George Mason book fest lures literary giants

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker is headlining this year\'s Fall for the Book Festival at George Mason University. (Courtesy Alice Walker)

Alicia Lozano,

WASHINGTON – Pulitzer Prize winners and bestselling authors join local writers this week for the 14th annual Fall for the Book Festival. Hosted by George Mason University, it is considered the region’s oldest and biggest literary event.

This year’s headliners include big names like Michael Chabon (“The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay”), Neil Gaiman (“Coraline” and “The Graveyard Book”) and Alice Walker (“The Color Purple”). She is speaking Thursday afternoon about the 30th anniversary of her seminal work, which has been turned into a Steven Spielberg movie and Broadway musical.

Set in the deep South, the 1982 novel is one of the most read, and most banned, books of all time. Three decades after it was published, Walker says she never tires of discussing her magna opus.

“I consider it … a friendly blessing from my ancestors that they gave me ‘The Color Purple’ as a way for people to know that this is someone who writes about all kinds of things: colonialism, oppression of women, abuse of children,” she says.

“Our job as creators is to create the gift and to offer it, and then it is up to the community … to take from it what they need.”

One of her jobs as a literary creator is to encourage a new generation of readers to pick up a book and put down the remote control, she says.

“Reading is the most magical thing,” she says. “You just enter into a whole universe.”

Walker turned to classic literature at a young age to escape the racial and social restrictions of living in 1950’s Georgia. She counts “Jane Eyre” and “Wuthering Heights” among some of her favorites. Recently, she picked up “War and Peace” and “Gone with the Wind” for the first time.

She hopes that book festivals like George Mason’s will inspire people to keep reading.

“We cannot really survive with any high level of life, quality of life, if people are illiterate,” Walker says.

This is one of the goals of the festival, which has outgrown its original two-day schedule. Writers travel the globe to participate in five days of readings, talks and lectures that take place on campus and in venues throughout the region.

“One of the things that we do is try is present authors from around the world [and] across the nation, but also from right here in our own backyard,” says Fall for the Book marketing director Art Taylor. “We try to celebrate the region itself.”

In a literary area like D.C., this is easy to do. Among local authors participating in this year’s festival is co-founder Laura Miller, mystery writer Tracy Kiely, plus former Poet Laureate of Virginia Rita Dove.

But it’s the headliners that set this book festival apart, Taylor says.

“There is a real literate culture here – folks who care about the written word and care about learning,” he says. “When they come out, they are expecting to see a wide range of subjects.”

Catch a screening of “The Color Purple,” starring Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey, Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Johnson Center Cinema.

Fall for the Book runs through Sunday. For complete festivals details, click here or call 703-993-3986.

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