Posts Tagged ‘Fall for the Book’


Fall for the Book Forum Poses Provocative Questions

February 18, 2009
"Woman With Book," Pablo Picasso

"Woman With Book," Pablo Picasso

The Fall for the Book Festival has been using the “off season” not only to begin planning for this fall’s festival, but also to crank up some interesting initiatives. One of these is the new Fall for the Book Forum, which is striving to build an online community of readers and writers talking about some topics central to our shared love of literature. Each week, the website is posting a new question on the left-hand side of its homepage; now all that’s needed is some more readers to get in on the discussion.  

This week’s question is a quietly provocative one, stemming from this 2007 NPR story about women reading more than men. Fall for the Book asks:

In late 2007, National Public Radio posted a story revealing that women read far more than men (9 vs. 5 books/year). The statistics gathered from the 2008 Fall for the Book festival show the same trend in those who attended book-related events. Clearly, reading is not inherently a female thing. Why, then, are these statistics showing what they are?

I encourage folks to visit the Fall for the Book site and sign-up to join the discussion. I myself am going to post the following there in just a few minutes as a way to help get the ball rollling.

The NPR story starts with novelist Ian McEwan conducting an informal study that revealed a greater interest in reading by women than by men. Several years ago, Mario Vargas Llosa made a similar observation at the start of his essay “Why Literature?” (first published in The New Republic and reprinted in various spots on the web). The first (longish) section of that essay is below:

It has often happened to me, at book fairs or in bookstores, that a gentleman approaches me and asks me for a signature. “It is for my wife, my young daughter, or my mother,” he explains. “She is a great reader and loves literature.” Immediately I ask: “And what about you? Don’t you like to read?” The answer is almost always the same: “Of course I like to read, but I am a very busy person.” I have heard this explanation dozens of times: this man and many thousands of men like him have so many important things to do, so many obligations, so many responsibilities in life, that they cannot waste their precious time buried in a novel, a book of poetry, or a literary essay for hours and hours. According to this widespread conception, literature is a dispensable activity, no doubt lofty and useful for cultivating sensitivity and good manners, but essentially an entertainment, an adornment that only people with time for recreation can afford. It is something to fit in between sports, the movies, a game of bridge or chess; and it can be sacrificed without scruple when one “prioritizes” the tasks and the duties that are indispensable in the struggle of life.

It seems clear that literature has become more and more a female activity. In bookstores, at conferences or public readings by writers, and even in university departments dedicated to the humanities, the women clearly outnumber the men. The explanation traditionally given is that middle-class women read more because they work fewer hours than men, and so many of them feel that they can justify more easily than men the time that they devote to fantasy and illusion. I am somewhat allergic to explanations that divide men and women into frozen categories and attribute to each sex its characteristic virtues and shortcomings; but there is no doubt that there are fewer and fewer readers of literature, and that among the saving remnant of readers women predominate.

This is the case almost everywhere. In Spain, for example, a recent survey organized by the General Society of Spanish Writers revealed that half of that country’s population has never read a book. The survey also revealed that in the minority that does read, the number of women who admitted to reading surpasses the number of men by 6.2 percent, a difference that appears to be increasing. I am happy for these women, but I feel sorry for these men, and for the millions of human beings who could read but have decided not to read.

They earn my pity not only because they are unaware of the pleasure that they are missing, but also because I am convinced that a society without literature, or a society in which literature has been relegated — like some hidden vice — to the margins of social and personal life, and transformed into something like a sectarian cult, is a society condemned to become spiritually barbaric, and even to jeopardize its freedom. I wish to offer a few arguments against the idea of literature as a luxury pastime, and in favor of viewing it as one of the most primary and necessary undertakings of the mind, an irreplaceable activity for the formation of citizens in a modern and democratic society, a society of free individuals….

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Fall for the Book Announces Poster Contest

November 19, 2008

The Fall for the Book Festival, based at George Mason University, has announced a poster contest — inviting artists to submit designs for a poster that will become a cornerstone of the festival’s annual marketing campaign. The deadline for submissions to the contest is February 1, 2009; the festival itself takes place September 21-26, 2009, at Mason and at select locations throughout Northern Virginia, DC, and Maryland.

The winning entry for the contest will receive $300, and the winner will have his/her work displayed not only on Mason’s campuses but throughout the D.C. metro area.

For complete guidelines on the contest, visit

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Home (at the End of the World) At Last

September 26, 2008

Michael Cunningham’s name is almost inevitably linked with three things: his third novel, The Hours; the Pulitzer Prize he won for that novel; and the Academy Award-winning movie adapted from it. It’s understandable: a great book, with a great following. But I’ll admit that it’s not the first thing I myself think of. Instead, I remember a great novel by him I read in a class during my MFA years: A Home at the End of the World.

The book is uneven — even messy in places. It’s a first novel, with all of the excesses and missteps that often accompany such a debut. But it also has some of the great ambition and heart of a first novel, and its lyrical study of families and childhood friendships and romantic relationships completely won me over when I read it. In class, I couldn’t help but agree with many of the reactions to it: Yes, some of those supposedly alternating narrators sound the same; yes, the book loses momentum and power in the final section. But still, don’t you wish that your own novel(s) could reveal even half that mastery of language and character and storytelling?

Cunningham is the guest of honor at Fall for the Book Friday night, and while my fiancée Tara will be ready with her copy of The Hours, I’ll have my copy of A Home at the End of the World in hand — celebrating not only the chance to meet one of the nation’s truly great authors but also the end of a long week and a long (and exciting!) festival. I have to admit: As great as the week has been, it’ll be good to get done and get home myself. 

In the meantime: The final day’s events. 


12 p.m. — Poets Jennifer Chang, Kyle Dargan and Kevin McFadden
Provident Bank Tent, Outside Johnson Center (RAIN VENUE: Dewberry Hall)
An afternoon of poetry features the rising stars of the University of Georgia Press, including Chang, author of The History of Anonymity; Dargan, author of Bouquet of Hungers; and McFadden, author of Hardscrabble.

3 p.m. — Journalist Robert Jensen
Gold Room, Johnson Center
A noted scholar of gender, media, and power explores the role of masculinity in today’s society through the lens of his latest book, Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity.

3:30 p.m. — Novelist Porter Shreve
Provident Bank Tent, Outside Johnson Center (RAIN VENUE: Dewberry Hall)
This native Washingtonian reads from his third novel, When the White House Was Ours, set in 1976 and loosely based on his own childhood, in which he and his family started an alternative school called “Our House Is a Very, Very, Very Fine House.” A 3 p.m. reception precedes the event.

5 p.m. — Poet Linda Bierds
Festival Tent, Outside Johnson Center (RAIN VENUE: Dewberry Hall)
Highly acclaimed poet Linda Bierds samples works from her seven volumes of poetry on the eve of her forthcoming collection, Flight: New and Selected Poems.

7 p.m. — Breakthrough Poet Reading
Firehouse Grill, 3988 University Drive, Fairfax, VA
Celebrate the new and the nouveau in poetry with Karen Anderson, Dan Beachy-Quick, Suzanne Buffam, and Srikanth Reddy, and then stay on for drinks and food or meander out into the newly renovated downtown City of Fairfax.

7:30 p.m. — Novelist Michael Cunningham
Harris Theater
Cunningham, Pulitzer Prize-winner for The Hours and author of A Home at the End of the World, Flesh and Blood, and Specimen Days, accepts the 2008 Fairfax Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Literary Arts, celebrating an author whose works have contributed significantly to American or international culture. A 6:30 p.m. reception precedes the event.

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It Keeps Going and Going and….

September 24, 2008

…and the truth is that the Energizer Bunny has nothing on us! A crack staff and extensive team of volunteers have been working round the clock to keep Fall for the Book going strong and going smoothly. And outside of staff, we’ve had some great support lately — both on-campus and off. Sherell Williams, managing editor of Broadside, Mason’s student newspaper, organized some great previews of the festival in this week’s issue, and Grace Kendall, director of Connect Mason, has been photographing events almost everywhere. 

And today, Mark Athitakis, arts editor at the City Paper and blogsmith of one of the best lit sites out there, American Fiction Notes, reviewed Porter Shreve’s new novel, When the White House Was Ours, in advance of Shreve’s reading on Friday. The full review is online here

Much on the schedule in the meantime — including a very full Thursday. While C.K. Williams and Sue Miller may be Thursday’s big headliners, I’m most looking forward to getting together again with Michael Sims (left), author of Apollo’s Fire and one of the cleverest, most charming folks I know. He’ll be speaking at 5 on Thursday — a don’t miss event. The day’s full schedule is below. 


10 a.m.
Young Adult Author P.W. Catanese
Harper Park Middle School, 701 Potomac Station Drive, Leesburg, VA
As part of Fall for the Book’s annual Middle School Reads program, P.W. Catanese, author of the Further Tales Adventures, talks with Loudoun County middle schoolers about the pleasures of reading and writing. Sponsored by Baker & Taylor book wholesalers. If you would like to attend this event please contact the school office at 571-252-2820 for information about seating.

11 a.m.
Poet Judith Harris
Provident Bank Tent, Outside Johnson Center
Harris reads selections from her two volumes of poetry: Atonement and The Bad Secret.

12 p.m.
Poet Jennifer Atkinson and Short Story Writer David Taylor
Provident Bank Tent, Outside Johnson Center
Atkinson shares selections from Drift Ice, her third and newest collection of poetry, and Taylor reads from his award-winning fiction collection, Success: Stories.

1 p.m.
Novelist Tim Wendel
Cherrydale Library, 2190 Military Road, Arlington, VA
An award-winning novelist, journalist and baseball historian, Wendel reads from his new WWII novel, Red Rain. The reading is accompanied by a period reception. Sponsored by the Arlington County Public Library.

1:30 p.m.
From the Writer’s Center: Peter Brown, Solveig Eggerz, Frank Joseph , and Elaina Loveland
Provident Bank Tent, Outside Johnson Center
Members of The Writer’s Center, based in Bethesda, MD, read from their recent works, both novels — Brown’s Ruthie Black, Eggerz’s Seal Woman and Joseph’s To Love Mercy — and nonfiction: Loveland’s Creative Colleges: A Guide for Student Actors, Artists, Dancers, Musicians, and Writers. The authors also share tips for aspiring writers seeking publication themselves. Sponsored by the Writer’s Center.

2 p.m.
Historians Vincent Carretta and Carroll Gibbs
Dewberry Hall South, Johnson Center
Carretta, author of Equiano, the African: Biography of a Self-Made Man, and Gibbs, a scholar specializing in African American history, present a reading and slide presentation on Freedom Narratives. Sponsored by the Friends of the Sherwood Regional Library.

3 p.m.
Punk Music Historian Mark Andersen
Provident Bank Tent, Outside Johnson Center
The co-author of Dance of Days: Two Decades of Punk in the Nation’s Capital discusses this musical genre’s history in D.C. Local punk band The Max Levine Ensemble performs afterwards!

3 p.m.
Ethicist Rushworth M. Kidder
Harris Theater
Kidder, founder of the Institute for Global Ethics, discusses ideas from his two most recent books, Moral Courage and How Good People Make Tough Choices. A reception follows. Presented by MasonLeads as part of their 2008 Leadership Week.

3 p.m.
Breakthrough Poets Panel
Grand Tier III, Center for the Arts
Poets Karen Anderson, Dan Beachy-Quick, Suzanne Buffam, and Srikanth Reddy recount their path to success and read from their new books. A reception follows.

4:30 p.m.
Breaking in to Poetry
Grand Tier III, Center for the Arts
Robert Giron, poet and founder of the Gival Press; Bill Glose, author of The Human Touch; and Ann Falcone Shalaski, author of World Made of Glass, share the secrets of their success and offer tips on how to get your poetry published.

5 p.m.
Science writer Michael Sims
Provident Bank Tent, Outside Johnson Center
The author of Apollo’s Fire: A Day on Earth in Nature and Imagination, chosen by NPR as one of the best science books of 2007, draws on science, history, literature and more to illuminate a single day on earth, from before dawn to after midnight.

5:30 p.m.
Poets Alec Finlay and Rod Smith
The Bistro, Johnson Center
“Avant garde” and “experimental” are the terms of the day with British poet and artist Finlay, and Smith, who was named “Best Poet” in D.C. in a recent issue of Washington’s City Paper. A reception follows the reading.

7 p.m.
Poet C.K. Williams
Harris Theater
The world-renowned poet, winner of both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, reads from his body of work. A 6 p.m. reception in Johnson Center, Room 116, precedes the event.

7 p.m.
Runner Chris Lear
Pacers Running and Walking Store, 10427 North Street, Fairfax, VA
Noted runner Lear, who held the record as fastest runner in New Jersey in the 1990s and later earned All-Ivy, All-East, and All-America honors at Princeton, discusses his book Running with the Buffaloes: A Season Inside with Mark Wetmore, Adam Goucher, and the University of Colorado Men’s Cross-Country Team. Co-sponsored by Pacers and the City of Fairfax.

7 p.m.
Short Story Writer David Taylor
Ellen Coolidge Burke Branch Library, 4701 Seminary Road, Alexandria, VA
The author of Success: Stories is a special guest at the library’s World Short Story Book Group. Sponsored by the Alexandria Libraries.

