Book lovers, rejoice. Richard Russo and Jodi Picoult will be among the nearly 150 writers at this year’s Fall for the Book, spearheaded by George Mason University. Almost 23,000 people are expected to attend the readings, panel discussions and exhibits held at various locations around Washington, Northern Virginia and Maryland from Sept. 11 to 18.
Four special awards will be conferred during the festival. The winners, along with a list of attending authors, were announced Thursday:
* Russo, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his 2001 novel “Empire Falls,” will receive the festival’s highest honor, the Fairfax Prize for lifetime achievement, sponsored by the Fairfax Library Foundation.
* Picoult, the author of more than 20 novels, will receive the Mason Award, which recognizes an author who has “made an extraordinary contribution to connecting literature to the wide reading public.” Her upcoming novel, “Leaving Time,” will be published in October.
* Martín Espada has been named winner of the Busboys and Poets Award co-sponsored by the Busboys and Poets bookstores in Washington. The prize is given in honor of Langston Hughes, who worked as a busboy in Washington in the 1920s. Espada’s latest collection of poems is “The Trouble Ball,” and his 2006 collection, “The Republic of Poetry,” was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
* Eula Biss will receive this year’s Mary Roberts Rinehart Award, given each year to a female writer of nonfiction. Biss’s 2008 essay collection “Notes from No Man’s Land” won a National Book Critics Circle Award. Early copies of her upcoming book, “On Immunity: An Inoculation,” will be available at the festival.
For more than a decade, Fall for the Book has taken place in the shadow of the National Book Festival. But this year, the Library of Congress has moved the NBF three weeks earlier, to Aug. 30, which gives the smaller festival more breathing room. “I am happier not to be in as direct competition for attention this year,” says Fall for the Book executive director William Miller. “But the ‘Nat’ has its mission and Fall for the Book has such a large, complex mission, with numerous moving parts — we really are very different enterprises, even if somewhat focused on accomplishing some of the same ends.”
And the intimacy of Fall the Book events has its advantages. “Readers have the opportunity to meet authors, listen to them, talk to them, mix and mingle with them in close proximity,” says Miller.
Now in its 16th year, Fall for the Book includes authors in a wide variety of subjects, including memoir, science, education and history. Washington Post writer David Finkel and Washington Post Food section editor Joe Yonan will be among the featured writers, as will the most recent winner of the National Book Award for Poetry, Mary Szybist.
The festival will also offer a rare chance to hear Sophie Hannah, the British thriller writer who won permission from Agatha Christie’s estate to write the first-ever “new” Christie novel. Forthcoming this fall, “The Monogram Murders” resurrects the famed detective Hercule Poirot. Hannah’s appearance at the festival — one of only two she has scheduled in the United States — was facilitated by the local Mid-Atlantic Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Is it an accident that she’ll be speaking the day after Agatha Christie’s 124th birthday? Get a clue.
For a full schedule of the authors at this year’s Fall for the Book, go to www.fallforthebook.org.