Kathy Hornig finally had a chance to check out Washington's National Book Festival. And she came away with a renewed appreciation for the admittedly smaller, quirkier offering put on by The City That Reads.
As the director of festivals for the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, Hornig naturally was curious how our local effort compared. But, because the two festivals always were scheduled in head-to-head combat on the same September weekend, she never could get away.
In 2012, Baltimore's book festival was pushed back by one week, so Hornig finally had a chance to go to Washington and see what all of the fuss was about.
"I describe the National festival as the Smithsonian of books," Hornig says. "They have their niche, and they do it very well, and we have ours. Ours is, for lack of a better word, much more Baltimore. We have live music and a cookbook stage. They don't have all the fun and funky little booksellers that we do. They have long lines. Visiting the National Book Festival is more like being at an expo than being at a Baltimore street festival."
That's not to say that the Baltimore festival, which attracts roughly 45,000 visitors a year over three days, is tiny. As always, the 2013 Book Fest, which kicks off at noon Sept. 27 in Mount Vernon, will feature hundreds of appearances by local and nationally known authors, book signings, nonstop readings on multiple stages, cooking demonstrations, panel discussions, more than 100 exhibitors, walking tours, live music, storytellers and hands-on activities for kids.
Below, we've highlighted a few of the 2013 festival's showcase events:
Comic-Con: We'll have to wait until the weekend to discover if the new Charm City Comic Book Pavilion in the West Park will bring a sorely needed element of cosplay (that's, for nongeeks, costume play) to the festival. But even if there's a dearth of Wonder Woman-wannabes, there will still be plenty for comic lovers to savor.
Highlights include visits from David Rodriguez, who designed the new video game "Skylanders SWAP Force" (slated for an Oct. 13 release), and Amazon best-selling author Mat Nastos, who is best known for writing horror movies about giant scorpions, killer pigs and dinosaurs in sewers.
Children — and probably quite a few adults — will be interested in meeting Brian Smith and Jacob Chabot, artists and writers who previously have worked on such popular characters as SpongeBob SquarePants, Hello Kitty and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Cover Story: The arts of illustration, bookbinding, calligraphy and paper-making will be explored inside the Book Arts Gallery, inside the Walters Art Museum Sculpture Court. (Enter off Charles Street.)
Viewers can also get a guided tour of the illustrated manuscripts and other medieval documents owned by the Walters during the festival weekend.
The tour, called "Living by the Book: Monks, Nuns, and their Manuscripts," makes the point that these manuscripts, some of which contained covers encrusted with jewels and letters created by gold leaf, haven't always been treated as precious treasures to be locked away.
Instead, they were created for regular use. They were intended to be vital components of everyday life, tools that aided and enhanced worship.
Austenland: A panel discussion titled "Jane Austen Fiction" will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the publication of "Pride and Prejudice" with a discussion and readings of fiction written — and inspired — by the novelist who has become one of the most widely read authors in English literature.
The discussion will be held at 12:15 p.m. Friday at the Maryland Romance Writers Stage.
Panelists include Leslie Carroll, a Washington-area writer who writes historical fiction set in the 18th century under the pen names of Juliet Grey and Amanda Elyot; Regina Jeffers, a North Carolina novelist who has written such Austen-inspired titles as "The Phantom of Pemberley" and "The Mysterious Death of Mr. Darcy"; and longtime Austen fan Janet Mullany.
All the World's a Stage: Old Will Shakespeare's famous saying from "As You Like It" will receive a really, really literal interpretation when Center Stage stages a play in an oversized shipping crate.
This year marks the second time that Center Stage has collaborated with the festival. This year, officials are kicking off the troupe's new Third Space(s) programming, which is designed to stage new and cutting-edge works in unconventional locations.
"The Container," written by Clare Bayley, brings an audience of up to 15 members inside the crate alongside five actors who are portraying refugees fleeing to England. The play explores just how far the stowaways will go to get what they want.
The shipping container-shaped stage will be erected at Charles Street and Mount Vernon Place. Tickets for the five performances are free and can be reserved by calling 410-332-0033. A standby list will be available at the Center Stage booth.
Author, Author! This weekend, Mount Vernon will be crawling with scribes.
Among them are crime novelist — and Baltimore resident — Laura Lippmann. She'll discuss the darker literary arts with John Searles, whose new thriller, "Help for the Haunted," is set in Dundalk. ( 5 p.m. Saturday, Literary Salon.) Immediately following their discussion is an appearance by the magnetic MK Asante, a filmmaker, hip-hop artist and professor at Morgan State University. His newly published memoir, "Buck," is making a big critical splash. (6 p.m. Saturday, Literary Salon.)
As always, the Food for Thought Stage will feature celebrity cookbook authors. This year's crop includes reality television figure Kate Gosselin and Olympic figure skater Brian Boitano. (6 p.m. Saturday).
The Best of the Rest: Don't forget to check out James McBride, whose new novel, "The Good Lord Bird," has been long-listed for the National Book Award (3 p.m. Saturday, the Literary Salon); Peggielene Bartels, who with Eleanor Herman co-wrote 'King Peggie," the real-life story of how Bartels, an American secretary, unexpectedly was elected king of a desperately poor town in Ghana (1 p.m. Saturday, the Literary Salon); Azar Nafisi, a visiting professor at Johns Hopkins University whose memoir "Reading Lolita in Tehran" was on the New York Times' best-seller list for 117 weeks and inspired an opera (3 p.m. Saturday, George Peabody Library); and beloved children's book author Tomie dePaola, who will present his new picture book, "Strega Nona Does It Again" (6 p.m. Saturday, Children's Bookstore Stage).
If you go
The Baltimore Book Festival runs this weekend in Mount Vernon Place in the area surrounding the 600 block of North Charles Street. Noon-8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and noon-7 p.m. Sunday. Free. Call 410-752-8632 or go to baltimorebookfestival.org.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun