Baltimore book festival closes with nod to technology

Baltimore concluded its 15th annual book festival Sunday by acknowledging a newer form of literary interaction: book blogs.

"Anything and everything to do with technology is definitely a hot topic," said Tracy Baskerville, spokeswoman for the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, which produces the festival. "You'll be seeing even more next year."

Baskerville predicted panels devoted to e-books and more about the social media literary forums that enable book lovers to interact with authors.

The three-day event typically draws about 55,000 people to the cobblestone streets and median parks of Mount Vernon Square. Sunday's schedule of more than 50 performances and seminars drew literary fans even though it coincided with rain showers and the Ravens' home opener.

This year's biggest attractions, Baskerville said, were Jesse Ventura, the former wrestler and Minnesota governor promoting his book "American Conspiracies: Lies, Lies, and More Dirty Lies That the Government Tells Us"; "America's Next Top Model" judge Nigel Barker; and Wes Moore, a Baltimore native who contrasted his own life with that of a prisoner with the same name in the book "The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates."

Book festival visitors wandered through the canvas-covered exhibits and watched cooking demonstrations and author talks while kids mingled with Madeline, Clifford and other costumed children's book stars.

On Sunday, Maryland first lady and Maryland District Court Judge Katie Curran O'Malley introduced author Warren St. John, whose "Outcasts United" is the official read of the "One Maryland, One Book" program this year.

With nearly 100 reading groups across the state, O'Malley said the state reading program, in its third year, is "getting bigger and bigger."

St. John's book focuses on a soccer team of immigrants in the rural south, and O'Malley said it was selected in part because of the nation's current struggles with immigration issues.

The book is set in Clarkston, Ga., which was designated an official immigrant resettlement zone in the late 1980s. St. John said he came to view the town as "an aquarium of American life … representing demographic change in this country in a sped-up way."

About 50 people listened to St. John's talk at noon, including many fans who applauded him repeatedly for sharing the soccer team's story.

Later, a panel of book bloggers explained to a smaller audience what they do and how their work fits into the city's literary scene. Heather Johnson, whose Age 30+ … A Lifetime of Books blog has been around for almost three years, led the discussion with five other bloggers, including Dave Rosenthal, one of The Baltimore Sun's Read Street authors.

Serena Agusto-Cox, who authors Savvy Verse and Wit, a poetry blog, said she started her blog as "a way to keep records for myself." Now, she said, she feels like she is "helping make sure that poets aren't lost," even though they aren't well-covered by mainstream media.

The bloggers said they try to review just about everything they read, providing an analysis that has largely disappeared from newspapers and magazines.

Authors at the festival said they appreciate such blog reviews, and many maintain their own blogs.

Aleysha R. Proctor, a Christian inspirational writer in the author's tent Sunday, said she uses a blog, a Twitter account and other social media sites to promote her work and communicate with readers and other writers.

She said she views the book festival as a real-life form of that kind of interaction.

"People just stop by and are exposed to your work," she said. "It's not about the number of books I sell today. It's about all of the connections I make."

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