A walk through a writer's world

Sixth annual literary event is no static affair

Baltimore Book Festival

September 27, 2001|By Gina Kazimir | Gina Kazimir,Special to the Sun

If you think book festivals are staid, stuffy affairs with people in tweed jackets sitting around smoking pipes and discussing obscure authors, the folks who run the Baltimore Book Festival would like you to come downtown and wander around a bit this weekend. Literally.

This year's book festival does feature some obscure authors, but it also offers a Walking Tour Tent, as well as a stage featuring cooking demonstrations by cookbook authors, live entertainment, advice for budding authors, and even a chance for you to read your own works.

The sixth annual free festival takes place at and around Mount Vernon Place tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday.

Unlike book festivals that pay strict homage to established stars and their works, the Baltimore Book Festival this year offers a smorgasbord of books by new authors, along with practical tips for aspiring authors. And the festival goes beyond the printed page to invite visitors to experience literature through all of their senses.

You can literally eat your favorite authors' words at the Food for Thought Stage, where cookbook authors will whip up recipes from their books.

The Cabaret Stage features live musical entertainment by performers from around the area. The Children's Bookstore Stage lets kids and their parents meet the people behind those bedtime stories. You can tell stories of your own at the Coffee Bar, where workshops, poetry readings and contests are on the menu. And you can catch some "soon-to-be famous" authors at the Next Really Big Thing Tent and get their tips on the writing / publishing business at presentations throughout the weekend.

Book a tour

As part of the festival organizers' efforts to bring books to a larger audience, the Book Festival Walking Tour Tent has been added. While there have been walking tours here and there at past festivals, this year marks the first time that there is an area solely devoted to such outings. On the agenda: walks led by some authors of local tour books.

Carolyn Males is one of the authors who will lead walks. Her book, Wish You Were Here! A Guide to Baltimore City for Natives and Newcomers, is filled with anecdotes and fun facts about you know what. Males' walks will include such local highlights as the Washington Monument and the Museum of Incandescent Lighting on Washington Place.

"We're going to talk a bit about some of the colorful characters who lived in the area," Males says. "There's a lot of history and wonderful places here."

Males was a travel writer who spent years delving into foreign countries before she turned to her own back yard for her new book. "It was time to write something close to home," she explains. "I thought I knew this city pretty well, but I discovered all sorts of nuances and interesting characters in my research."

Discovering treasures is a recurrent theme at the festival. As well as finding fresh voices in the literary arts, you can come upon one of the biggest concentrations of books from small and independent presses anywhere.

"Independent presses, small presses and independent bookstores were very supportive when the festival started six years ago," says Bill Gilmore, executive director of the Baltimore Office of Promotion, which produces the festival. "They'd never really had a showcase before. That's really the spirit in which the festival was founded."

You can check out some of the fresh voices at the Literary Salon. David Deal, author of Prospects: A Portrait of Minor League Baseball, is one of the writers who will speak there on Saturday.

A festival first

"This is my first book festival, so I'm excited," says Deal. A photographer at heart, Deal spent three years taking the pictures and finding the stories that form his book. He wasn't a huge baseball fan when he began; he picked minor-league teams in hopes that the parks and the people in them would make for good images.

"I felt that there were all of these great guys, all thrown together in a way that would make great subjects," Deal explains. "They did, but I also discovered that adding in images of their environment, of the towns around baseball, made a fuller picture. I think this life gets romanticized quite a bit. I tried with my book to honestly document it as much as I could."

Allegra Bennett has three books under her belt, but her current one is the first to be promoted nationally. When a Woman Takes an Ax to a Wall is the second book published by Bennett's own Renovating Woman press. The urge to start her own press came to Bennett from her experiences working with Simon & Schuster, which published her first book.

"The big publishing houses are so big that they can't move fast enough, plus they have short attention spans," Bennett says. "While Simon & Schuster sent me on a 15-city tour for my first book, before I got to the first city, it felt like they were already moving on to the next project. I learned that a lot of the effort needs to come from the author, so I began to look at that."

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