Literary Washington: Where to get your fix when the book festival ends
By Jess Righthand,
There’s no shortage of bibliophiles in Washington. But for one weekend each year, when the white tents rise for the National Book Festival, literature moves to the forefront of the city’s consciousness. The festival this year brings some of the most highly regarded authors in the country to the Mall, including Geraldine Brooks, T.C. Boyle, Sandra Cisneros, Gail Tsukiyama and Lois Lowry.
Tens of thousands of people will congregate to hear their favorite authors read from their works both published and unpublished (last year, overflowing audiences hung on Dave Eggers’s every word as he read from his work in progress, “A Hologram for the King,” which was then published this June).
When the festivities wind down and the dust settles on the Mall, what are the bookish among us to do? Fortunately, there is a bustling literary scene in the District that goes far beyond the festival.
Joe Killiany and Dan Brady, editors of the D.C. literary magazine Barrelhouse, attest that literature is alive and well here. “I think it’s kind of on the edge of really exploding,” Brady says of the city’s literary scene. “We’re all working together now, and I feel like things are really going to pick up.”
Brady says the area’s universities and major arts establishments help support a literary subculture. “I think D.C. is kind of interesting because the people who do the kind of on-the-ground arts stuff, some of them also have jobs at those fully established places, like the Library of Congress or PEN/Faulkner, you know? Those people all have side projects, so while it’s kind of stratified, it’s also connected in a way.”
So how can you get involved in this community of self-avowed bookworms? Here’s a brief rundown of local happenings, literary reviews and Web sites to fuel your love of literature.
Fall for the Book Kicking off Wednesday, this annual festival is hosted by George Mason University and draws some of the biggest names in literature. This year’s lineup is especially interesting: Alice Walker will speak on the 30th anniversary of “The Color Purple,” and Michael Chabon, Rita Dove and Neil Gaiman also are slated to give readings. Wednesday-Sept. 30. Various locations. www.fallforthebook.org.
Three Tents Reading Series From the literary review Big Lucks comes this bimonthly event at the Big Hunt in Dupont Circle, featuring readings by MFA students at area universities and independent authors on book tours. The next reading is Oct. 21. The Big Hunt, 1345 Connecticut Ave. NW. www.biglucks.com/readings.
Stories on Stage This new reading series organized by Barrelhouse features local actors doing dramatic readings of works published in indie presses and magazines. At the most recent event, “Dispatches From the Office,” actors Thembi Duncan and Mia Branco read works by Jen Fawkes and Melissa Yancy. D.C. Arts Center, 2438 18th St. NW. www.barrelhousemag.com.
PEN/Faulkner series These readings at the Folger Shakespeare Library kick off Monday with Jeffrey Eugenides, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel “Middlesex.” He will read from his latest novel, “The Marriage Plot.” The rest of the season includes readings by Robert Stone and Lauren Groff (Nov. 12) and James Salter (Dec. 7). Locations vary. www.folger.edu.
826 DC volunteering The Washington branch of author Dave Eggers’s children’s nonprofit group is more of a general tutoring center for underprivileged youth in the area. But Brady says volunteers are often active participants in the D.C. arts scene. 3233 14th St. NW. 202-525-1074. www.826dc.org.
Politics and Prose Former journalists Bradley Graham and Lissa Muscatine purchased Politics & Prose in 2011. They continued the store’s series of readings by authors of both fiction and non-fiction.Author Naomi Wolf reads from her new book about what it means to be a woman in today’s society. 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202-364-1919. www.politics-prose.com.
The Writer’s Center If attending readings inspires you to put your fingers to the keyboard, the Writer’s Center is an invaluable resource for honing the craft. It also hosts mostly free readings; Debra Spark and Lucille Lang Day read Sept. 30 and German author Ingo Schulze reads Oct. 4. 4508 Walsh St., Bethesda. 301-654-8664. www.writer.org.
Busboys and Poets This local hotspot is revered by musicians, poets and foodies alike. Busboys and Poets hosts a variety of concerts, readings, screenings and discussions at each of its locations at 14th Street NW, Fifth Street NW, Shirlington and Hyattsville. For complete listings and location information, visit www.busboysand poets.com.
Adams Memorial In Section E of Rock Creek Cemetery is a bronze statue marking the grave of author Henry Adams’s wife, Marian “Clover” Hooper Adams, who committed suicide in 1885. The sculpture is by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and the hexagonal plot was designed by architect Stanford White. Rock Creek Church Road and Webster Street NW.
F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Fitzgerald burial site Many don’t realize that the celebrated author of “The Great Gatsby” is buried in Rockville, next to his wife, Zelda. St. Mary’s Catholic Church, 520 Veirs Mill Rd., Rockville.
Site of “The Exorcist” William Blatty’s 1971 bestseller, “The Exorcist,” also spawned the wildly popular 1973 horror film. Blatty was a student at Georgetown University, and the film was shot at spots throughout the neighborhood, including a house at 3600 Prospect St. NW and the public staircase nearby that is the site where Father Damien Karras falls to his death in the film.
St. Elizabeth’s Hospital Modernist writer Ezra Pound was institutionalized at this psychiatric hospital for more than 12 years. He was sent there after being detained for treason by Americans in Italy at the end of World War II. Pound’s visitors included such luminaries as T.S. Eliot and William Carlos Williams. 1100 Alabama Ave. SE.
Dupont Circle Metro Walt Whitman may never have ridden the Metro, but the Dupont Circle station is nonetheless marked with his words. The following excerpt from his 1865 poem “The Wound Dresser” was inscribed on the station’s cylindrical walls in 2007: “Thus in silence in dreams’ projections, / Returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hospitals; / The hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand, / I sit by the restless all the dark night — some are so young; / Some suffer so much — I recall the experience sweet and sad . . .” Dupont Circle north entrance NW.
Beltway Poetry Quarterly
Kim Roberts edits this 12-year-old online poetry review, and it is now one of the longest-standing literary publications in the area. www.washingtonart.com/beltway/
Gargoyle Another veteran of Washington’s literary scene is Richard Peabody, who edits this annual literary review. The magazine publishes new poets and writers as well as authors who may have been overlooked by the mainstream. www.gar goylemagazine.com.
Sakura review Started by former MFA students at the University of Maryland, Sakura publishes poetry and prose with an urban flavor. www.sakurareview.com.
Barrelhouse Founded in 2005 by a group of peers at the Writer’s Center, Barrelhouse champions poetry, fiction and literary non-fiction with a pop-culture angle. Past non-fiction selections have dealt with Patrick Swayze as well as the Barry Bonds steroid controversy. www.barrelhousemag.com.
Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review Housed at the Johns Hopkins University writing program, this online and print review favors an eclectic selection of work from both emerging and established writers. www.thedoctortjeckleburgreview.com.
Big Lucks This quarterly print publication selects fiction and non-fiction that is experimental or conceptual. Says the Big Lucks Web site: “Our only requirement is that your work change our lives.” www.big lucks.com.