Fall for the Book at George Mason University is one of my favorite literary festivals, and well worth the three-hour drive, especially if you live in Johnstown and are accustomed to driving to Pittsburgh to attend literary events.
First off, the vibe. The campus is gorgeous in the fall: trees everywhere, leaves crunching. Tiny laminated festival posters, book covers of participating authors on the backs, hang fluttering from trees that line the walkways. There’s the requisite handful of big-name authors—the first time I attended this festival was purely to see Neil Gaiman—as well as nearly 200 other poets, journalists, historians, memoirists, fiction writers of all genres, and the ungenrefiable. Included in the programming every year are the university’s MFA students, and there’s always a great sampling of literary journals. You’ll find authors and literary groups set up at hallway booths, in classrooms, and under tents on campus, and nearby libraries and other venues around Fairfax also host festival events. For four days, it’s like the whole community comes together to celebrate books.
This year I only managed to attend one day of the festival, but it was a solid Saturday. At a presentation on found poetry, J. Michael Martinez read from works in which he turns things like postcards and government documents into poetic confrontations, and Margaret Yocom performed her erasure poem Kin S Fur, in which she pares away most of a gruesome fairy tale and, using what’s left, gives agency back to the heroine to tell her own story. At a panel called Magic in Ancient Lands, Lindsay Smith (Web of Frost) and Cass Morris (From Unseen Fire) discussed how they borrowed from the history and folklore of the Russian and Roman empires, respectively, to craft two wildly different fantasy worlds with unique systems of magic; what they learned during the course of their research into each culture that didn’t make it into their novels; and why the fantasy genre is often so entwined with themes of empire.
I’m an enormous geek about poetry, fairy tales, and fantasy, and a struggling writer of all three, so those two panels alone made my weekend.
A panel of crime fiction writers discussed the genre as a form of social commentary, and for my requisite nonfiction event there was a lecture on the history of Virginia winemaking. For the final event of the festival, four writers squared off against one another in a Literary Death Match, and I gained a new favorite slam poet.
Fall for the Book is also a great way to rev up for the Dodge Poetry Festival, which you’ll read about in a later post. (Or multiple later posts. It’s a big deal.) (It’s also why this post is so late.) Nearly every Fall for the Book I stumble upon a poet who later turns up at Dodge, or vice versa. It’s a wonderful synergy.