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April 12, 2024

Diverse literary styles showcased at Book Fest

By MARK RAPAPORT | September 28, 2011

The non-profit Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts (BOPA) organized their 16th Annual Baltimore Book Festival in Mount Vernon this past weekend. The three day event was packed with over 100 exhibits, author readings and panel discussions from nearly 200 local and celebrity authors.

The event attracted aspiring writers, interested readers and even families who wanted to expand their home libraries.

"It's great for the literary community, but it's also a festival," Tracy Baskerville, BOPA's Communications Director said. "Bring your kids out. Have fun. We have the Children's Bookstore Stage and the cartoon characters walking around. Clifford may be a cartoon, but Clifford is also in books." Baskerville has helped organize all 16 Book Fests.

New programming for this year's festival included the Baltimore Free School Literature and Language Tent, which offered a broad range of interactive workshops including poetry writing and bookbinding.

"Each year, we try to add new things to make it different and exciting every year," Baskerville said.

"It's not like a concert where you are just sitting there and being passive," Baskerville said. "There's a dialogue between the audience and presenters. I like the fact that it's very interactive and engaging."

One of the most crowd-drawing attractions of the event was a discussion with rapper, actor, author and activist, Common.

Common spoke about his new memoir, One Day It'll All Make Sense, and, with the help of his mother, discussed the importance of raising children properly in today's day and age, as well as what hip-hop as a music genre has amounted to today.

"As a whole, hip-hop has not provided the strength and creativity that it started with," Common said. "Hip-hop is lacking spiritual warriors. But I am optimist. . . I'm looking at hip-hop improving."

He took a few questions from the audience, and afterwards people lined up for a book signing of Common's memoir, which sold out at the fair.

"I came to the festival to attend a reading for my fiction and poetry course," freshman Eli Bernstein said. "Then out of nowhere I found out Common was going to be there. It was really cool to see one of my favorite rappers in person."

Other big name authors that presented at the festival included New York Times best-selling author Terry McMillan, whose 1992 novel, Waiting to Exhale later became a film starring Whitney Houston.

In addition, Native-American author, poet and screenwriter Sherman Alexie, one of The New Yorker's 20 top writers for the 21st century, talked about his award-winning novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

"The great part about this festival is the panel discussions," Baskerville said. "People can sit and talk to the authors, analyze subjects and found out tips on becoming a writer."

Authors presented at various stages set up around the festival. CityLit Project, a non-profit literary arts center, ran a stage at the festival devoted to giving lesser-known writers the opportunity to present their work.

"Our mission is to raise the awareness of and the appreciation for the literary arts," Gregg A. Wilhelm, CityLit founder and Executive Director, said. "If you think about it, of all the creative arts, the literary art is the only one that is inherently created in isolation through writing, and consumed in isolation though reading."

"So part of what we do is create dynamic opportunities to bring readers and writers together in a way that's both enlightening and also entertaining," Wilhelm added.

The books and attractions at the event were not limited to fiction and poetry enthusiasts. The "Food For Thought" Stage was set up to host culinary presentations where cookbook authors could not only present their recipes, but also cook and prepare food in front of the audience.

Cookbook author and winner of the fourth season of The Next Food Network Star, Aaron "Big Daddy" McCargo Jr., was among the presenting chefs.

"In the past we've had Emril Lagasse, Mario Batali and lot of other people from the Food Network," Baskerville said.

The festival did not exclusively consist of authors from big publishing companies. Many attending authors were self-published.

Cheryl Somers Aubin, graduate of the Johns Hopkins Masters in Writing program, exhibited her book self-published book, The Survivor Tree, inspired by the true story of an injured tree discovered at the World Trade Center after the terrorist attacks.

"It's a metaphor for what our country went through," Aubin said.

Aubin demonstrates that writing is more than just a career to her. All profits from her book went to 9/11- related charities.

"I didn't feel I should make money on the story," Aubin said. "I'm happy to give it away."

Hopkins played a significant role in the book festival both as a partner and as an exhibitor.

"Hopkins is a great partner with us," Baskerville said. "The George Peabody Library is open for programming. We've also partnered with The Johns Hopkins Press."

Hopkins set up a booth to exhibit their Master of Arts in Writing graduate program and promote their authors, Aubin being among them. This is the first year the MA in Writing Program has presented at the festival.

"We thought this was good way to find out if there were any writers out there that might be interested in our program," Karen Houppert, Nonfiction Advisor for the Hopkins MA in Writing Program, said. "And it would also be a good way for our graduates and faculty to promote their books."


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