COVER- Lit-a-palooza: Top picks in the <i>other</i> March Madness


In Charlottesville, March Madness has a slightly different meaning from the rest of the basketball-crazed universe. Sure, we keep one eye on the NCAA playoffs, but in a town where you can hardly spit without hitting an author or two, the big game for lit lovers is the annual Virginia Festival of the Book March 21-25.

In its 12th year, the Book Fest has swollen from an humble affair of 50 events in 1995 to more than three times that number this year– most of them free. 

Last year over 26,000 people attended the Festival, and there's no reason to think those numbers will decline this year. 

The thing about a book festival is that by nature it covers a wide range of topics and therefore offers the proverbial something for everyone. Okay, we didn't find any panels on car repair, but this year a lot of events are geared toward Jamestown and its 400-year celebration (and toward Appalachia, for some reason).

There are events for children and mystery lovers, and to help wannabe authors get published. We're not going to any of those, but they're there if you want them.

The cool addition to this year's festival is the Book Bag on its website,, where you can click to add events that interest you, and then decide which one you want to catch at, say, 2pm Friday. The Book Bag conveniently links to the participating authors.

Even with the Book Bag, it's all too easy to come up with far more events than one can attent. To help, the Hook herewith provides a peek into its own Book Bag of must-see events. 

We'll omit those that are sold-out, like the festival luncheon in the Omni, which regulars know sells out in about five minutes. They already have their tickets to see Doug Marlette. Or the Crime Wave luncheon with Lee Child, and the always-amusing Author's Reception at Carr's Hill, this year hosted by Earl Hamner, Lee Smith, and Hal Crowther. If you're desperate to break bread with an author, the March 21 Business Breakfast with minor-league baseball team owner Michael Veeck still has tickets available at press time. But don't dally.

Even with the Hook's expert assistance and day-by-day guide, you'll still find yourself having to choose between two or more events at the same time. That's why it's called March Madness.

Wednesday, March 21

Opening Ceremony. We like the opening ceremony as a way of stretching and getting warmed up for the long festival run ahead. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities director Rob Vaughan will make the first of many opening remarks, and it's fun to note how he varies them throughout the festival. The real draw, of course, is the announcement of the Hook's fiction winners, hand-picked this year by John Grisham. Gatsby's Girl author Caroline Preston kicks off the Big Read, in which millions are encouraged to read The Great Gatsby, and music is provided by the Silvertones. Noon at the McIntire Room in the Central Library on Market Street

Medical School Hour: Mary Roach Discusses Stiff. The festival's barely begun, and already we have a scheduling conflict. We're dying to hear Mary Roach talk about cadavers. Good thing the woman called the "funniest science writer in the country" has another event. 12:30pm, Jordan Conference Center Auditorium, UVA

Great Sports Stories: The Arenas, the Players, the Management. Chris Graham and Patrick Hite wrote for Charlottesville's oldest weekly paper, the Observer, before it went under. Now they've paired again to write Mad About U: Four Decades of Basketball at University Hall, a historical look that will become all the more poignant if U-Hall ends up rubble. Pete Williams, author of The Draft: A Year Inside the NFL's Search for Talent, and baseball franchise owner Mike Veeck, who hosts the breakfast for which tickets are still available and who wrote Fun Is Good, will also be at this event moderated by Charlottesville's own planning chief, Jim Tolbert. 2pm Student Bookstore on the Corner

Science Writers Tackle the Taboo. Another chance to catch Mary Roach, who also wrote Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife. She and Elizabeth Royte, author of Garbageland: On the Secret Trail of Trash, discuss writing about subjects too indelicate for polite society. Cool. 2pm UVA Bookstore

Lives Turned Upside Down: Fiction. Fiction readings are a good way to sample writers. We haven't heard of first novelist Heidi Boehringer or her book, Chasing Jordan, but the fact Harry Crews blurbed it is enough for us. With Braceface cartoon series creator Melissa Clark, public radio essayist Liam Callanan, and Potomac Review associate editor Katharine Davis. 4pm New Dominion Bookshop

