West Virginia Book Festival

2013 festival canceled

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We regret to announce that the 2013 West Virginia Book Festival has been canceled.

The cancellation of the festival is caused by the loss of significant funding to Kanawha County Public Library for the 2013-2014 fiscal year.  The library provided the bulk of the staffing and organizational support for the festival.

The festival Steering Committee, comprised of representatives from charter sponsors Charleston Newspapers, Kanawha County Public Library, West Virginia Humanities Council, and the West Virginia Library Commission, wants to thank you for your support and participation in the West Virginia Book Festival.  The committee will explore all options to try make the festival happen again in the future.

Don’t forget about us.  We intend to be back, and when we are, we hope you will be, too.

Requiem: The West Virginia Book Festival

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As you may have heard already, the West Virginia Book Festival scheduled for this October has been canceled. The Kanawha County Public Library board of directors decided Monday that they couldn’t support the festival this year — and despite the support of many others, the fact is that without the Kanawha library, there is no West Virginia Book Festival.

This year’s festival, which was scheduled for Oct. 19 and 20 at the Charleston Civic Center, would have been the 13th annual event. The Charleston Gazette and the Charleston Daily Mail, both charter presenters of the Book Festival, have coverage of Monday’s events.

The library board’s decision is a direct result of last month’s state Supreme Court decision, in which justices agreed that part of a special law that told the Kanawha County Board of Education to fund the Kanawha library — a law that, in some form, had stood for more than half a century — was unconstitutional.

The Kanawha school board — Jim Crawford, Becky Jordon, Bill Raglin, Robin Rector and Pete Thaw, who declared the library a parasite after the Supreme Court decision — had been trying to get out from under the library funding requirement for years.

The money was only about 1.25 percent of the Kanawha school board’s budget — but was 40 percent of the Kanawha library’s budget.

In light of that massive cut, I imagine it was a clear, if not easy, choice for the Kanawha library board of directors to eliminate funding for the Book Festival. If the money from the school board isn’t replaced in some way, much more draconian cuts to the Kanawha library system are on the horizon.

There are, of course, people and organizations besides the library and its workers who have helped make the Book Festival what it is. The West Virginia Humanities Council has been a charter sponsor, and the Gazette hosts this blog (the future of which is unclear, to say the least). Volunteers throughout the community have given their time and effort to the event over the years.

What’s so frustrating about this — well, there are lots of frustrating things about this — but one of them is that the Book Festival had really grown over the past few years. A few years ago, as people began to plan for the 10th edition of the festival, they felt that the event needed to grow, and to raise its profile.

A crowd of about 2,500 people gathered to hear Nicholas Sparks at the 2010 West Virginia Book Festival at the Charleston Civic Center. Photo by Vic Burkhammer.

The result was that Nicholas Sparks and Diana Gabaldon were brought in as headliners for the 2010 event. It was, by just about any measure, the most successful West Virginia Book Festival ever, and it was not close.

In the following years, 2011 headliners Lee Child and Jerry West and 2012 headliners Charlaine Harris and Craig Johnson may not have brought in Sparks-level crowds, but they lent the Book Festival a significant buzz.

I can’t tell you how many people I talked to at the Book Festival over the past few years, or interacted with on Twitter, who were genuinely surprised to find an event like the Book Festival in Charleston, or in West Virginia.

The Book Festival was the kind of event that politicians and other local leaders always bring up when they talk about making this a place where young, bright people want to live, and move to, and raise their kids — the kind of event that makes some people say, “Yes, this is a good place. This is a place I want to be.”

And now it’s gone.

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Jon Meacham in 2010. AP photo

One final reminder about Jon Meacham, author, historian, editor, and speaker at the Gazette-WVU Festival of Ideas at the Clay Center in Charleston on Tuesday evening.

The early pages of “American Lion,” Meacham’s Pulitzer Prize-winning history of Andrew Jackson’s presidency, find Old Hickory at home in Tennessee, preparing for the trip to Washington after a bruising presidential campaign. Meacham writes that Jackson “knew his election was inspiring both reverence and loathing.”

