Book Festival grows but keeps the personal touch

Local and nationally known literary figures will take center stage again this year at the annual Baltimore Book Festival.

Beginning at 11 a.m. Saturday (since Friday's events were canceled due to the threat of Hurricane Isabel), a number of poets, authors and book illustrators will convene amid the greenery of Mount Vernon Place for a long weekend of seminars, workshops and presentations.

In years past, the intimate events have given the public a chance to meet and greet their favorite literary luminaries.

And though this year's outdoor festival is expected to draw upward of 70,000 people - one of the largest crowds in the event's eight-year history - the scheduled activities will still provide the same level of personal interaction, organizers say.

"There will definitely be time for the audience to be one-on-one with the authors," said festival spokeswoman Barbara Zektick.

Academy Award-winning director and Baltimore native Barry Levinson will be available for questions Saturday at 3:30 p.m. when he unveils and signs copies of his first novel, Sixty-Six. (A location for this event, originally scheduled for Friday is to be determined.)

On Sunday afternoon, Baltimore Book Project author Dr. Ben Carson Sr. will read from his work, Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story, before participating in a discussion with the audience.

And Preston Bailey, author of Preston Bailey's Design for Entertaining, will present a slide show of his party plans while doling out advice on how to create the perfect event.

But the Baltimore Book Festival isn't just for bookworms or literary hounds who are interested in a particular text, author or topic.

A wide variety of attractions, including food and craft vendors and live performances, will keep the crowd active and entertained for hours, said spokeswoman Tracy Baskerville.

The event's extensive musical lineup features, among others, pop band Union Jack (Saturday at 2:30 p.m.) and Baltimore blues act the Kelly Bell Band (Sunday at 4:30 p.m.).

On Saturday and Sunday, children's activities will abound in a tent dedicated to crafts and costumes, while a sampling of theatrical shorts for children and adults will be performed in the readers' theater tent.

The broad range of happenings make it "a festival in the true sense of the word," Baskerville said.

It's a chance to "enjoy the atmosphere, listen to music and have a good time."

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