Life Before Life: Children's Reports of Previous Lives. We're sensing a trend here. The late Dr. Ian Stevenson's successor at UVA in exploring reincarnation, Jim Tucker, gives new meaning to the term "born again" and looks at 40 years of research not normally done at top-ranked universities. Tucker, who's the medical director of UVA's Child Psychiatry Clinic, has written his own book, Life Before Life: A Scientific Investigation of Children's Memories of Previous Lives. 6pm McIntire Room, Central Library on Market Street

Sexual Health: Information to Arouse Your Mind. Who couldn't use a bracing, educational discussion about sex about now, along with a martini and a cigarette? Well, you'll have to wait for the latter, but Sexual Health editors (four volumes!) Mitchell Tepper and Annette Owens tell all– in an appropriate clinical setting. 6pm Martha Jefferson Outpatient Care Center

Thursday, March 22

What Makes a Discussible Book? If you've ever sat through inane book group discussions wondering, "Who picked this book?" here's a must-see event. Mary "Two Book Sense Picks" Sharratt (The Vanishing Point), Marisa "My first book has been optioned" de los Santos (Love Walked In), Lynn "Surry County setting" York (The Sweet Life), and Barbara "I publish Reading Group Choices" Mead tell how to stoke the ol' book group discussion fire. Ask 'em about kiss-of-death book group choices. Noon Gravity Lounge

Sagas of Jamestown: Lives and Times Reimagined. Jamestown is big at this year's festival, and if you can handle only one Jamestown event, this should be it. Local author and photographer team Avery Chenoweth and Robert Llewellyn have produced Empires in the Forest– not just a gorgeous coffee table book, but actually the real birth of a nation– and show how close we came to not being here at all. They're joined by John M. Thompson, who's written nine books for National Geographic, including the just-released The Journals of Captain John Smith: A Jamestown Biography. 2pm Vinegar Hill[This panel has been moved to the Preston Room in the Omni]

Coming of Age: Memoirs of Unique Life Experiences. We loved Original Sins and Kinflicks and Lisa Alther's latest, Kinfolks: Falling off the Family Tree– The Search for My Melungeon Ancestors, taps into another topic we can hardly get enough of: Melungeons, those mysterious, tri-racial Appalachians. This event also brings UVA grad/hot-sex writer Darcey "Suicide Blonde" Steinke, now teaching at Columbia and New School University. Steinke has an about-to-be-released new book, Easter Everywhere, a memoir about how she ended up writing about religion and sexual obsession– at least according to Publishers Weekly. And we're sure Lonely Soldier author Adam Harmon's memoir about being an Israeli soldier is fascinating, too. 4pm New Dominion Bookshop  

The Declaration of Independence: A Global History. Because you can never hear too much about the impact of the Declaration of Independence. Harvard prof David Armitage wrote the book, and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, the organization that runs Monticello, sponsors his discussion. 4pm the Jefferson Library, Kenwood Farm

Barbie Dolls, Ginseng, Moonshine, and Moonpies: Americana. These are a few of our favorite things. Shari Caudron tracks Barbie collectors and Star Wars fans in Who are You People? A Personal Journey into the Heart of Fanatical Passion in America. David Magee looks at an iconic Southern treat in Moonpie: Biography of an Out-of-This-World Snack. David A. Taylor has written award-winning documentaries for PBS, as well as Ginseng, the Divine Root, and Neal Thompson writes the authoritative book about 20th-century Southern culture on the skids– Driving with the Devil: How Southern Moonshine and Detroit Wheels Collided to Ignite NASCAR. We are so at this event. 6pm UVA Bookstore

How to Stop Screwing Up: A Substance Abuse Memoir. Former Albemarle magazine editor Martha Woodroof, now a reporter for WMRA, writes the only 12-step book we'd want to read: How to Stop Screwing Up: 12 Steps to Real Life and a Pretty Good Time. Sponsored by the Mental Health Association of Charlottesville-Albemarle. 6pm City Council Chambers

