Literary festival draws the bookish to Pratt Library

Caryn Coyle said she marks CityLit Festival on her calendar every year and plans to attend as many of the readings as she can cram into the day.

Before noon Saturday, the Rodgers Forge resident had already amassed a stack of newly purchased books and had just come from a discussion of a novel about life in Baltimore's Highlandtown neighborhood. She was headed to a poetry reading and planning to finish the day listening to several novelists discuss their works.

"I love all the stories," she said. "Who wants to go to a lacrosse game in the rain when you can come to a place full of people who like to read and write?"

Foul weather may have helped swell crowds at the eighth annual CityLit Festival, a daylong celebration of all things literary held at the central Enoch Pratt Free Library.

Olayide Balogun, a volunteer, reported a "bit of a line of festival-goers" waiting even before the library opened its doors.

Balogun spends her workweek in the world of finance but volunteers at the library on weekends "to be in the creative arena," she said.

She could not have asked for more creativity than what the festival had to offer, she said. Dozens of area writers filled the main floor of the library, giving visitors glimpses of their books and hoping for sales. The library's lecture halls were packed with visitors eager to take in poetry and prose readings by the authors and commentary that sparked lively discussions.

"I love this festival because it brings out so many writers in the community," said Nataliya A. Goodman, surrounded by copies of "Flightless Goose" children's book by her husband, Eric Goodman, which she illustrated. "It really is blooming with great opportunities to show both old and new works to the community."

The CityLit Project, founder and host of the festival, nurtures the culture of literature in its community, said Elissa Weissman, author of "Nerd Camp" and a panelist at the Women and Words discussion on the festival schedule. The Pratt, with its copious space and downtown location, is the ideal venue and a great partner, she said.

Roswell Encina, Pratt's director of communications, said he was not surprised at the packed house.

"People are really hungry for something literary," he said. "At this festival, it feels like all the writers in the community are getting together and, of course, we can showcase the library, where there is always something going on."

The event also provides connections for would-be writers and mini-writing workshops, which took place throughout the day in the literary marketplace section of the festival. Editors of Artichoke Haircut, a local literary magazine, were accepting submissions on the spot.

"We really want to get our name out to writers," said Sara Lyn, an editor of the magazine based in Mount Vernon.

The festival attracted many published poets who brought just the right stress to the stanzas they recited.

"A lot of poets in town are starving for venues just like this," Encina said.

In the library's elegantly paneled Poe Room, several poets read their verses to a rapt audience. The din from the downstairs bookish activities wafted to the upstairs rooms but did not detract. It played an ideal background to rhythmic speech, much of it descriptive of city life.

E. Ethelbert Miller, director of the African American Resource Center at Howard University and former chair of the Humanities Council of Washington, opened the afternoon session with readings from two of his favorite poets before sharing lines of his own. He had listeners sighing with his gentle words from "Divine Love" and laughing softly with his diatribes against cellphones and hip-hop.

"All America is an amusement park," he read. "Learn to laugh or die."

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