Requiem: The West Virginia Book Festival

March 12, 2013 by Greg Moore

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.

8 Responses to “Requiem: The West Virginia Book Festival”

  1. Bri says:

    Is there no way other county libraries could go in together or that another county like, say, Cabell could host it? It seems ludicrous that the whole thing hinges on the Kanawha Co library.

  2. Greg Moore says:

    Bri,

    The whole thing hinges on the Kanawha library because, for the most part, it’s always been their event. They started it, and they continued to provide many of the resources — financial and otherwise — that brought it up to its current level.

    I can’t speak for the Cabell library (which already holds a smaller event every two years) or any other group, but I think it would be very difficult for another organization to devote the resources needed to make the festival work the way it has the past several years.

  3. This is what we like to do in WV.

    We like to get something really good going, and then we like to kill it, and dare it to resurrect itself to prove it was ever worth anything. I am reminded of the Governor’s Cabinet on Children and Families, which was receiving recognition by the National Governor’s Association (NGA) as a national model for improving child well being when it was assassinated in the name of “efficiency.”

    We get scared when we approach excellence and self-improvement. Someone might start to expect something from WV, and then what the hell would we do?

  4. Phyllis Wilson Moore says:

    How horrid for readers, writers, and for the residents of the state.

    The festival was an event to be proud of and to see it disappear in the sesquicentennial year, or any year, is mind boggling.

    It will certainly impact the revenue of many merchants in the Charleston area.

  5. I wonder if any consideration was given to condensing the show to a one-day event, especially since Sunday has traditionally been a slow day. Or perhaps a change-of-venue that would be more cost-effective?

  6. […] Dave Pelzer and Matthew Aaron Browning. Details about its untimely death can be found here and here. Condolences may be left in the comment field […]

  7. Phyllis Wilson Moore says:

    Will the blog remain active? It’s a great place for news on literature and the like.

  8. Hi, I remember my first time as a writer at the West Virginia Book Festival. I was admitted at the last minute. I think the fee was $50.00. It was really iffy that I would be accepted because I was self-published. My first non-fiction book is titled, Appalachia, Spirit Triumphant.

    I worked for the Nicholas County Board of Education so I did not have lots of money for publicity, purchase of books, etc. but I was so proud and happy of what I had accomplished. I packed up everything I had pertaining to my book in a plastic mail crate the mailman has left at the office as usual and then picked up the next day.

    On the way down from Summersville to Charleston I stopped at Glen Ferris to take pictures of the colorful houses on the steep hillside. A couple of guys were across the street. When they saw me taking pictures, they yelled, “Hey, are you a real estate agent? We’ve got a house we would like to sell.”

    I yelled back, “No, just taking pictures of these pretty houses. I’m on my way to the West Virginia Book Festival in Charleston. I have published a book and held up a copy as if they could see it from their location.

    They yelled congratulations. I got back in my Jeep and headed on down to the Festival.

    I parked in a parking area down and across the street from the Festival arena. I picked up my borrowed plastic mail carrier and walked to the arena.

    What can I say? How can I explain how big this was? Authors came pulling trailers behind their vehicles filled with their famous books. Lots of well-known writers were there. Discussion groups were held. It must have been an honor to speak to a group about your work. I think the book on Don West was one person discussed at this Festival.

    I was put back in a corner because I was self-published but I got to know practically everyone there.

    The West Virginia Book Festival is wonderful. I was privileged to attend as a West Virginia writer. I will always cherish those memories.

    Recently, my 3 non-fiction books on Appalachia have been selected by Scotland National Library, International Collection due to the connection with the immigration pattern from Scotland to America – settling in Appalachia.
    Titles: “Appalachia, Spirit Triumphant” “Sago Mine Disaster, (Featured Story) Appalachian Coalfield Stories” “The Sunny Side of Appalachia, Bluegrass from the Grassroots” and co-author of a novel, “The Girl From Stretchneck Holler, Inside Appalachia” Betty Dotson-Lewis

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