A new chapter for book festival

Readers: The Baltimore Book Festival draws a crowd after Tropical Storm Isabel halted it last year.

September 19, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The clouds threatened and the wind battered displays, but the heavy rain stopped shortly after the Baltimore Book Festival opened in Mount Vernon Place yesterday, allowing the city's premier literary event to go forward for the first time since 2002.

"I was so upset about the cancellation last year," said Michelle Adams of Baltimore, who came with her husband and two young children. "I decided to come this year regardless of the weather."

Although Tropical Storm Isabel forced organizers to scrap the three-day event last year, the remnants of Hurricane Ivan spared the ninth annual festival, which continues until 7 p.m. today with readings, entertainment and stall after stall of new and used books.

Blustery winds yesterday sometimes scattered the pieces of children's art projects, but the crowd built all afternoon for an annual event that in the past has drawn up to 70,000 over its three days.

"This is a nice, laid-back festival for people who want to read and listen to authors," said Tracy Baskerville, spokeswoman for the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts.

Organizations such as the Walters Art Gallery and the Enoch Pratt Free Library rely on the festival "to get our names out there," said Samantha Scussel, events assistant at the museum.

The festival promised visitors the chance to meet authors, such as National Public Radio war correspondent Anne Garrels, who wrote about her war experiences in Naked in Baghdad, and Anne Applebaum, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Gulag: A History, who appears today.

Many of those attending left with bags full of books, some of the volumes slightly tattered but free. The Book Thing, a city-based book exchange, gave away hundreds of secondhand books yesterday and had hundreds more ready for crowds today.

"This will probably be the most popular booth, after the foods," said Trellis Frierson, carrying several books and searching for more. "I didn't expect free ones. I came to listen to a few authors, maybe even see a couple of the people I have read, and get my handwriting analyzed."

More than 125 exhibitors encouraged the crowd to peruse and purchase, tour a library, take an art lesson, write a poem and sing along to music. Writers tempted readers with snippets of their latest stories, dramatists staged comedic scenes and cookbook authors put together food for thought.

"We have three full days of creativity going on," said Barbara Simon, president of the Maryland Poetry and Literary Society.

Amanda Vogel, who lives a few blocks from the festival, came to the event for the first time, "looking for good reading and fun."

Rhonda Rogers, in Baltimore on a business trip from Atlanta, meandered among the booths and bought a mystery novel to delve into this weekend. Julia Clemens, 10, and her 8-year-old brother Eli of Federal Hill learned a few Spanish words along with a new folk tale they said they would retell.

The fair offered literary diversions to all ages and fans of all genres, from poetry and prose to animated folklore and recipes.

Authors mingled with their fans, signed autographs and doled out helpful hints.

"It gives us practice and lets us rub shoulders with one another," said Dennis Barnes, who offered a workshop for beginning poets. "This is a vehicle to recognize people who want to get started with writing."

Author Tim Gager, a fiction writer and author of Twenty-Six Pack, as well poetry, traveled from Boston to discuss "print-on-demand," a high-speed laser technique that limits publishing to what is needed.

"Everything is digitally stored, and books never go out of print," he said.

Gager sold 100 books at the 2002 festival. He made a quick trip to Philadelphia last night to give a poetry reading but returned to the festival today.

"I love Baltimore," Gager said. "It is a good market for me. Boston can be a bit uppity, but here people walk up to you and have a conversation."

Debbie Wilson, who helped staff a booth for Children's Book Store in Roland Park, said the casual atmosphere "gets people really comfortable with literacy and interested in hearing about authors."

Caitlin Wright, 12, of Reisterstown, book shopper and volunteer, said, "I don't care what kinds of books I get. I like them all."

The festival continues from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. today in the 600 block of N. Charles St.

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