Booked: Apres la fete
It was a book fest marked by anniversaries: the 10th anniversary of the Virginia Festival of the Book; the 30th of its parent, the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, and the 50th anniversary of the defining court decision of the 20th century, Brown v. Board of Education.
Such momentous occasions resulted in even more authorly star power than usual. Garrison Keillor, Michael Chabon, Michael Ondaatje, and Clyde Edgerton joined festival regular David Baldacci, civil rights hero John Stokes, and more than 300 others connected with the word in the five-day adulation to all things literary.
The events ranged from utter hilarity to somber reality, from the how-to's of publishing to the sheer pleasures of the published product.
For five days, Charlottesville celebrated joie du livre.
You can tell it's an important event if Rob Vaughan is there: At the festival's opening March 24, the head of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities does the first of many introductions. "That's what I do for five days," he says at Ondaatje's event on March 27, and he manages to maneuver through the festival without repeating himself– mostly.
Let them eat cake: The festival kicks off with 10 birthday cakes, including the crowd favorite: a replica of the fest's open-book-with-flowers logo by HotCakes.
Finally, some good budget news: Albemarle Board of Supes Chair Lindsay Dorrier mentions that Albemarle's just-passed budget includes $10,000 for next year's festival.
Three men who can rest on their laurels: Vaughan presents festival founders Tom Dowd, Paul Collinge, and Cal Otto with a poem by George Garrett.
Oh yeah, one more anniversary: It's Prairie Home Companion's 30th birthday as well, Vaughan notes in his March 24 introduction of Garrison Keillor at the Charlottesville Performing Arts Center.
He is whistlin' "Dixie": Only Keillor could get away with singing the politically incorrect tune in front of a huge NPR crowd.
Who knew a recitation of "Frankie and Johnny" could be so moving: Keillor pays homage to a literary influence from the fourth grade.
Why the French are different: "In France, everyone walks like they're a star in their own movies," Keillor observes after a recent trip. Even if going to pick up a baguette, "They move forward as if bound for an assignation or an assassination."
"You should never tell a writer anything": Keillor admits he picked up enough material to continue Prairie Home Companion for two or three more years after plying his siblings with good wine on their European vacation and writing down everything they said.
Flattery will get you anywhere: North Carolinian Clyde Edgerton tells the sold-out March 25 festival luncheon crowd at the Omni, "In North Carolina, we always looked up to Virginia and down on South Carolina and that doesn't just have to do with geography."
Festival trend– the singing author: Keillor isn't the only writer to belt out a tune. Edgerton serenades with songs like "I'm Fat from Shame" and "All I Wanted Was a Can of Pork and Beans" and offers CDs for sale along with his books.
Seeing double: Literary twins Robert and Richard Bausch read at Barnes and Noble March 25.
Book we were most tempted to buy: Robert Bausch's Gypsy Man.
Reading that had us closest to tears: Richard Bausch's short story, "Byron the Lyron."
Rare sighting: The late UVA prof Bill Elwood's The Road to Brown, the story of Charles Hamilton Houston, "the man who killed Jim Crow," is screened March 25.
Ah-ha moment: National Geographic photographer Sam Abell demonstrates to a standing room-only crowd March 26 at Vinegar Hill the art of seeing by showing the rejected photos that lead to the one that appears in the pages of National Geo.
Unread book on our shelf that's moved to the top of the heap: The Known World, after UVA alum Edward P. Jones' reading from his award-winning story of fictitious Manchester County in 1844 where freed blacks owned slaves.
Response we've been waiting to hear from a writer: "People want me to analyze the things I do, and I can't do that," Jones tells the packed crowd at UVA Bookstore March 26.
We wish it were a fictitious story about a fictitious county in Virginia: Prince Edward County, called the only county in the western hemisphere that closed its schools for five years, is the topic of the March 26 Brown v. Board of Education panel, with firsthand accounts of slavery's legacy in the struggle to integrate its schools.
Chant of the students who challenged Jim Crow segregation: "Two bits, four bits, six bits, a dollar. All for a strike stand up and holler," student leader John Stokes recalls of that day in April 1951, when students walked out of the Robert R. Moton High School and into history as part of the Brown case.
No buses to get to the back of: Stokes had to walk 4.5 miles along U.S. 15 in the first grade, and panelist Dorothy Holcomb, in the fourth grade in 1959 when the Prince Edward schools closed, had to walk three miles.
How to go to school in Appomattox: Holcomb's father rented a house in the county 15 miles away that "wasn't fit to live in," and 17 children waited to get on the bus there every morning.
The difference between integration and desegregation: Respect, according to Gerald Foster, author of Silent Trumpets of Justice: Integration's Failure in Prince Edward County.
"I'm the moderator here": VFH's Amy Tillerson, who graduated from Prince Edward High, has to control her audience when the discussion on race gets a little testy.
Michael Ondaatje myth dispelled: The author of The English Patient denies that forensic anthropologist and senior VFH fellow Victoria Sanford is the model for the "much more badly behaved" protagonist in his new book, Anil's Ghost. He shares the stage with Sanford, author of Buried Secrets, whom he met in Guatemala, where she was taking testimony from the survivors of massacres in that country.
Question that sends the Ondaatje audience running toward the doors and prompts a moderator to raise a card that says, "End session": "Is your work transformative?"
What Michael Chabon wants written on his tombstone: "He wrote an unused treatment for X-Men," courtesy of Virginia Quarterly Review editor Ted Genoways' introduction. Chabon reads an unpublished chapter from The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay, and plugs the Review that carries it as sure to be a collector's item.
That's the thing about short stories: "I was tired of slice of life, the key fragile moments in a character's life," confesses Chabon, who was inspired to "revivify" the genre and who edited the short story collection, McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales.
One more Chabon pet peeve: He doesn't like it that writers are categorized and put into their own sections for example, sci-fi– in bookstores. "The whole idea of sections bothers me. I think it should just be fiction."
Sneak preview of Chabon's new novel: The Yiddish Policeman's Union, the what-if story of 2.5 million Jews settling in southern Alaska after World War II to form a Yiddish-speaking part of the United States. "And an otherwise conventional murder mystery," the author reveals.
National Book Award finalist Edward P. Jones didn't get a totally free ride from UVA: "They gave me a scholarship but I still had to pay a lot of money," he says, following a glowing introduction by former teacher John Casey.
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO