Annual Book Festival Expected to Attract Thousands of Readers

Posted: September 12, 2005 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Colleen Kearney Rich

When tickets to the appearance of “Kite Runner” author Khaled Hosseini were all snapped up the morning they became available, event planners knew they had a hit on their hands. Almost 1,800 people tried to reserve the few hundred available tickets, which had Fall for the Book sponsors scrambling to find a larger venue.

They quickly moved the event to the largest venue they had, the Center for the Arts Concert Hall, which seats about 2,000. Hosseini will be appearing on Tuesday, Sept. 20, at 7:30 p.m. Seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis with the Concert Hall doors opening at 6:30 p.m. Best-selling author Alexandra Robbins, who was scheduled at the same time in the Concert Hall, will now appear at 8 p.m. in Dewberry Hall in the Johnson Center.

This is the seventh year for the Fall for the Book festival, which runs from Wednesday, Sept. 14, through Wednesday, Sept. 21, and has always been held at Mason. The idea for a book festival for Northern Virginia began with Randolph Church, a long-time Mason supporter and former rector of its Board of Visitors. Throughout the years, the festival has incorporated the tastes and interests of all kinds of readers.

William Miller, director of Fall for the Book and assistant professor of English, has tried to craft a book festival for the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area reader—high income, highly educated and busy. “People read for different reasons,” he says, not just for leisure. “People read books for serious information, which is one of the reasons we took the word ‘literary’ out of the title. We are looking at books as service to ideas rather than art for art’s sake.”

Expect the Unexpected

Each year the festival gets bigger and better—6,000 attended last year—despite the obstacles, and there have been many obstacles. The festival has always had to juggle something—speakers, venues, even dates.

In 2001, the festival followed closely on the heels of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which caused a number of writers to cancel their appearances. In 2002, out of respect for the first anniversary of Sept. 11, planners moved the festival to October, which just happened to be the month that the Washington, D.C., area was under siege with sniper attacks. Attendance suffered that year. Then there was Hurricane Isabel in 2003, which brought the festival to an early end as so many in Northern Virginia were without power.

“In spite of all these obstacles, the festival has continued to grow,” says Miller. “I think that says something about what we are providing. We are serving the on-and off- campus needs and interests of people for things that are contained in books: ideas, arguments, stories. We have become a great resource for the community.”

Recognizing Great Talent

One of the best things Fall for the Book has been able to do for the community has been to connect readers with their favorite writers. This is the second year for the All Fairfax Reads program, which is an integral part of the festival programming. This year All Fairfax Reads chose “The Kite Runner” as its text. The Hosseini appearance is the flagship event for this program.

Fall for the Book Collage
Featured authors at Fall for the Book this year include (from left) Tim O’Brien, Pat Conroy, Walter Mosley, Khaled Hosseini, Alexandra Robbins, and J.A. Jance.

For the last three years, the festival has also recognized internationally known authors by presenting the Fairfax Prize for lifetime achievement. Tobias Wolfe won the inaugural prize in 2003. Joyce Carol Oates was the recipient in 2004. This year Pulitzer Prize-winning author Norman Mailer receives the award, but will be unable to attend the festival.

The festival is also rolling out another award this year: The Fall for the Book Prize.

“With this prize, we want to celebrate an author who has influenced younger writers and whose body of work has made extraordinary contributions by bringing literature to a wide reading public,” says Miller. Pat Conroy, the author of six novels, including “The Prince of Tides” and “The Great Santini,” is the inaugural recipient for this award. He will appear at the closing event of the festival on Wednesday, Sept. 21, at 8 p.m. in the Concert Hall.

Something for Everyone

Fall for the Book promises more than 80 events and fun for all ages. In addition to author readings, scholarly lectures, literary lunches and panel discussions, the storytelling group Voices in the Glen will be on hand Saturday, Sept. 17, for an encore festival performance, and the Northern Virginia Writing Workshop is offering writing workshops for children and teens.

Among the writers appearing at this year’s festival are:

  • Novelist Walter Mosley, who will be kicking off the national tour of his new Easy Rawlins mystery, “Cinnamon Kiss”
  • Mason’s Hirst Professor of Public Policy Richard Florida, author of “The Flight of the Creative Class”
  • Mason alumnus Mark Winegardner, who was chosen by Random House and Mario Puzo’s family to write the sequel to Puzo’s best-seller, “The Godfather”
  • National Book Award-winner Tim O’Brien, author of “Going After Cacciato” and “The Things They Carried”
  • Craig Shirley, author of “Reagan’s Revolution: The Untold Story of the Campaign that Started It All”
  • Mystery writer J.A. Jance, who celebrates the 20th anniversary of her J.P. Beaumont series

In addition to George Mason, major festival partners and sponsors include the Washington Post, ABC7/WJLA, the Fairfax County Public Library and its foundation, ExxonMobil, Dominion Power, NOVREC, Independence Air, Hunton & Williams, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, and the City of Fairfax.

All events are free and open to the public. More information and a detailed schedule for the festival can be found at www.fallforthebook.org.

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