Our Environment: Green Grass, Pesticides, and Public Policy. More classic Americana with guys whose books sound interesting, despite all the colons: American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn author Ted Steinberg, UVA prof Ed Russell, who wrote War and Nature: Fighting Humans and Insects with Chemicals from World War I to Silent Spring, and University of Richmond journalism prof Steve Nash, who penned Millipedes and Moon Tigers: Science and Policy in an Age of Extinction. 7pm UVA Clark Hall Room 108

Friday, March 23

Lives Up Close: Portraits and Appreciations. Get there early for this one because it's sure to be SRO. The Waltons creator and Schuyler native son Earl Hamner is back in the Blue Ridge to talk about his newest book, Generous Women: An Appreciation. Donna Lucey inspired an appreciation for local eccentrics in her book, Archie and Amélie, and Gordonsville writer Charles Shields soldiered on with Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee, even when Lee associates closed ranks around the reclusive author. 10am Charlottesville-Albemarle Convention & Visitors Info Center

Women Pushing the Boundaries. Charlottesville wunderkind Caroline Weber graduated from Albemarle High and went on to have a brilliant career as an academic, teaching French literature at Barnard College and Columbia and writing the intriguing, well-received  Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution, which was excerpted in Vogue. With UVA College of Arts and Sciences assistant dean and lecturer Lorraine Gates Schuyler (The Weight of Their Votes: Southern Women and Political Leverage in the 1920s), and VCU creative writing prof Laura Browder (Her Best Shot: Women and Guns in America). 10am McIntire Room,  Central Jefferson Madison Regional Library

Changing the Constitution: The 14th Amendment and Judicial Activism. NPR/Slate fans will want to catch at least one of Dahlia Lithwick's Book Fest appearances. This one is with University of Oregon constitutional prof Garrett Epps, who writes serious tomes such as Democracy Reborn: The 14th Amendment and the Fight for Equal Rights in Post Civl War America, and yet can whip out a novel about a Virginia gubernatorial race called The Shad Treatment. Former Supreme Court clerk/Penn constitutional scholar/The Myth of Judicial Activism author Kermit Roosevelt III joins the discussion. Noon UVA Bookstore

Communities of Memory: Stories from the Holocaust and Beyond. UVA grad Daniel Mendelsohn blew away critics last year with The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million (and he's the subject of this week's Hot Seat). He's joined by Robert Satloff, the director of the Washington Institute for Near East policy and author of Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust's Long Reach into Arab Lands and Yaacob Dweck, who translated Haim Sabato's The Dawning of the Day. Noon New Dominion Bookshop

Current Literature in India and Pakistan. Just because we love settling down with a weighty tome from India like A Suitable Boy and have no idea what Pakistani literature is like. Mehr Farooqi and Robert A. Hueckstedt read new Hindi and Urdu translations. Plus they're at the best Book Fest venue. Noon UVA Rotunda

Disasters in Fact and Fiction. Like a train wreck, we can't look away. Local writer Stefan Bechtel chills with Roar of the Heavens, the story of Hurricane Camille, killer of 124 Nelson County residents in 1969, some of them never found. Katherine Weber has a double connection to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire– she wrote the novel Triangle, and her grandmother worked there in 1909. Ken Foster, who wrote The Dogs Who Found Me, survived both 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina with his formerly stray dogs, while Elise Blackwell's novel, The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish, is set in earlier flooding. 2pm Barnes & Noble

Graphic Nonfiction: Brave New Genre. Now we slap our foreheads and think, the 9/11 Report as a comic book, of course! But Sid Jacobson and artist Ernie Colon created The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation. With comic biographer Andy Helfer, who's written about Ronald Reagan and Malcolm X. 4pm Vinegar Hill[This event has been moved to the Preston Room in the Omni]

