With the National Book Festival staying indoors again this fall, you may be pining for that special mix of fresh air, open lawn and book talk that we used to enjoy on the Mall. Fortunately, the chance to frolic in the sun with your favorite authors is still available in the Washington area.
You won’t find a more charming literary picnic than the Gaithersburg Book Festival on Saturday, May 16. Now in its sixth year, the GBF draws thousands of readers and some of the most famous writers in the world (and in Washington). Yet somehow the festivities have never lost their neighborly atmosphere. Bookworms young and old gather under tents on the City Hall lawn; the speakers use microphones, but chances are you’ll be sitting close enough to chat with them.
As the festival has grown, so has its reach. Among the scores of authors visiting this year will be Booker Prize-winner Anne Enright, who’ll be coming from Ireland to read from her wonderful upcoming novel, “The Green Road.” And graphic novelist Pénélope Bagieu is arriving from France to talk about “Exquisite Corpse,” her first book published in the United States. C’est merveilleux!
You’ll also meet some of the most exciting writers from right here in the capital, including former Marine Elliot Ackerman (“Green on Blue”), the witty novelists Susan Coll (“The Stager”) and Mary Kay Zuravleff (“Man Alive!”), thriller writer James Grady (“Last Days of the Condor”) and fantasy/horror writer Keith Donohue (“The Boy Who Drew Monsters“).
The organizers are bringing in authors of books ripped from the headlines and from history, like “Collision 2012,” by The Washington Post’s own Dan Balz, and “African American Medicine in Washington, D.C.: Healing the Capital During the Civil War Era,” by Heather Butts.
You can bring books to get them signed, but Politics & Prose will be on hand with all the titles you’ll need.
And don’t leave the kids at home. The festival sports a fantastic lineup of authors for children and young adults. I’ve read Nancy Shaw’s “Sheep in a Jeep” so many times I can recite it forwards and backwards. Kwame Alexander recently won the Newbery Medal for his verse-novel “The Crossover.” And older kids will be thrilled to hear the legendary Phyllis Reynolds Naylor talk about the last book in her Alice series, “Now I’ll Tell You Everything.”
In response to rising concern about the lack of multicultural content in children’s publishing, Ellen Oh, president of We Need Diverse Books, will lead a panel discussion with writers Aisha Saeed, Tracey Baptiste and Gene Luen Yang. (On the eve of last year’s National Book Festival, Yang, a teacher and cartoonist, delivered a winning speech in the Library of Congress about the need for greater diversity.)
If you’re after a more hands-on festival experience, you can participate in several different workshops, from songwriting to memoir writing. The Post’s young adult book reviewer Mary Quattlebaum will lead a class called “Connect with Kids! Adults Writing for Children.”
And kids themselves will find informal classes offered all day on picture books, pop-up books, comic books, poetry, short stories and even college application essays. (These workshops, like all the presentations at the Gaithersburg Book Festival, are free and open to the public.)
For more information about all the authors and activities, go to gaithersburgbookfestival.org.
Where: Gaithersburg City Hall, 31 South Summit Ave., Gaithersburg, Md.
When: Saturday, May 16, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.