Maine's Book Event: A Real Page Turner

Besides Maine's inaugural literary festival next month, Camden offers scenery, shopping and fine dining.
Besides Maine's inaugural literary festival next month, Camden offers scenery, shopping and fine dining. (By Carol Latta -- Camden-rockport-lincolnville Chamber Of Commerce)
By Elise Hartman Ford
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, October 15, 2006

Midcoast Maine in mid-autumn is glorious: The weather is crisp and clear, golden leaves drift to earth in the dwindling sunlight, harbors uncluttered by tour boats reveal views of wooded islands across the water, and the small towns up and down the coast settle back into their off-season selves.

But don't take my word for it. Consider this more personal take, penned by a famous Maine writer:

"Each October for the last several years, my daughters and I have climbed nearby Mount Megunticook, which overlooks the ragged midcoast. From the cliffs at the top, the village where we live sits almost directly below. If the sun is bright and the sky cloudless -- and such a day will always be available in mid-October -- the reflection of light off the ocean can be almost painful, its shimmer musically surreal. Toss in a couple of schooners under full sail, just barely identifiable for what they are from such a height, a vast carpet of peak foliage extending as far as the eye can see, and a plain white church steeple or two, and a middle-aged man with two smart, college-bound daughters just might -- despite his hereditary inclinations -- find himself guilty of optimism."

If you've ever visited Camden, Maine, you might recognize it from this description. And if you haven't, you might want to consider a visit this fall. In addition to all the joys of the season, something else is afoot that adds further reason to travel there. What have you got on the calendar for the first weekend in November?

On Friday, Nov. 3, the little town of Camden launches the state's first literary festival, with the theme "Celebrating the Spirit of Place: The Maine Literary Tradition." The excerpt above is from an essay on autumn written by Pulitzer Prize winner and Camden resident Richard Russo, and there's plenty more where that came from. Over the course of the weekend, festival-goers will experience Maine and its literature in heady combinations as they listen to 21 authors present Maine in their own words. Russo keynotes the festival Friday night and closes the event Sunday. During breaks or in the evening, the picturesque host town of Camden awaits: mountains and sea, fine inns, good restaurants, irresistible shops.

Maine is not only the latest, it's also the last state to jump on the literary festival bandwagon. Every other state stages at least one annual festival, with Florida claiming the highest number, 15 at last count and, arguably, the most popular: the Key West Literary Seminar, whose location and stunning array of big-name panelists make it a sold-out event every January.

Anyone looking for an excuse to travel, if excuses were needed, will find it in these literature fairs. The Library of Congress, no less, is your enabler. Go to the Library of Congress's Center for the Book Web site, , click on "Festivals/ Events," and behold the variety of annual book events and locales on tap, listed alphabetically, chronologically and by state. Many entries include a link to the festival's Web site. Fancy a trip to Martha's Vineyard? Chicago? Honolulu? Would you like to: Hear cowboys recite poetry at home on the range? Celebrate the literature of Arkansas in Little Rock? Attend a symposium on John Steinbeck in Salinas, Calif.? From sprawling, convention-center-size book fairs, whose main purpose is to sell books, to intimate gatherings intended to promote a particular genre or author, multiple choices present themselves every single month.

"Some are humanities-based, some more literary, some are storytelling festivals," says John Y. Cole, director of the Library of Congress's Center for the Book, as well as author coordinator for the capital's own National Book Festival, held on the Mall each September. The events offer festival-goers a chance to hobnob with favorite writers, enthuse over books, feel connected to a community of readers and writers, and enjoy the location's attractions.

Best of all are those festivals that offer attendees a different sort of travel experience -- one that wraps them in the language and lore of the region, arms them with historical and literary perspectives upon which to draw as they tour the town, and creates a context for understanding the interplay between a place and the people and voices that emerge there.

Here's more about Maine's festival, and two other appealing choices, to give you a taste. Then take a look at the Library of Congress's list and decide where you'd literally, and literarily, like to go.

· Maine Author Series and Literary Festival, Camden, Maine, Nov. 3-5.

Program: To kick off the festival, E.B. White and Katharine White's granddaughter, Martha White, will read from the "Revised Letters of E.B. White" (to be published by Harper Collins in November). (New Yorker magazine writer E.B. White frequently wrote about Maine, where he lived on a farm with his wife, New Yorker editor Katharine White.) Russo then delivers the first E.B. and Katharine White Memorial Lecture, focusing on humor in writing and how writers discover their artistic personality. Saturday will be a day of lectures, presentations, panel discussions and readings "that set the stage establishing Maine's place in literature, and the character and personality of Maine," says festival chairwoman Maryanne Shanahan. Topics include "Men of Letters and Maine: Hawthorne, Longfellow, Emerson, Thoreau" and "Contemporary Maine Voices: Writing In and About Maine." The festival finishes up Sunday with Russo, film director Robert Benton (who brought Russo's novel "Nobody's Fool" to the screen) and others relating behind-the-scenes anecdotes about taking fiction to film.

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