West Virginia Book Festival

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.