Baltimore calls itself "The City That Reads," and this weekend that slogan is made real at the fifth annual Baltimore Book Festival. From Friday through Sunday in historic Mount Vernon Place, the written word comes to life as the city is host to hundreds of poets, authors, exhibitors and book sellers, and their thousands of fans.

If you think a book festival is all stuffy fellows in bow ties reciting in a dull monotone from some academic tome, you're in for a shock. This free festival is all about the lively part of literature. Books come alive here through poetry readings, cooking demonstrations, live music, a parade for children, garden tips, book appraisals and more.

Seven different stages offer authors reading from their works, answering questions and providing insight into their creative processes. Some of the authors regularly tour and speak about their work. Others will be appearing in public for the first time. But for each, the Book Festival is a chance to let audiences meet the person behind the prose.

Discovering authors

"The Book Festival is an opportunity for people to discover an author with a passion for what he or she writes, so that some of that passion can rub off," says Jeff Cox, who writes about food, wine and gardening and who will be appearing on the new Home & Garden Stage.

"When that happens, a book comes alive and enriches life for those who have felt the writer's heat and read his or her work."

Although Cox will be talking about his new book about homemade wines, "From Vines to Wines: The Complete Guide to Growing Grapes and Making Your Own Wine," he sees his work as more than just a how-to guide. For Cox, gardens are not just experiments or laboratories, they are organic places that teach truth, beauty and goodness. That message is what he tries to convey in his writing.

"I try to penetrate to the meaning of gardening," Cox says, "in order to reveal how people can learn about themselves and their relationship to nature through the tasks of gardening."

Along with the author presentations, the Home & Garden Stage will host the "Antique Row" show, in which professional appraisers from Baltimore's own Antique Row will review items and assess their worth.

The Sibanye Stage presents an outstanding lineup of prominent African-American authors. Poets, novelists and children's book authors are just some of the writers who will present their experiences on stage.

Kimberla Lawson Roby is one of the authors who will speak on the Sibanye Stage. This is Roby's first book festival, and her story is an inspiration.

"I received numerous rejection letters after writing my first novel, 'Behind Closed Doors,' and I had to self-publish it," she says. "It went on to sell 10,000 copies the first six months and was ultimately picked up by Black Classic Press right in Baltimore."

The success of that first book led Roby to a contract with a New York publisher for her second book, and then for two more. She'll be reading from her current novel, "Casting the First Stone," at the festival and is excited about the opportunity.

"Reading novels is such a wonderful source of entertainment. Hearing an author read from their work allows readers to hear what the book is actually about, and it really seems to make a world of difference," she says.

Author Venise Berry isn't just excited about speaking to her audience, she's looking forward to the chance to meet other writers. "Not only do I write, but I am an avid reader and I love to meet the authors of books I enjoy," Berry says. "Listening to them explain their writing process or read from the story adds depth to my understanding of the work."

The work Berry will read from at the festival, "All of Me, A Voluptuous Tale," is fiction, but she hopes that its message will become reality for readers.

"The major message of this book is that we need to love ourselves more, especially women," says Berry. "The most important step to health and wellness is not changing our bodies, but changing our minds. We have to get up every day and move toward health and wellness."

Aspiring authors will want to make a note of the first African-American Poetry and Open Mike Night, 01NME:+REDLINE:achaplin:]on [-REDLINE]Friday at 8 p.m. at the Sibanye Stage. Poets E. Ethelbert Miller and Shara McCallum will present "Living La Vida Poet!" at 7 before turning the stage over to the poets in the audience. As Miller says, "Poetry is like bread ... it's good for everyone."

Just for kids

Over at the Children's Stage, things start with wizardry on Friday night, as a Harry Potter Celebration opens the festivities. Saturday morning sees the Storybook Parade -- with kids dressing up as their favorite story characters -- return by popular demand. Then it's on to the authors, with kids getting a chance to meet the creators of some of their favorite characters. At the end of the evening, kids get to read their favorite stories out loud to the audience.

One favorite children's author who will be reading is Avi. Known for his inspiring tales, Avi will be talking about his current work, "Ereth's Birthday," as well as his forthcoming book, "The Christmas Rat."

While fielding questions from curious kids may seem daunting, it's a task Avi relishes.

"People like to know a little bit about how you came to be a writer, so I take questions and talk about myself and my work," Avi says. "Children ask better questions. Adults are very shy. They want to know things but just won't ask. Kids will ask very personal questions with no problems -- they're much more interesting than adults."

While all of this is going on, the Literary Salon will be presenting nationally known authors such as Synthia Saint James, Patricia O'Brien and Gilbert Sandler, and the Food for Thought stage will hold cooking demonstrations by some of the country's most popular chef-authors, such as Sylvia Woods and David Ruggerio. Marcel Desaulniers will even debut a new book at Food for Thought -- "Death by Chocolate Cakes."

The Peabody Library Antiquarian Festival returns for its second year. Dealers and appraisers will be on hand to review antique books.

The Book Festival Cabaret offers live music and food to get you energized. Performers include Fertile Ground, Mambo Combo and Jah Works. And, in honor of that great melding of coffee and copy, the Book Festival Coffee Bar will have poetry and author readings, the Book Festival Poetry Slam and open readings for authors.

One of the local writers who will be speaking about his work at the Coffee Bar is Eugene Meyer, author of "Maryland Lost and Found ... Again," a work that looks at some of the lost and undiscovered places around the state.

"[The talk] is a great chance to enlighten people about parts of Maryland and even Baltimore they may never have known about," Meyer says. "I do like to interact with people, to have a conversation, and that carries into my work."

Whether your passion is fiction or nonfiction, poetry or prose, gardening or cooking, the Baltimore Book Festival has something for every taste. As Venise Berry puts it: "Literature and knowledge are so important to our world today that I can't see how anyone wouldn't rush at the chance to attend an event such as this."

The facts

What: The fifth annual Baltimore Book Festival

When: Tomorrow 5 p.m.- 9 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday

11 a.m.- 7 p.m. Rain or shine

Where: Mount Vernon Place (600 block of N. Charles St.) and adjacent streets

Admission: Free

Miscellaneous: Free parking at University of Baltimore garage. Free shuttle to festival

Call: 410-837- 4636 or 888- BALTIMORE

Web site:

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