By Caryn Coyle
Baltimore celebrates its 16th book festival this weekend in the four parks that surround the Washington Monument. On Friday, Sept. 23, at noon, the free festival kicks off at Monument and Charles Streets and runs until Sunday at 7 p.m. More than 100 nationally renowned, celebrity and local authors will be featured according to the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, which produces the festival.
Sherman Alexie, the filmmaker of “Smoke Signals,” will be reading from his latest work, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” which won the National Book Award in 2007. Terry McMillan, author of “Waiting to Exhale,” and “How Stella Got Her Groove Back,” will read from her newest novel, “Getting to Happy,” which is a sequel to “Exhale.” Baltimore’s Laura Lippman, author of five New York Times best sellers, will read from her latest novel, “The Most Dangerous Thing.”
The festival features literary themed stages and tents, food and beverages of all kinds and new and used books for sale. It is set amongst the parks and sculpture gardens of Washington Place (north and south of the Washington Monument) and Mount Vernon Place (east and west). The Washington Monument, which predates the one in Washington, D.C. by 50 years, is open to the public who are willing to climb its 228 steps to see a panoramic view of Baltimore from the city’s highest point.
The atmosphere of the Baltimore Book Festival is not like any other held in the city. More than 60,000 book lovers are expected in this culturally rich part of Baltimore. Near the festival’s music stage is the Hotel Stafford (now private apartments) at 716 North Washington Place, where F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby, once stayed.
At 17 East Mount Vernon Place, the George Peabody Library, housed in the Peabody Institute of Music, will be open with a non-circulating collection of more than 300,000 titles that date from the eighteenth to the early twentieth century. Across the park from the Peabody is the Victorian Gothic Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church which will also be open for tours. The church was built in 1872 on the site where Francis Scott Key, author of The Star Spangled Banner, died in what was then his daughter’s house, on Jan. 11, 1842.
The Baltimore Book Festival’s Literary Salon, Radical Bookfair Pavilion and Food for Thought Stage will host authors such as Jacquelyn Mitchard, who wrote “The Deep End of the Ocean,” and will read from her latest work, “Second Nature: A Love Story.” Roland Martin, author of “The First: President Barack Obama’s Road to the White House,” Travis Smiley, “Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure,” and Marcela Valladolid, “Mexican Made Easy,” will also be presenting their books.
In the south garden of Washington Place, the Peabody Institute of Music serenades festival attendees throughout the weekend. The City Lit Tent will feature the 2011 winners of the Maryland State Arts Council Poetry Awards, who will read from their work on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. First time local authors Eric D. Goodman, “Tracks,” and Susi Wyss, “The Civilized World,” will read from their novels in short stories on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. in the City Lit Tent. The Enoch Pratt Free Library Bookmobile will be located by the west Mount Vernon Place garden. A children’s section will feature arts and crafts activities, readings by top children’s and young adult’s writers and illustrators on the Children’s Bookstore Stage and several tents will also sell a variety of children’s books.
Kathy Hornig, Director of the Baltimore Book Festival added, “I am very excited about the diverse and exciting schedule we have for this year’s Baltimore Book Festival. There’s a little bit of everything – from romance to politics, cooking to kids stuff and everything in between. This annual event is the place where readers and authors connect, and we’re expecting a big turnout in 2011!”
Caryn Coyle lives in Baltimore. Her fiction and non-fiction have been published in more than a dozen literary journals and the anthology City Sages: Baltimore (2010) from City Lit Press.