Festival brings city a bounty of books; Attendance and sales increase as third day is added to event


The art of literature took center stage yesterday in the heart of Baltimore's arts and cultural district.

For thousands of book lovers, the Baltimore Book Festival in Mount Vernon Place offered a rare opportunity to meet lots of authors, buy lots of books and revel in all things having to do with words.

"I'm so excited," said Devon Machuca, 8, after securing an autograph from James Howe, author of the popular children's series about a vampire rabbit, "Bunnicula." "He's the first author I've ever met."

It seemed as though everyone in the state with ties to reading, writing and publishing had descended on the streets adjacent to Baltimore's Washington Monument, selling their works, reading selections aloud and offering tips to beginning writers.

"It's fun to come out here and meet people who might be interested in reading my book," said David Jonathan Sawyer, author of "My Great Grandfather was Stonewall Jackson," while sitting in a booth with a stack of his books. "I'm hoping to sell a few, too."

Festival organizers expect the number of visitors this weekend to easily surpass the approximately 60,000 who attended last year, particularly because the festival added a third day for the first time, Friday. It's also only the second time the book festival is expected to be entirely rain-free.

More than 800 third-graders from nine area elementary schools visited the festival Friday afternoon, and book vendors reported huge sales from large crowds Friday night.

Transatlantic roots

This weekend marks the fourth year of the book festival, which began after William Gilmore, executive director of the city's promotion office, saw a book fair in Scotland and decided that Baltimore needed one.

"I think it's become far more than what I thought it could be," Gilmore said yesterday as he surveyed the crowd. "In Scotland, it was smaller, an adjunct to a theater festival, but this is now a destination event in itself."

The festival's growth is easy to see. In the first two years, major book sellers and publishers shied away for the most part, unsure whether "The City That Reads" could attract many people to a downtown book fair, Gilmore said.

Big names and new voices

Now the festival is able to attract big names in addition to lesser-known authors. Yesterday, chimpanzee researcher Jane Goodall and feminist and journalist Susan Faludi drew capacity crowds to the "Literary Salon" as they talked about and autographed their latest books.

It's given such authors as Kwasi Bosompem a chance for audience. "People other than the known authors have written some good books, too," said the Arlington County, Va., planner, who wrote "Confessions of a Neglected African Daughter."

"The Book Guys" held court for a couple of hours in the Peabody Library as they did a live broadcast of their nationally syndicated radio show, while cookbook authors demonstrated recipes for people to taste.

Living tales

Throughout the day, literary characters for both children and adults paraded through the streets, from Little Red Riding Hood to a fairy from Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Actors from the American Historical Theater in Philadelphia also demonstrated life in the late 1700s, including a mock presidential news conference for children with George Washington.

But above all, the festival was about reading.

Patrick Vaughn Jr., was grabbing picture books and anything else he could reach off the shelves of Grrreat Bears and Childhood Delights selections.

"He won't stop looking at books," said Jean Vaughn, a teacher at Lyndhurst Elementary School, of her 4-year-old grandson. Nearby, Elizabeth Bateman and her friend, Elizabeth Buckner, both 12, sat on a bench and devoured page after page of their purchase of the day -- the latest installment of the popular science fiction "Animorphs" series.

"We didn't want to wait for the other one to read the book, so we both bought copies," said Elizabeth Bateman, a 7th-grader at Elkridge Landing Middle School. "Now, we can read together."

The festival continues today from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Admission is free.

Pub Date: 9/26/99

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