ANNUAL MANUAL- WORDS- Book it! Beaucoup opportunities to read, write, schmooze

Time flies when you're having a good time, and most people in Charlottesville who love books would probably concede that they're having a good time most of the time– especially in the spring when the Festival of the Book takes over the town.

This year (March 18-22, 2009) marks the 15th anniversary of the Festival– further evidence of time's winged chariot zipping along at break-neck speed. It seems like only yesterday that the first few festivals were struggling into existence. The 1997 festival, for example, hosted "over 150 exciting events with John Grisham and more than 100 other writers," according to the Festival archive. Last year, by contrast, 232,580 people flocked to town to hear more than 300 authors at more than 200 events. 

The upcoming festival is still in the planning stages (authors' proposals are due by October 1), but based on previous events, it's sure to be stimulating and fun.

Folks without the herding instinct can still satisfy their bookish urges around town. Barnes & Noble in Barracks Road, the New Dominion Bookshop on the Downtown Mall, the Quest Bookshop on Main Street (and even the new WriterHouse on Dale Avenue) offer chances to hear and schmooze with authors in more intimate settings. The Jefferson-Madison Library system is comprehensive in its reach with programs ranging from morning toddler and evening bedtime stories (where participants are encouraged to come in their jammies) to special book groups for teens and adults. Crafts and field trips are sometimes part of the fun at JMRL events.

While the University of Virginia plays in the big leagues in medicine, law, and business, its creative writing program is no slouch, with on-staff luminaries such as Charles Wright, John Casey, Christopher Tilghman, and Deborah Eisenberg. The creative writing graduate program regularly hosts readings by students, your chance perhaps to hear the John Irvings and Anne Tylers of tomorrow.

More scholarly itches can be scratched at UVA, of course, at seminars for community scholars in the continuing education program, and chances to meet academic authors at readings and signings at the Harrison Small Special Collection, the architecture school, or the Darden Business School libraries. The Miller Center of Public Affairs, one of the few institutions in the country collecting oral histories of past presidents, also offers seminars, forums, and roundtable discussions, often with prominent political figures.

Writers interested in actually creating their own works have multiple opportunities for honing their craft. Classes in creative writing, poetry, screenwriting and non-fiction are offered at Piedmont Virginia Community College, in UVA's continuing education classes, and at the Charlottesville Writing Center downtown. Live Arts, a community theater space, holds classes in script writing and offers dramatists the chance to see their works performed in actors' lab sessions.

And when the fruits of all that labor are polished and ready for market, several competitions offer the opportunity to win fame and fortune. The mac daddy of all, of course, is the Hook fiction contest in the spring– judged recently and in 2009 by none other than the real mac daddy, John Grisham. But the "Writer's Eye" competition at the UVA Art Museum, and smaller competitions such as one at the esoteric Hypocrite Press, keep everyone with ambition on their toes.