7 p.m.
Journalist Lonnae O’Neal Parker
Busboys and Poets, 4251 S. Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA
A Washington Post correspondent, Parker discusses her book, I’m Every Woman: Remixed Stories of Marriage, Motherhood and Work. Co-sponsored by Busboys and Poets and the Friends of the Sherwood Regional Library.

7 p.m.
Teen Author Kyndall Brown
Borders, 931-A Capital Centre Boulevard, Largo, MD
The 13-year-old poet reads from her debut collection, I Ain’t Ascared of Nutin’: The Evolution of Me, and encourages other teen poets, talking about finding your voice and finding a publisher. Sponsored by the Friends of the Sherwood Regional Library.

7:30 p.m.
Memoirist Christina Thompson
Dewberry Hall South, Johnson Center
The editor of the Harvard Review reflects on her marriage to a Maori foundryman and explores New Zealand and Maori history in her debut memoir, Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All: A New Zealand Story. A 6:30 p.m. reception precedes the event.

7:30 p.m.
Folklorist Mary T. Hufford
Johnson Center, Room C
An expert on ethnography, cultural policy, and ecological crisis, this author of Chaseworld: Foxhunting and Storytelling in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens shares stories about researching and writing.

8 p.m.
The Spoken Word Revolution
The Bistro, Johnson Center
Bruce George, co-creator of HBO’s Def Poetry Jam, leads a poetry slam. Watch and participate, too. A 7 p.m. reception precedes the event. Co-Sponsored by Mason’s Office of University Life, Office of Diversity Programs and Services and Weekend Initiatives.

8 p.m.
Novelist Sue Miller
Concert Hall, Center for the Arts
The bestselling author of The Good Mother, Inventing the Abbotts and While I Was Gone reads from her latest book, The Senator’s Wife. Sponsored by the Friends of the George Mason Regional Library. A 7 p.m. reception precedes the event in Grand Tier III of the Concert Hall.

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Fall for the Book Hits the Halfway Mark

September 24, 2008

As Fall for the Book’s third day unfolded on campus and around the region, I spent most of the day indulging in one of the high-points of any literary festival: spending much of the afternoon one-on-one with a great writer — specifically, in this case, ferrying Garrett Epps from Union Station to an event in Loudoun County and then back to Mason’s Fairfax Campus for a second event.

While it’s fun to have some up close and personal time with most any author, Epps proved particularly charming, and I was pleased to find some unexpected connections between his life and mine. He wrote for many years in the 1980s for the Independent Weekly in the Triangle area of North Carolina, a publication which was the rival newspaper for The Spectator, where I worked in the 1990s — and other aspects of the area where we’d each lived provided great common ground for conversation. Epps too was good friends with many of the professors who taught me when I was earning my MFA at Mason. And we had a nice (if too brief!) chat about politics in novels. His first novel, The Shad Treatment, has been called the “definitive Virginia political novel,” and aspects of my own novel-in-progress use as its backdrop one of the great political battles of North Carolina history, the Helms-Hunt senatorial showdown of the mid-1980s. 

Add Epps’ book to my reading list, of course — even if some bad timing between my schedule and the bookstore’s schedule today kept me from getting a signed copy. 

Tuesday night’s programming ended with a terrific staged reading  of Alan Bennett’s naughty little play Habeas Corpus. Mason’s Theatre of the First Amendment brought a great cast to the Old Town Village Gallery, and the crowd would’ve been standing room only if we hadn’t kept adding chairs.

Still more ahead, of course. Wednesday’s schedule includes writers across a diverse range of genres: journalists Ariel Sabar and Jonny Steinberg, poet Eric Pankey, former VA governor turned memoirist Linwood Holton, and acclaimed novelist Ethan Canin.  The full schedule is below!


10 a.m.
Children’s and Young Adult Author Chris Crutcher
Potomac Falls High School, 46400 Algonkian Parkway, Sterling, VA
As part of the Fall for the Book’s annual High School Reads Program, the author, whose latest book is Deadline, shares insights about writing with high school students from across Loudoun County. Sponsored by Baker & Taylor book wholesalers. If you would like to attend this event please contact the school office at 571-434-3200 for information about seating.

11 a.m. — Richard Wright’s 100th Birthday
Research I, Room 163
A panel of scholars, including Aime Ellis, James Miller, and Maryemma Graham, assess the legacy of one of the country’s greatest African American writers, author of Black Boy, Native Son and other classics.

11:30 a.m. — Exploring the Iraq War Through Poetry
Provident Bank Tent, Outside Johnson Center
Brian Turner, Melissa Tuckey, and others share poetry about the war. A reception follows. Sponsored by Mason’s Office of University Life.