Women, Violence and Survival. Afghanistan under the Taliban gets the "Worst Place to Be a Woman" Award, and once the U.S. invaded, journalist Ann Jones spent four winters there to write Winter In Kabul. Amnesty International sponsors her and Terri Jentz, who documented her 1977 brutal, unsolved assault in Strange Piece of Paradise. 6pm UVA Bookstore

Muggles and Vampires: Fantasy Folklore. After a heavy dose of grim reality, mythical bloodsuckers sound like just the ticket. Gordonsville resident and Slavic folklore expert Bruce McClelland wrote Slayers and Their Vampires: A Cultural History of Killing the Dead, and he joins Fact, Fiction and Folklore in Harry Potter's World; Muggles and Magic writer George Beahm, whose fantasy creds span all the great Brit initialed writers– J.K. Rowling, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien– as well as Americans Anne Rice and Stephen King. 8pm Barnes & Noble


Saturday, March 24

All Governments Lie– and Journalists Who Told the Truth. Why should we care about Izzy Stone and Bernard Fall? Washington Post writer Myra MacPherson tackles the life of legendary newsman Stone, who was monitored by J. Edgar Hoover for 40 years, in All Governments Lie: The Life and Times of Rebel Journalist I. F. Stone. And how different the course of history would have been had Bernard Fall's account of the French failure in Vietnam been read as a cautionary tale by the U.S. Dorothy Fall discusses her memoir of her husband, Bernard Fall: Memories of a Soldier-Scholar. 10am UVA Bookstore

Altered State(s): American Culture Now. Another SRO event with Hal Crowther– whose Gather by the River was a 2006 National Book Critics Circle finalist– Daniel Mendelsohn and Dahlia Lithwick. Can you think of a better threesome to discuss cultural criticism today? 10am City Council Chambers

New Voices in African American Literature. Yeah, we know her as a city councilor and Madam Vice Mayor, but what kind of poet is Kendra Hamilton? Here's a chance to hear from The Goddess of Gumbo. With Ravi Howard (Like Trees, Walking), Sonnie Beverly (Saved Folk in the House), and Eugene Williams Jr. (I Am the Darker Brother). Noon McIntire Room,  Central Jefferson Madison Regional Library

The Annual Keenan Lecture: Writing The Wire. The Wire fans will be crawling out of the woodwork to see the creator and head writer of the critically acclaimed HBO series, David Simon, and novelist/screenwriter/Wire producer George Pelecanos talk about writing drama for television. Did we mention it's been called the best show on TV? 2pm Gravity Lounge

Comfort Food: Specialty Cookbooks. Getting a little hungry? We just hope somebody in this cavalcade of cookbook writers brings samples: Waynesboro resident Mollie Cox Bryan, who wrote Mrs. Rowe's Restaurant Cookbook: A Lifetime of Recipes from the Shenandoah Valley, England-born Virginia Lee, who serves up An Eyeful of Trifle, Kendra Bailey Morris, who dishes on White Trash Gatherings, and Lonnette Parks (Sisler), who lives in Palmyra, from whence we can smell her cooking up The Mason Jar Cookie Cookbook. 4pm Barnes & Noble

Sex, Lies, and Violence: Crime Wave. We weren't going to tout any mystery events until we noticed Charlottesvillian Matthew Jones is on this panel, and we loved the movie based on his 1999 novel, Deepwater, and keep meaning to read him. Plus, sex, lies, violence– what's not to like about that topic? With black belt author Barry Eisler, whose The Last Assassin is fifth in a series about a Japanese-American freelance assassin, festival regular M.J. Rose, who's got the sex thing down and whose latest is The Venus Fix, bestselling author Lisa Unger, whose new book, Sliver of Truth, "grabs the reader by the throat and doesn't let go" (according to Publishers Weekly), and Robert Walker, who has written 43 novels under four pen names, most recently Chicago-set City for Ransom. 4pm Omni Salon A

