West Virginia Book Festival

Clear your schedule — Free Comic Book Day

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Saturday is Free Comic Book Day. I’m just sayin’.

If you wanted to grab the kid (or not) and head to a local comic book shop, it should be a nice day to reminisce with old friends and make some new ones, both in our actual universe and others. You can check for participating shops by ZIP code at the Free Comic Book Day website. I see stores in South Charleston, Huntington, Beckley, Morgantown, Fairmont, the Parkersburg area and near Wheeling and Martinsburg.

Pretty much everything you need to know about the event at Lost Legion Games & Comics/The Rifleman in South Charleston is in this gazz story. That includes appearances by local writer and filmmaker Danny Boyd (author of the Chillers graphic novel) and Jason Pell (creator of the Zombie Highway comic).

Of course, serious readers of this blog respect art in all its forms, so I don’t have to go into any justifications of comic books or graphic novels as either art or literature.  However, if you want a deeper look at how this art form grew out of the early 20th-century and how the Forces of Darkness moved to suppress it, let me draw your attention to a book from a few years back, “The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic Book Scare and How it Changed America” by David Hajdu.

But you don’t need that book to enjoy Free Comic Book Day.

You also don’t really need to know all the ways comic book reading is good for kids. Reading for fun improves fluency, which comes in handy Monday morning when kids are reading for school. Reading fiction to the point of being absorbed in characters and the story has recently been shown to be beneficial in other ways that have to do with compassion and experience. When teaching and testing young people on reading comprehension, teachers sometimes break stories into sections or panels, so students can identify events and how they relate.

Of course, I don’t tell the kids this, but if there are any reluctant readers in your family, kids who just haven’t yet found a book they love to read, the comic book versions of movie, TV and game characters can ease them into reading for fun.

It’s great that all that happens, but that’s not what I’m thinking about when I’m catching up with my beloved Spidey, or evaluating an issue of Young Justice or Superman Family Adventures for our very young nieces and nephews. I’m enjoying the art, the action, the characters, the humor. I’m mulling over ethical quandries and scientific possibilities. I’m looking backward and forward, inside and out. And having a good time doing it.

Happy Free Comic Book Day.

Happy birthday, Shakespeare

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As best as anyone knows, William Shakespeare was born on this date, 449 years ago, in Stratford-upon-Avon. There are historical records that show he died on this date, 397 years ago, in the same town.

I used the occasion two years ago to write about the man and his impact on what we read today. Last year, Dawn Miller wrote about reading Shakespeare to kids as a volunteer for Read Aloud West Virginia.

This year? I’m just going to remember the people who helped me learn to love Shakespeare. And I’m going to post this photo that I took at the Globe Theater replica in London a few years ago, because it makes me happy every time I see it.

And I’m going to honor his memory the best way I know how. I’m going to read him.

World Book Night is here

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 If you’re walking on the street today and someone hands you a book, don’t assume they’re a crackpot or promoting some religious order. They might be celebrating World Book Night.

Started two years ago in the United Kingdom, the annual event spread to the U.S. and other counties last year. The World Book Night group picks a bunch of books (32 this year) and asks volunteers to sign up to hand them out, for free, in their communities. Libraries and bookstores serve as conduits to get the books to the volunteers. The books span every genre; plenty of fiction, but also some history, and biography, and poetry, and children’s books.

(Why April 23? Because it’s Shakespeare’s death date and (presumed) birth date, and Cervantes’ death date, and Barcelona does this on April 23, and how many reasons do you need to hand out free books?)

For the second year, the Kanawha County Public Library is serving as a distribution point for World Book Night. Melissa Minsker, who’s handling the event for the library, said about a dozen volunteers will be giving out books. At least a couple are planning to go the the Charleston Town Center Mall, but some will be headed elsewhere. Melissa also says the books are specially bound and easily identifiable as World Book Night copies.

A (very) quick online search reveals a few other places in West Virginia that are participating. On their Facebook page, Hearthstone Books in Bluefield mentioned that they had someone come in to pick up her books to distribute. Kerri’s Korner Bookstore in Fairmont was trying to get involved as well. The Barnes and Noble store in Morgantown had an event planned that appears to have been cancelled, but the Gilmer Public Library in Glenville was taking part. I’m sure that’s not a comprehensive list.

World Book Night has already kicked off with special author events at bookstores and libraries around the country; in all, there are 28 such events this year, way up from last year’s two. None of those are in West Virginia, but maybe we’ll have one here next year?

Susan Maguire, novelist

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Susan Maguire, aka Sarah Title, and her novel “Kentucky Home.” Photo by Chip Ellis.

I don’t mind telling you, it’s been a little gloomy here on the West Virginia Book Festival blog lately. So it is a real, unalloyed pleasure to report some good news.

Readers of this blog may know one of our contributors, Susan Maguire, for her love of Judy Blume, her completely different love for Jack Reacher, or her always interesting and often hilarious thoughts on any number of subjects.

As of this past Thursday, you can know her as something else: a published novelist. Her first book, the romance novel “Kentucky Home,” has been published by Kensington Books under Susan’s nom de plume, Sarah Title.

Elizabeth Gaucher interviewed Susan for the Sunday Gazette-Mail about her “double life: mild-mannered librarian by day, steamy romance writer by night.” (About that: I wouldn’t say I know Susan well, but mild-mannered is not the first adjective that comes to mind.)

Anyway, Susan talks about her book, and being a romance novelist — and the difference, or lack thereof, between that and being a novelist in general:

“There is sort of a dismissal of all kinds of genre fiction — that it’s predictable and it’s not meaningful. I don’t like to compare it to literary fiction because I think that makes both kinds of writing come out losing. I think all kinds of reading are valuable,” she said.

“People are attracted to the romance formula because it’s comforting. But, in the right hands, it’s also interesting because you know you have to get from point A to point B, and there are a lot of different ways to get there.”

Kanawha library fundraiser set for Saturday

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Kanawha County Public Library board member Cheryl Morgan fluffs up a “dress-up” wicker basket full of outfits and accessories for little girls. The basket will be among those sold at a silent auction at the library’s annual fundraiser on Saturday. Photo by Chip Ellis.

If you’re reading this, chances are you know that this year’s West Virginia Book Festival was cancelled because funding for the Kanawha County Public Library, the festival’s main sponsor, is likely to be severely cut by the members of the Kanawha County school board.

But a looming financial hit for the library means a lot more than no Book Festival in October. It could mean several libraries in the county will close completely. It could mean a lot of librarians and others will lose their jobs.

So what can you do? Well, if you’re in the Charleston area on Saturday — and if you’re one of those who believes that libraries are an important, even essential, part of the community — you can come to the library’s “A Tisket, A Tasket, A Literary Basket” fundraiser at 6 p.m. at the auditorium in the NiSource Gas Transmission building at 1700 MacCorkle Ave. S.E.

The annual event features a silent auction for themed baskets full of goodies, including at least one book in each basket. Gazette features editor Rosalie Earle wrote about preparations for the fundraiser a few weeks ago, and event chairwoman Cheryl Morgan told her that they already had 76 baskets — 11 more than they’ve ever had.

In past years, the fundraiser has been specifically for children’s programming, including children’s authors at the Book Festival. But Ghee Gossard, chairwoman of the Friends of The Library Foundation of Kanawha County (which puts on the event), told Rosalie, “We think it’s best that the library use their discretion as to where our money goes.”

You can check out many of the offerings at the library’s website. And maybe we’ll see you there on Saturday night.

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.