To illustrate the antipathy Jackson faced in some quarters, Meacham quotes a letter from a Jackson supporter in West Virginia — well, it would be West Virginia in a few decades. Meacham writes:

Some Americans thought of the president-elect as a second Father of His Country. Others wanted him dead. One Revolutionary War veteran, David Coons of Harpers Ferry, Virginia, was hearing rumors of ambush and assassination plots against Jackson. To Coons, Jackson was coming to rule as a tribune of the people, but to others Jackson seemed dangerous — so dangerous, in fact, that he was worth killing. “There are a portion of malicious and unprincipled men who have made hard threats with regard to you, men whose baseness would (in my opinion) prompt them to do anything,” Coons wrote Jackson.

Show’s at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday. It’s free. Read the Gazette’s interview with Meacham from a couple of weeks ago if you don’t want to go in cold. See you there.

State Poetry Out Loud finals this weekend

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If this man is in town …

… it must be time for the state Poetry Out Loud finals.

That’s actor (and Beckley native) Chris Sarandon, who will be hosting the finals for the sixth straight year on Saturday. He’ll be joined by West Virginia poet laureate Marc Harshman and jazz duo Charlie Hunter and Scott Amendola.

But since you can’t have finals without semifinals, those will be held on Friday. According to the state Division of Culture and History, there will be 30 high school students from 23 counties participating, and Charleston poet Crystal Good will be there. The top 10 students will advance to Saturday’s finals.

The state winner will get $200 and a trip to the national Poetry Out Loud finals at the end of April, and his or her school will get $500 to buy poetry books; the runner-up gets $100 and his or her school gets $200. Last year’s competition was won by Bruce McCuskey of Nitro High School.

Below is a list of participating students and their schools. If your local school isn’t involved, well, there’s always next year.

Aeesha Ranavaya, Cabell Midland High School, Cabell County

Dayja Legg, Capital High School, Kanawha County

Kristen Hensley, Chapmanville Regional High School, Logan County

Katherine Vandall, George Washington High School, Kanawha County

Levi Wells, Greenbrier West High School, Greenbrier County

Grace Pritt, Hurricane High School, Putnam County

Anna Rubenstein, Nitro High School, Kanawha County

Dallas Hopkins, Ripley High School, Jackson County

Tyler Hammack, Roane County High School, Roane County

Kaelyn Miragilotta, Sherman High School, Boone County

Jared Workman, Spring Valley High School, Wayne County

Peyton Humphreys, Wahama High School, Mason County

Caitlin Fowlkes, Winfield High School, Putnam County

Sarah Jones, Wirt County High School, Wirt County

Madeline Richmond, Woodrow Wilson High School, Raleigh County

Olivia Hrko, Bridgeport High School, Harrison County

Sabrina Dahlia, East Fairmont High School, Marion County

Zela Wyrosdick, Fairmont Senior High, Marion County

Luke White, Lewis County High School, Lewis County

Bronwyn Clagett, Lincoln High School, Harrison County

Timberly Robinson, Lyceum Preparatory Academy, Ohio County

Mackenzie Roberts, Magnolia High School, Wetzel County

Ashley Feliz-Redman, Martinsburg High School, Berkeley County

Autumn White, Meadow Bridge High School, Fayette County

Joshua Stretch, Monongalia Technical Education Center, Monongalia County

Tim DiFazio, Morgantown High School, Monongalia County

Amelia Sark, Richwood High School, Nicholas County

Jessica Kimble, Tyler Consolidated High School, Tyler County

Rory Morgan Williams, Webster County High School, Webster County

Jalen McCrary, Wheeling Park High School, Ohio County

Top photo by Tyler Evert, state Division of Culture and History

Jon Meacham event in Charleston previewed

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Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian who’s written about Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill in recent years, is coming to Charleston next week. He’s the speaker at the annual Charleston Gazette-West Virginia University Festival of Ideas event, and the Gazette’s Doug Imbrogno interviewed him for Sunday’s Gazette-Mail.

Among the subjects discussed by Meacham: which of the three American presidents he most admired after writing about them. While acknowledging that Roosevelt and Jefferson were great men who left the word better than they found it, Meacham said Jackson grew in his estimation as he learned more about him, because Old Hickory was a “genuinely self-made” man.

“He came from a part of white society in colonial America where his destiny was not in any way set to become the first president who was not a Virginia aristocrat or member of the Adams family. It required an effort of will on a human level that was deeply impressive.”

Meacham’s book on Jackson, “American Lion,” covers Jackson’s eight years in the presidency. That book won the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 2009. His latest, “Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power,” was on several end-of-year best book lists last year. No doubt both will come up during his talk, which starts at 7:30 p.m. on March 12 at the Clay Center, followed by a reception and book signing. Admission is free.