Why Write About Nature? The Southern Environmental Law Center is trying a different tack to raise environmental awareness: good writing. Award-winning writers Janisse Ray (Ecology of a Cracker Childhood) and John Lane (Chattooga: Descending into the Myth of Deliverance River) will read from SELC's annual writing award winners and discuss the power of the word to reverse environmental destruction and restore natural landscapes in the South. Oh, and happy 20th birthday, SELC! 4pm Southern Environmental Law Center 

Forty Million Dollar Slaves: Sports and the Black Athlete. If you've missed fiery, former dean of African-American Affairs Rick Turner since he was indicted and copped a plea for lying to the feds about a drug dealer, here's a chance to catch him in his role as Charlottesville-Albemarle NCAAP president, chatting it up with William C. Rhoden, who wrote Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete. 8pm UVA Bookstore

Transformations: An Evening of Fiction. It's too late to try to corner Grundy native Lee Smith at the Carr's Hill Author's Reception if you don't already have a ticket, but you can hear her read from her newest book, On Agate Hill. She shares the stage with two-time National Book Award nominee Howard Norman, who reads from his latest book, Devotion, and Luis Alberto Urrea, whose epic novel, The Hummingbird's Daughter, is based on the story of his great-aunt Teresita in pre-revolutionary Mexico. 8pm Albemarle County Office Building

Sunday, March 25

Figured in Fiction: Literary Figures as Characters. Almost as good as reading Fitzgerald, Browning, and Poe is reading about them as characters in novels. In Gatsby's Girl, Charlottesville writer Caroline Preston imagined Scott Fitzgerald and his early relationship with the girl who became the inspiration for Daisy Buchanan, among other Fitzgerald anti-heroines. Dickens' Tiny Tim grows up in Louis Bayard's Mr. Timothy, which was a New York Times Notable Book in 2003, and Edgar Allan Poe helps solve horrific murders at West Point in Bayard's The Pale Blue Eye, which was nominated for an Edgar. Author Mameve Medwed uses Elizabeth Barrett Browning's chamber pot as a critical plot device in How Elizabeth Barrett Browning Saved My Life. 1:30pm McIntire Room, Central Library on Market Street

Virginia Politics: Where Have We Been, Where Are We Going? This is question often pondered by Virginia citizens, especially with the General Assembly so recently in session, and Frank Atkinson is the man to know. A partner in McGuireWoods, he served in Reagan's DOJ, in Governor George Allen's cabinet, is chairman of the Jamestown 400th Commemoration Commission, and wrote Virginia in the Vanguard: Political Leadership in the 400-Year-Old Cradle of American Democracy. Knowledgeable sources Atkinson and The Shad Treatment author Garrett Epps talk with another man who knows something about Virginia politics, Daily Progress political reporter Bob Gibson. 1:30pm City Council Chamber

Press Pass: From the White House to the World. Legendary White House correspondent Helen Thomas, 86, has covered every president since John Kennedy and has written Front Row at the White House and Watchdogs of Democracy. She shares a panel with former UPI colleague Margaret Kilgore, who wrote Remember to Laugh: Writing My Way Around the World, Betty DeRamus (Forbidden Fruit), and Alicia Shepard (Woodward and Bernstein). Brought to you by the Daily Progress. 3pm Albemarle County Office Building

SIDEBAR- The homecoming: Hamner's Blue Ridge state of mind 

"I'm in Santa Monica, looking at the ocean," said Schuyler's most famous native son last week. "It's a little bit foggy and quite warm."

But Earl Hamner's scenery is about to change, and he'll soon be facing east when he returns to the region he popularized with his hit series, The Waltons, for the Virginia Festival of the Book.

"I'm looking forward to it," he says in a recent phone conversation. "I always fly to Washington and drive down 29. It gives me time to decelerate."

Hamner won't get much deceleration time while he's back in the Old Dominion. He's on a March 23 Book Fest panel where he'll talk about his new book, Generous Women: An Appreciation. 

