Is there a 12-step program for book festival junkies? I may need one -- I'm hooked. And if you have bookshelves sagging with author-signed volumes, you may be as well.
Or perhaps you don't quite have a literary addiction, but a simple craving for a new book, the need for a timely resupply of your beach reads before summer, or are fresh out of ideas for what to get your parents and in-laws for Mother's and Father's Days. If so, get thee to a book festival! We are fortunate in the Washington, D.C. area to have such festivals year-round, places where you can meet authors, ask questions, and get your books signed. And believe it or not, the authors are more than happy to meet you.
Two fun festivals are approaching in the merry month of May. The Literary Hill BookFest takes place in the North Hall of Eastern Market on May 5 from 11:00 a.m.. to 3:00 p.m. This intimate festival features about three-dozen authors, most of whom live in the Washington area (yes, there are authors who live right among you! We really do exist, and not just in some mythical cabin in the woods. Heck, who can afford a cabin these days?).
You can meet authors like Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post humor columnist Gene Weingarten; Beth Kanter and Emily Goodstein with their delicious Washington, DC Chef's Table; the ever-hilarious Tim Krepp, author of Capitol Hill Haunts; Capitol Hill icon Mary Gray; James Swanson, author of the definitive Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killers (guess what my dad got for Father's Day last year?). Books will be for sale, and the authors will be happy to sign them for you.
Then there's the big Kahuna, the Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 18. This event is one of the largest book festivals in the Mid-Atlantic, with more than 100 authors participating in the day-long activities from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on the Gaithersburg City Hall Grounds. The entire festival program is free -- from parking to shuttle buses, to writing workshops hosted by The Writers's Center (for adults) and Writopia (for kids). Politics & Prose Bookstore will be on location with a huge tent full of the new (and sometimes classic) books for sale that the authors will be discussing throughout the day.
The day is chock full of interesting panels, writing workshops, a children's village and children's workshops to help get kids interested in reading. There is an internationally acclaimed list of authors attending the festival, which is celebrating its fourth year in 2013. Most of the authors are teamed up in hour-long informal panels, so check the festival schedule to plan your day.
A few notables include Daniel Hernandez, Jr., author of They Call Me a Hero (you may recall him as the aide to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords who is credited with saving her life with his medical training after she was shot); Nina Blackwood and Mark Goodman, original MTV VJs; British novelist Jane Green, author of Family Pictures; and mystery writer Philip Margolin.
There is major programming just for kids. You can meet Sheila Turnage, a 2013 Newbery Honor; and Walter Dean Myers, National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. Mr. and Mrs. Robert Griffin, Jr. (the parents of the legendary RGIII) will be reading their son's favorite books in the StoryTime tent in the Children's Village. Somehow it won't surprise me if parents outnumber kids at the StoryTime tent when the Griffins arrive, but let the kids sit up front, m'kay?
As I'm a confessed book festival junkie, I'll be attending both book festivals, giving talks and signing books. At the Literary Hill BookFest on May 5, I'll be giving a short talk about my latest book, The Smithsonian Castle and the Seneca Quarry, at 12:30 p.m.. At the Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 18, I'm teaming up with Matt Dembicki, author of District Comics: An Unconventional History of Washington, D.C. for a panel about local history starting at 11:15 p.m. in the Rachel Carson Pavilion. Then we'll sign books. And then I'll listen in on a bunch more author panels, as hearing from fellow authors about their inspirations and stories is a lot of fun.
If you get thirsty, well, I hear there's a brewpub called Growler's up the street from the Gaithersburg Book Festival. You'll know where to find/stalk me.
So why are book festivals so important to authors and readers? With the incredible shrinking bookstore market, authors have had to find new ways to connect with readers in a real, in-person way. Social media like Facebook and Twitter is nice, but it doesn't replace the ability for readers and writers to have real conversations. Book festivals have become more important than ever in introducing authors and audiences.
So yes, please, do come and approach the authors -- we may be shy people, but we're happy to meet you!