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W.Va. Book Festival returns

After a two-year hiatus, the West Virginia Book Festival is back with a splash.

Toni Blessing, assistant director of Kanawha County Public Library, said that was intentional on the part of organizers.

“We really want to bring it back to people's attention, so we wanted to make a big splash our first year back,” Blessing said.

In 2012, the library lost about 40 percent of its funding and the festival wasn't held for the next two years. But after this year's library levy passed, money that pays for staffing was restored and the festival could go on, said library spokeswoman Terry Wooten.

“Library staff spends all year planning the festival. Without funding provided by the library levy, it would not have been able to pay its employees for those hours and those they'll spend working the festival,” Wooten said.

It takes between 40 and 50 staff members to run the event and just as many volunteers, Wooten said.

The festival attracts an estimated 5,000 people to Charleston each year it's held. Blessing said she and the library staff have been told several times that people missed the event the last two years.

“We've been thanked so many times People even plan their vacations around the festival. They plan to take time off from work to travel here,” Blessing said.

Acclaimed authors Neil Gaiman and Jodi Picoult will speak at this year's festival. Gaiman, author of fantasy novel “American Gods” and “The Sandman” graphic novel series, will be interviewed by West Virginia's poet laureate Marc Harshman at 7 p.m. Friday in the Civic Center Coliseum.

Gaiman won't have a public book signing. Instead, he will sign 500 books backstage before his event. Those titles will include “The Sleeper and the Spindle,” “Trigger Warning,” “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” and “American Gods.”

Attendees of the event will be given tickets to buy one of the signed books on a first-come, first-served basis in the lobby of the Civic Center starting at 5 p.m. The purchase tickets will be handed out until 7 p.m. or until they're gone. Tickets are limited to one per person and a preferred title must be picked before the purchase takes place.

Picoult, who wrote “My Sister's Keeper” and her latest “Leaving Time,” will speak at 3 p.m. Saturday in the Coliseum. Picoult will sign two books per person immediately after her presentation. A selection of titles will be for sale at the festival Marketplace and outside her event.

Authors Jane Friedman, Cat Pleska and Fran Simone will sign books after their presentations on Friday.

Jeff Shaara, Jacqueline Woodson and West Virginia's own Homer Hickam will present and sign books throughout Saturday.

For more information on author talks and book signings, visit www.wvbookfestival.org/#authors.

Eric Foner will present “Civil War to Civil Right: The Politics of History” for the West Virginia Humanities Council's 2015 McCright Lecture. Foner, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, will speak at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the University of Charleston.

The first West Virginia Book Festival was held in 2001. The library's previous director “wanted to do something to bring attention to West Virginia writers, because we do have such a rich literary history in Appalachia,” Blessing said.

While it was limited to only West Virginia writers for several years, organizers realized they needed to bring in authors that would be a big draw to get attendance up.

“And in that way, we get the people there and then they're introduced to West Virginia writers. And that's still our intent,” Blessing said.

West Virginia authors Fran Simone and Cat Pleska will lead writing and self-publishing workshops on Friday morning and afternoon.

While some events require advance registration, admission to the festival is free. That's something that remains important to the library.

“We are committed to keeping it free for as long as possible, because it really makes it available to all. Everyone can attend. We're really dedicated to that,” Blessing said.

The used book sale, which did continue in the festival's absence, will be held Saturday starting at 8 a.m. Thousands of titles will be available for purchase, including antique and rare books in the sale's Collectors' Corner.

“They bring suitcases, they bring boxes. They bring all these huge containers,” Wooten said of shoppers in years past.

Aside from the collectible titles, which are priced between $10 and $20, books are priced at $4 or less. Books will be marked down on Saturday from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. when shoppers can pay $2 for all the items they can fit in a bag or $5 for all they can fit in a box.

After 5 p.m., nonprofits that have registered in advance can comb through what's left and take as many books as they like for free. Teachers may also participate in that part of the sale.

“There's so many books there that we don't always sell everything,” Wooten said.

The Festival Marketplace will be open both Friday and Saturday and feature 55 vendors, most of whom are West Virginia authors or publishers.

Many of those vendors are sci-fi and fantasy writers this year, Wooten said, something she attributes to Neil Gaiman's appearance.

“I think that's a nice tie-in,” Wooten said.

Word Play, the festival's kid-focused area, will be open Friday and Saturday. CoSi will have a booth set up. Kids can participate in the Storybook Costume parade on Saturday at 10 a.m. Bright Star Theatre will perform Storybook Tales at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. that day, too.

Bringing books and reading to people is “the heart of the festival,” Blessing said.

“It brings attention to books and to the importance of reading, not just for kids, but for all ages. And that's why we bring the authors in, because it's exciting for people to realize, 'Hey. Authors are a big deal.' And we want kids to know that. We want teens to know that,” Blessing said.

The West Virginia Book Festival takes place Friday and Saturday at the Charleston Civic Center. For event information, including schedules and workshop registration, visit www.wvbookfestival.org.

Reach Rachel Molenda at rachel.molenda@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5102 or follow @rachelmolenda on Twitter.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story gave the incorrect date for the Kanawha County Public Library's used book sale. The sale takes place on Saturday, Oct. 24.

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