12 p.m. —4:30 p.m. — Paperback Swap
North Plaza, Outside the Johnstojn Center
Volition, Mason’s undergraduate journal of literature and art, hosts a paperback swap.

12:30—3:30 p.m. — Poetry-on-Demand!
Near the Provident Bank Tent, Outside Johnson Center
The University Writing Center hosts a Poetry-on-Demand table, with students from Mason’s MFA Program in Creative Writing offering original verses in a minutes!

2 p.m. — Journalist Eric Lichtblau
Provident Bank Tent, Outside Johnson Center
A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Lichtblau discusses his new book, Bush’s Law: The Remaking of American Justice.

2 p.m. — Tuskegee Airman Christopher Robinson and Author George Norfleet
Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), 4210 Roberts Road, Fairfax, VA
Robinson and Norfleet share stories from their collaborative memoir, A Pilot’s Journey: Memoirs of a Tuskegee Airman, Curtis Christopher Robinson. Co-sponsored by the Friends of the Sherwood Regional Library and Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

3 p.m. — Journalist and Memoirist Ariel Sabar
Provident Bank Tent, Outside Johnson Center
Noted journalist Sabar shares stories from his new book, My Father’s Paradise: A Son’s Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq.

3 p.m. — Author/Producer Bruce George and Publisher Lisa Moore
Student Union Building II, Room 5
The co-creator of HBO’s Def Poetry Jam and the founder of Red Bone Press discuss the challenges and rewards of publishing minority authors, including gang members, black lesbians, and gay men. Co-sponsored by Mason’s Office of University Life, Office of Diversity Programs and Services and Weekend Initiatives.

4 p.m. — Photographer Nancy Crampton
Lobby, Center for the Arts
The official photographer of the Unterberg Poetry Center at New York’s 92nd Street Y discusses images from her collection Writers, featuring some of the nation’s leading literary luminaries.

4:30 p.m. — Journalist Jonny Steinberg
Provident Bank Tent, Outside Johnson Center
The award-winning South African journalist reads from Sizwe’s Test: A Young Man’s Journey Through Africa’s AIDS Epidemic. Sponsored by Mason’s Office of University Life.

4:30 p.m. — Mason Provost Peter Stearns
Research I, Room 163
With more than 100 books to his credit, Mason Provost Stearns draws on his observations and research to offer insights into America’s present by looking into its past. Sponsored by the George Mason University Libraries. Followed by a reception and exhibition of Stearns’ books.

5:30 p.m. — Poets Eric Pankey, Caren Scott, and Ryan Walker
The Bistro, Johnson Center
Acclaimed poet Pankey, author most recently of of The Pear As One Example: New and Selected Poems, joins up-and-coming poets Scott and Walker. A reception follows. Sponsored by Phoebe: A Journal of Literature and Art.

5:30 p.m. — Craft Talk with Ethan Canin
Gold Room, Johnson Center
Canin, a faculty member at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and author most recently of America America, hosts a talk on the art and craft of fiction.

6 p.m.
Short Story Writers Nicole Shivers and Tahra Nicols
Busboys and Poets, 2021 14th Street, Washington, DC
The co-authors of Maddening Behaviors: Some I Hear, A Lot I See share stories of eleven young women who leave America to find adventure in Africa. Co-sponsored by the Friends of the Sherwood Regional Library and Busboys and Poets.

7 p.m. — Novelist and Comedienne Alison Larkin
Oakton Library, 10304 Lynnhaven Place, Oakton, VA
In the bestselling novel The English American, Alison Larkin draws further from her experiences as an adopted English woman who finds her birth parents — and a new homeland — in the United States.

7 p.m. — Novelist Jenny Gardiner
Potbelly Sandwich Works, 3955 Chainbridge Road, Fairfax, VA
The author reads from her smart, sassy debut novel, Sleeping with Ward Cleaver. Co-sponsored by Potbelly and the City of Fairfax.

7:30 p.m. — Former Governor Linwood Holton
City of Fairfax Regional Library, 10360 North Street, Fairfax, VA
The first Republican to govern Virginia since Reconstruction — and the governor who signed George Mason University into existence — shares excerpts from his memoir, Opportunity Time.

7:30 p.m. — Novelist Ethan Canin
The Bistro, Johnson Center
Canin reads from his highly acclaimed new political novel, America America—which the Washington Post called “a worthy successor to Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men.” A reception precedes the reading at 7 p.m.

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