The following night, he hosts the Author's Reception at Carr's Hill with Lee Smith and Hal Crowther. And in his typical gracious fashion, he flatters the couple he's never met. "Lee gave me a wonderful quote for the book," he says, "and I admire her husband. He's a wonderful essayist."

Hamner will be over in Nellysford March 25 for a reading at the Earl Hamner Theater. Another reading is scheduled at the University of Richmond, and he's invited down to Roanoke for the 125th anniversary of its founding. 

And then there are family and friends to squeeze in between readings.

He'll be back on the East Coast in June for a reading at Berea College in Kentucky. The school's literary magazine, Appalachian Heritage, is devoting an entire issue to him featuring his Twilight Zone script called "The Hunt," and "some doggerel," says Hamner. "I'm honored."

In between all the traveling, he's working on a book of short stories. "I met with Ray Bradbury," he says. "He's still writing a story a day at 88. I figured I could write a story a week at 83."

Another project is adapting Heidi, for which he wrote the 1968 TV movie screenplay that famously preempted the end of one of the most memorable football games in NFL history, between the Joe Namath-led New York Jets and the Oakland Raiders. 

"I'm adapting the story to the Blue Ridge Mountains," he says. "I think it would be fun for young people. I've wanted to do it for a long time."

So what about slowing down a little bit? "I enjoy writing," laughs Hamner. "If I don't write every day, I feel guilty and have to tell my shrink."

Earl Hamner can come home again.

SIDEBAR- Prodigal daughter: AHS alum lends French touch to fest



When Caroline Weber stood onstage as valedictorian at Albemarle High School's 1987 graduation ceremony, the world was her oyster. Now, 20 years later, she's found the pearl: she has a career steeped in all things français as a French professor at Columbia and author of a national bestseller. And Weber comes full circle as she returns home as a featured speaker at this year's Festival of the Book.

"The irony is that my work has taken me all over the world, but never to Charlottesville," she says. "It's very much like a homecoming."

In Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution, Weber argues that Marie Antoinette's fashion choices changed world history.

"When she first became Queen of France," Weber explains, "she tried to make the people fall in love with her, but her clothing decisions were often so radical that she turned the public against her."

Weber offers an example. "She had these dresses made of muslin called chemise dresses that sort of had what we think of as a 'Friday casual' look to them, which she favored over stuffy, rigid costumes of the court. But," Weber notes, "Muslin was an English import."

It's a long journey from Mr. Jefferson's backyard to the palace at Versailles, but the professor says her interest began in her French class at AHS.

"Mrs. Lederman– I never knew her first name– was the most enthusiastic teacher I've had anywhere, and I'd include Harvard and Yale in that," says Weber. "She inspired me to study the language and the literature because she was so in love with her subject, it was infectious."

Festivalgoers have two chances to catch that enthusiasm directly from Weber as she participates in a forum on women authors on Friday, March 23, at 10am in Central Library and signs books at noon on Saturday, March 24, at Lynne Goldman Studio in Barracks Road Shopping Center.

Caroline Weber

Caroline Preston's 2006 book, Gatsby's Girl, ties in nicely with the Big Read, the plot to get everyone in America to read The Great Gatsby.

John Grisham picked the winners of this year's fiction contest.

Stiff and Spook author Mary Roach is an expert on cadavers and the afterlife– from a scientific POV.

Donna Lucey joins Earl Hamner and Charles Shields to talk about other people.


UVA grad Daniel Mendelsohn just won the National Book Critics Circle Award for The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million.

Stefan Bechtel delved into Hurricane Camille.

Spare the vampire jokes around Gordonsville author Bruce McClelland, who wroter Slayers and Their Vampires: A Cultural History of Killing the Dead.

The Wire creator David Simon will be at Gravity Lounge March 24 with writer George Pelecanos.

Hal Crowther has been called the "best essayist working in journalism today"– and he's married to Lee Smith.