, whose New York midtown restaurant and book are both called "Bistro Latino." Empanadas are similar to turnovers, with a cornmeal crust.

Much of the festival was dominated by children -- and a giant inflated "Cat in the Hat" greeted drivers at the intersection of Charles and Centre streets.

Families filled tents to listen to readings and buy autographed books from such acclaimed children's authors as Jack Prelutsky, Jerdine Nolen and 1997 Caldecott Medal winner David Wisniewski.

"You can't be an author for children and not like coming out here and meeting the children," said Nolen, who lives in Ellicott City and whose latest book is "Raising Dragons." "A couple of people came up to me and said that I made the book come alive for them, and that's something I really love doing."

The festival continues today from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Admission is free.

Pub Date: 9/27/98

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