The Washington Post

Fall for the Book festival brings readers, authors together at GMU

Pulitzer Prize-winning writers and those who hope to join their ranks will be showcased at next week’s 14th annual Fall for the Book festival.

The event is from Wednesday through Sept. 30 at George Mason University and other sites across the region. It seeks to connect readers and authors in personable, relaxing surroundings, which allows for real interaction, said William Miller, the event’s executive director.

The event is the brainchild of former George Mason president Alan Merten and former Fairfax mayor John Mason. It has grown into a weeklong regional festival that boasts dozens of events and more than 125 authors. “At the first festival in 1999, it was just a couple days with 25 events.” Miller said. Now, Fall for the Book is nationally recognized.

Miller said 79 authors originally were slated to attend the 2001 festival, which began just eight days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Ultimately, nearly half did not attend, because they were unable to get transportation to the event or because they did not want to travel. In 2003, Miller said, Fall for the Book was cut short by two days when Hurricane Isabel forced GMU to shut down.

Despite those early hurdles, the event’s growth continued. “Programming has been phenomenal,” Miller said.

This year’s events will take place at the university, the Stacy C. Sherwood Center in Fairfax City, libraries and other venues. The free events are open to the public.

Many literary headliners are scheduled to appear, including Fairfax author Matt Bondurant, whose work, “The Wettest County in the World,” was turned into the recent movie “Lawless.”

This year marks the 30th anniversary of “The Color Purple,” by Alice Walker, which won the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award. Walker will speak about the novel’s legacy and her other writings.

In addition, four major awards will be presented, and the winners will discuss their work.

This year’s Mary Roberts Rinehart Award recipient is Katherine Boo, a former GMU student and Washington Post reporter.

The Busboys and Poets Award will be presented to Rita Dove, a professor at the University of Virginia who has been the U.S. poet laureate (1993-95) and poet laureate of Virginia (2004-06).

“From the moment I could decipher the squiggles on the page, I became an avid reader,” Dove said. “And when I didn’t find characters in books that resembled me, I was driven to create them. From the moment I got lost in a paragraph or passage because the sounds that the words made and the lilt of the phrases wove as much magic as the plot, I knew I wanted to be a poet. “

Neil Gaiman is the winner of the 2012 Mason Award, which recognizes extraordinary contributions to bringing literature to a wide reading public.

Michael Chabon will receive the 2012 Fairfax Prize, which is presented by the Fairfax Library Foundation to honor outstanding literary achievement. Chabon, whose novels include “Wonder Boys” and “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh,” said his influences include the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes stories.

“He and Ray Bradbury were my first powerful influences,” he said.

For information about the Fall for the Book Festival, go to http://fallforthebook.org/.

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