Baltimore, once known as "The city that reads," became a vision of its former bus-bench slogan yesterday as thousands of bibliophiles gathered around the Washington Monument for poetry, prose and all the literary trappings that make up Baltimore's annual book festival.
The most devoted among the attendees sifted through stacks of the latest best sellers and local releases, pausing to hear authors read literary passages. They left, balancing stacks of hardbacks and pamphlets, full from pretzels and gyros, and convinced that they had seen every display -- no easy feat with 150 exhibitors who promoted everything from Muslim culture and vegan recipes to local theaters and regional wines.
There were magazines on decorating, books on analyzing dreams, local publications focused on children and volumes of classics, with every genre represented -- mystery, romance and variations on typical themes. Some books were free. Other booksellers offered discounts and accepted credit cards.
"It was beautiful," said Fanya Workman, 25, a marketing manager for a television company, sitting on a patch of grass. "I like the vibe here. The crowd's very diverse and friendly."
The book festival in Mount Vernon has become an autumn tradition for the region, a signal to take time to curl up with good books and read.
"I think it's a great idea -- to bring people downtown," said Pat Russell, 47, a homemaker from Joppa. "It brought us."
The festival also provides an annual boost to regional presses and independent booksellers, said Anna A. Curry, former director of the Enoch Pratt Free Library.
Curry, who with her sister owns Sepia, Sand & Sable Books in Northwest Baltimore, sold their wares yesterday in a tent as big as a Borders bookstore.
"It gives us an excellent opportunity to interact with people who may not even know we're in the city," she said, noting that she and her sister spend a significant portion of their advertising budget to be seen at the fair.
Selling primarily Afrocentric literature, their store is always looking for new authors, many of whom are self-published. "This helps us meet some of the young new talent," said Curry.
The reverse is also true, with writers finding places to sell their books and interact with an audience that might otherwise never read their work, said Randy Fryar, a poet, lyricist and nonfiction author from Trenton, N.J.
Fryar, who spoke at a workshop at the festival's poetry bar, has self-published two books: Words from the Heart of a Black Man and On the Seventh Day, God Gave Me Verses.
"Sometimes authors like me get overlooked because our work isn't in every Barnes and Noble," said Fryar, 36. "That's what's great about festivals like this."
Workman recently moved to Canton from San Francisco, where, she said, street fairs are focused around music and food.
By those standards, the Baltimore Book Festival was more on the cerebral side, although there was plenty of music and entertainment, including appearances by the Oriole Bird and a person dressed in a fish costume.
The children's book displays, which included readings and crafts, were especially popular.
Lillie Stewart came from Roland Park with her two children, Liam and Ava Geenen, to hear a story about baby alligators and animal dads. They made Popsicle-stick picture frames for their father, who was working nearby. Liam, 2, was patted on the head by "the firefighter dog," he said. Ava, 5, marched in a book parade wearing a tiara and carrying maracas.
"It was huge," said Stewart. "We've had a really good time."
Despite a damp beginning Friday evening, festival organizers said they were pleased with the turnout. "People love this," said Bill Gilmore, executive director of the city's Office of Promotion and the Arts. "One of the things we often hear is how nice it is to walk around Mount Vernon. People so often just drive through it."
Burke Grund, 2, of Stoneleigh, was having fun toddling through the dry fountain on East Mount Vernon Place, admiring the gargoyles and statues. "You have to enjoy days like this," said his mother, Nancy Grund, as they paused to bask in the sun and gentle breezes.
The book festival continues today from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.