The annual Fall for the Book Festival is one of the biggest events on my calendar each year — and with good reason, since I’m on the staff that helps to put the festival together! But it should also be one of the starred events on the calendars of all readers and writers in Northern Virginia, DC, and Maryland, since the program regularly welcomes some of the biggest names in the literary world to our backyard. And this year — the festival’s 14th — is no exception, with headliners including Alice Walker (celebrating the 30th anniversary of The Color Purple), Neil Gaiman, Michael Chabon, Rita Dove, and Katherine Boo, among the nearly 125 participants on this year’s schedule. Each of these writers anchors one of the festival’s five days, Sept. 26-30, as follows:
- Rita Dove, former Poet Laureate of the United States and recent recipient of the prestigious National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama, will receive this year’s Busboys and Poets Award on Fall for the Book’s opening night, Wednesday, September 26, at 8 p.m. in Harris Theatre on George Mason University’s Fairfax, Virginia, campus. Dove’s most recent collection is Sonata Mulattica. The Busboys and Poets Award is sponsored by Busboys and Poets, a restaurant, bookstore, fair trade market and gathering place based in Washington, DC.
- Alice Walker will discuss The Color Purple, her other writings, and her social and political activism on Thursday, September 27, at 3 p.m. in the Concert Hall, Center for the Arts, on Mason’s Fairfax campus. Among Walker’s most recent publications is Overcoming Speechlessness: A Poet Encounters the Horror in Rwanda, Eastern Congo, and Palestine/Israel.
- Neil Gaiman will accept the 2012 Mason Award, recognizing authors who have made extraordinary contributions to bringing literature to a wide reading public, on Friday, September 28, at 7:30 p.m. in the Concert Hall of Mason’s Center for the Arts. Gaiman is the creator and writer of the DC Comics series Sandman, winner of 12 Eisner Comic Industry Awards and a World Fantasy Award for best short story—making it the first comic ever to receive a literary award. Other works include American Gods; The Graveyard Book, the only title ever to win both the US’s and UK’s most prestigious awards given to children’s books, the Newbery and the Carnegie Medals; and Coraline, the latter the basis for the Oscar Nominated 2009 film.
- Katherine Boo will accept this year’s Mary Roberts Rinehart Award, presented annually to a woman writer of nonfiction, on Saturday, September 29, at 7:30 p.m. at the Sherwood Center, 3740 Old Lee Highway, in Fairfax, Virginia. Boo’s first book is Behind the Beautiful Forevers, which presents portraits of hope, injustice, and violence in the city of Mumbai, India. The Mary Roberts Rinehart Award commemorates the life and work of Rinehart, who for 45 years prior to her death in 1958 was one of America’s most popular writers.
- Michael Chabon will accept this year’s Fairfax Prize, honoring outstanding literary achievement and presented by the Fairfax Library Foundation, on the festival’s closing night, Sunday, September 30, at 6 p.m. in the Concert Hall of Mason’s Center for the Arts. Chabon’s novels include The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, a Pulitzer Prize winner among its other honors; The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, winner of both the Hugo and the Nebula Awards; and Telegraph Avenue, just released earlier this month.
But there’s also plenty more to be excited about, with a schedule that includes everything from mystery to history and from poetry to philosophy — along with a few topics as fresh as each morning’s headlines, such as the future of higher education and the issues driving the upcoming election. The full festival, with dates, times, and venues, can be found at www.fallforthebook.org — but here are just a few of the other events I’ve already tagged for my own calendar:
- Wednesday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. — Karen Russell, whose debut novel, Swamplandia!, joined Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams and David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King as this year’s finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction.
- Thursday, Sept. 27, 10:30 a.m. — Clifford Garstang, debuting his new novel-in-stories, What the Zhang Boys Know, along with short story writer Edward Belfar
- Thursday, Sept. 27, 6 p.m. — David Taylor, Andrew Wingfield, and David Ebenbach — recipients of the 2008, 2010, and 2012 fiction prizes from the Washington Writers’ Publishing House — reflecting on the craft of developing a short fiction collection
- Friday, Sept. 28, 1:30 p.m. — Contributors to Amazing Graces: Yet Another Collection of Fiction by Washington Area Women, edited by Richard Peabody, including Julie Agnone, Beth Konkoski, Tara Laskowski, Teresa Burns Murphy, Susan Sharpe, and Eugenia Tsutsumi (plus events featuring Christopher Coake and Dallas Hudgens just beforehand and featuring Nick Arvin and Matt Bondurant just afterwards)
- Friday, Sept. 28, 5:30 p.m. — Mystery Writers of America panel featuring Thomas Kaufman, Tracy Kiely, Sandra Parshall, and Joanna Campbell Slan, and moderated by Alan Orloff
- Saturday, Sept. 29, 10 a.m. — A self-publishing panel with Karen Cantwell, Matt Iden, Scott Nicholson, and Michael and Robin Sullivan
- Saturday, Sept. 29, 6 p.m. — Bestselling novelist Laura Lippman with her new book, And When She Was Good
- Sunday, Sept. 30, 1:30 p.m. — National Book Critics Circle Panel examining literary fiction and genre fiction and featuring acclaimed novelists Julianna Baggott, Louis Bayard, and Alma Katsu, and critic and Salon.com co-founder Laura Miller
Hope to see you at the festival! — Art Taylor