Economies of scale: Slimmer 15th Book Fest detailed

Nancy Damon is the book festival's program director and chief cheerleader.

Like everything else, the Virginia Festival of the Book has been hit by the economic downturn. A lot of corporate funding has evaporated, and the festival is turning to individual donors and more paid events.

That said, the 15th Virginia Festival of the Book boasts headliners like John Grisham, Rita Dove, Boyd Tinsley, and WKRP in Cincinnatii star/author Tim Reid. Some events have already sold out, such as "Wine and Words" with David Baldacci and Adriana Trigiani, who's also the speaker at the sold-out festival lunch.

Other popular events likely to sell out: The March 18 Business Breakfast features Predictably Irrational author Dan Ariely, an economist who studies behavior; the Crime Wave Luncheon March 21 with Brad Meltzer, and the Authors Reception, also on March 21, hosted by Tim and Daphne Reid and Katherine Neville.

Most festival events have been free– and they still are. But this year festival-goers can buy a $15 Headline Events Pass to make sure they get in to see Grisham. Festival director Nancy Damon recounts how last year, Culbreth Theatre was 200 to 300 people over capacity to see Greg Mortensen. "It was scary," she says.

Last year's festival had 171 programs for adults; this year's March 18-22 schedule holds 131, according to associate festival director Kevin McFadden. And paid events such as the March 20 evening with former poet laureate of the United States Rita Dove and Dave Matthews Band violinist Boyd Tinsley are not fundraisers. The $10 admission covers the costs of holding it at the Paramount and helps raise the $200,000 it costs to put on the Virginia Festival of the Book, says McFadden.

After the success of last year's movie, Twilight, and HBO's True Blood, the book fest sinks its teeth into vampire trendiness with a March 21 program, "The Quick and the Undead" with three authors– Kim Harrison (White Witch, Black Curse), Mario Acevedo (Jailbait Zombie), and Eric Nuzum (The Dead Travel Fast)– who work in that genre. Hiphop fans get an event at March 21– "Hiphop Speaks to Children"– with former Hook music writer/Beetnix member Damani Harrison.

Last year, 23,580 attended the five-day event. "We're really proud of our impact on the economy," says Susan Coleman, director of the Virginia Center for the Book, which runs the book festival. "People come and stay in hotels, they buy books, they eat in restaurants."

And even with the slimmed down program, "We still have six events in every slot," says Coleman, unlikely to please attendees who complain about too many choices.

1 comment

I am so pleazed to be the first to comment on this articul.

The Festuval of the Book is THE place in town for all of us literati to gather in. I--and many of the writers other in this town--wish Ms. Damon lots of succsex for the time she runs the Festuval of the Book in her dedication to this celebrashin of literacy that so many people will decide to attend in.