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This year’s Book Festival to feature more authors

Erik Larson
Sandra Brown
Stephen Coonts
Matt de la Pena
Annette Gordon-Reed
Ron Rash
Maggie Stiefvater
Julia Keller
Patrick Rothfuss

This year’s West Virginia Book Festival has something for everyone — and then some.

Toni Blessing, associate director of the Kanawha County Public Library, and Terry Wooten, the library’s marketing and development manager, said the library system wanted “a little something for everyone” for this year’s book festival, one year removed from its celebrated revival in 2015. To that end, the committee in charge of attracting authors to the festival set out to find even more authors for this year’s event.

“We want to send the signal that the West Virginia Book Festival is for all book lovers,” Blessing said. “We’re not going to limit it to one genre. We’re not going to limit it to thrillers or mysteries. We’re going to include everyone.”

Erik Larson, a journalist and best-selling non-fiction author, will serve as the main headliner at this year’s festival, alongside West Virginia native Stephen Coonts and prolific “romantic thriller” author Sandra Brown. The event, slated for Oct. 28 and 29, will feature a wide variety of authors, workshops and activities, and Wooten said attendees are going to have to make some choices about how they want to spend their time.

Larson is the first non-fiction author to serve as the book festival’s main headliner — a move Blessing said she felt was important given the library’s commitment to showcasing a variety of authors and genres.

“We like to cover all areas and genres, including non-fiction, and I don’t know that we’ve ever had a headliner who was a non-fiction writer,” Blessing said. “It seemed like it was time to do that.”

Larson, whose critically acclaimed book “The Devil in the White City” intertwines the story of Daniel Burnham, the architect behind the splendor of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, and H.H. Holmes, the serial killer who lurked in the city at the same time, luring victims into his “Murder Castle” — a hotel ostensibly built for fairgoers that housed a gas chamber, dissection table and a crematorium to dispose of the bodies of Holmes’ victims. The book is currently being adapted into a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Martin Scorsese.

“It’s an extremely popular book,” Blessing said. “Larson was a really good get for us; his newest book, “Dead Wake,” is about the Lusitania and its last crossing, and it’s also a really fascinating story.”

As with last year’s appearance by Homer Hickam, the 2016 book festival will feature another successful West Virginia author fond of the skies — writer and pilot Stephen Coonts. Coonts, a native of Buckhannon, saw his debut novel, “Flight of the Intruder,” achieve marked success. His latest work, “Liberty’s Last Stand,” is a politically charged thriller that represents a departure from the themes of his earlier books — a controversial book Blessing said is worth the read.

“He has a huge following,” Blessing said. “He graduated from WVU, he was in the military; he’s a tough, rough guy, and his newest book is a very controversial book. It’s a fictional story of a president who declares an end to the Constitution and Bill of Rights following a disaster and institutes marshal law, and what happens after.”

The festival’s other headlining author, Brown, is the New York Times bestselling author of more than 60 novels, including “Friction,” “Mean Streak,” “Deadline,” “Low Pressure” and “Lethal.” Many of her works, including “Smoke Screen” and “Ricochet,” have been adapted into television movies, and she was named the Thriller Master in 2008 by the International Thriller Writer’s Association.

Patrick Rothfuss, Maggie Stiefvater, Ron Rash, Matt de la Peña and West Virginia author Julia Keller also join the lineup of authors coming to this year’s event. Some authors, like Rothfuss, were invited because surveys of attendees at last year’s festival requested them, Blessing said.

“We had a lot of Neil Gaiman fans last year, and one of their most requested authors in our survey was Patrick Rothfuss, and that’s who we have this year,” Blessing said. “He writes fantasy, and he’s very popular in that genre, so I think a lot of people are going to be very happy to see him.”

Stiefvater is a writer, artist and musician who wrote the fantasy trilogy “Shiver,” a New York Times bestselling series. Her novel, “The Scorpio Races,” was named to the Best of the Year lists for Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, The Horn Book and Kirkus Reviews.

De la Peña is the New York Times bestselling author of six young adult novels. De la Peña’s presentation for children and families in the Festival’s Word Play area will focus on Last Stop on Market Street, a 2016 Caldecott Honor Book and a 2016 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book and winner of the 2016 Newbery Medal.

Rash, a two-time O. Henry prizewinner, is the author of the 2009 New York Times Best Sellers “Serena” and “Above the Waterfall,” and “Serena” inspired the 2014 film starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper.

Julia Keller, a Huntington native and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, is the author of a critically acclaimed series set in a small West Virginia town. The first book in the series, “A Killing in the Hills,” was a Publishers Weekly Pick of the Week, a Library Journal Debut of the Week and a featured selection in People.

This year’s book festival will also play host to several workshops, which were an incredibly popular part of last year’s event, Wooten said. West Virginia University Press authors Jonathan Corcoran, Laura Long, Marie Manilla, Jessie Van Eerden and Doug Van Gundy will present a workshop on the process of creating vibrant characters and personas, while Sarah Sullivan will discuss writing children’s picture and chapter books and Tony Breeden will focus on West Virginia’s unique contribution to sci-fi culture. Registration for the workshops will begin on Aug. 1.

The West Virginia Humanities Council annual McCreight Lecture in the Humanities will kick off this year’s festival with a presentation by Annette Gordon-Reed at the University of Charleston on Thursday, Oct. 27. Gordon-Reed, who won the Pulitzer Prize in History and the National Book Award for her book “The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family,” writes primarily about the lives of former presidents. Her most recently published book is “Most Blessed of the Patriarchs: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination.”

Other events at the festival will include the Kanawha County Public Library Annual Used Book Sale, the Marketplace with authors and book-related vendors, and the “Word Play” area for children. All events are free.

The West Virginia Book Festival is presented by The Library Foundation of Kanawha County Inc., Kanawha County Public Library, The West Virginia Humanities Council, The Charleston Gazette-Mail, West Virginia Public Broadcasting, The West Virginia Library Commission and West Virginia Center for the Book. Sponsors for the event are The Martha Gaines and Russell Wehrle Memorial Foundation, BB&T and The Friends of The Library Foundation.

To learn more about this year’s festival, visit

Reach Lydia Nuzum at, 304-348-5189 or follow @lydianuzum on Twitter.

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