Baltimore Book Festival This Weekend!

If you live in the DMV and have never been to the Baltimore Book Festival, then you need to head to Baltimore’s Mt. Vernon neighborhood this weekend to see what the fuss is all about.

From author appearances and book signings, to cooking demos, open mic opportunities, historical tours, storytelling, street performances, music and food, there is something for everyone at the Baltimore Book Festival.

This year’s author lineup includes “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” star Teresa Giudice (Fabulicious: Fast & Fit); Grammy-nominated singer Ledisi (Better Than Alright: Finding Peace, Love & Power); bestselling author Ann Hood (The Knitting Circle); Laura Lippman (And When She Was Good) and Jessica Anya Blau (The Summer of Naked Swim Parties).

To check out the full lineup of authors, performances and events (including the City Paper’s super cool Book Swap), check out the Baltimore Book Festival’s website.

Check out these highlights from last year’s Baltimore Book Festival…

Follow @BmoreBookFest on Twitter, hashtag #2012BBF.

Sweets & Tweets at the National Aquarium

Last week, I was invited to a Tweetup via Twitter by the fine folks at the National Aquarium (@NatlAquarium on Twitter). They were hosting a preview of Polar Express 4D, and had invited a group of tweeps from in and around Baltimore to the event.

I was honored and delighted to have been invited. But being that I had just had surgery, I was afraid I wouldn’t be up to the adventure.  My husband assured me as long as I took it easy, it would be fine. (He’s always right. Well, maybe almost always. But in this case, he was right.)

So Wednesday evening, we drove down to the Aquarium, and I was delighted to see downtown Baltimore spruced up for the holidays. Upon arriving at the entrance, we were greeted by Aquarium staffers and the conductor of the Polar Express!

We were directed up to the Polar Express Lounge where the air was abuzz with excited children, the aroma of fresh-baked cookies, and hot chocolate! Of the many, many times I have been to the Aquarium, I have never been there late enough to enjoy the night views of the Inner Harbor. Stunning!

And then, the pièce de résistance: the movie preview. We were ushered (mugs of hot chocolate and 3D glasses in hand) into the Aquarium’s 4D Immersion Theater for the experience. We were advised to put our mugs on the floor, because we were in for a bumpy ride. And bumpy it was. Not only that, it was cold, windy and snowy at times. It made for an incredibly rich experience.

I was delighted to meet one of my Twitter idols, @CharmCityMa, in person after the viewing. She is one of the most fabulous, wittiest mom-divas on Twitter, and the fact that she reps Charm City is an added plus!

At the end of the evening, we were delighted to catch a glimpse the Power Plant Holiday Light Show. Take a peek here:

A perfect holiday ending to a perfect holiday evening!

Master Class

My first job out of college was teaching introductory telecom courses part-time at Baltimore City Community College. On a whim, I responded to an ad the school had placed in The Baltimore Sun. Three weeks and a phone call later, I was hired. Who know getting a job teaching college was so easy?

I was all ready to change the world. My students would learn about communication, and when the semester was over they’d be ready to change the world themselves, armed with the knowledge to write powerful speeches and scripts, create television shows and radio programs, and work for Oprah. I was giddy about the opportunity to teach college students some of the things I just learned only a few years prior. All I needed was a little confidence and a can-do attitude.

The man that hired me, Dr. Lester, was an interesting character. He reminded me of an older, more diminutive Ivan Drago from Rocky IV. He seemed unfazed by my lack of experience and assured me I could teach the students how to take a computer apart and identify parts on the motherboard.

“All you need to do is tell them to flip to the back of their books and use that diagram to do their lab work,” he told me. This was coming from a man who offered me the job after a fifteen-minute phone interview.

Fast-forward to the first night of the second semester. I was running late…not a good look for an instructor. I jogged into the building, past the security desk and onto an awaitng elevator. The other person on the elevator — a portly, scruffy-looking older gentleman — was going to the same floor as I was. He was clutching a brown bag, smelling like he had doused himself with Colt 45 or maybe Old English. He smiled; I nodded. The ride to the third floor was taking far too long.

The man muttered a hail of curse words under his breath before he said, “Gotdammit, I’m gonna be late again.” Then he looked at me. “What class are you going to?”

“Intro to Telecom.”

“Good,” he smiled. “I won’t be late by myself then.”

The thought to let him know that I was the instructor never crossed my mind.

“You know anything about this teacher?” He tucked the brown bag under his arm and uncrumpled his class schedule. “Williams, Kimberly,” he read aloud. “You know anything about this Kimberly chick?”

Actually I do. I know her very well. I know she’s late for class. I decided that I’d let my silence answer his question for me.

The scruffy man decided to introduce himself just as the elevator crawled to the third floor. “Hi, I’m Hercules. Hercules Clark.” He chuckled. “I hope she ain’t one of them uptight broads that flips out when you’re late for class.”

No, I’m not an uptight broad. I’m just Kimberly. And things are about to get really awkward.

The elevator dings, the doors open and Hercules stepped off and strolled down the corridor. It was 6:31. Late.

I let him go in first. After all, it’s boys before broads, right?

The classroom was full. There were three seat left: two in the back row and one at the front for the instructor. Hercules trotted to the back, probably expecting me to follow suit. I stopped at the door way, gathered what little composure I had, and walked to the podium.

When Hercules turned around to see I was at the front of the room, he filled the air with an endless stream of profanity. “I guess you done already gave me an F, huh?”

I couldn’t stop laughing, grateful for an icebreaker even better than the one I had planned.

“I’m so sorry, Miss Kimberly, ma’am,” Hercules apologized. “I called her a broad in the elevator.” He explained to the class.

Several of the women in the class chided Hercules for using such a derogatory term, and for insulting their poor little instructor (that would be me). Wanting to make a point, yet not wanting to go overboard, I just offered Hercules a few words of advice in regards to addressing and interacting with women. From there we moved on to the business of learning.

I later learned that Hercules was a disabled vet. He had taken my class to have something to do with his evenings. He seldom was absent for class, although most of the time he was there he was nodding off.

For the work that Hercules did while he was awake in class, this broad gave him a solid C-.

The Art of Giving Back

A few years ago, I stumbled upon an article about a writing workshop for ex-offenders in Baltimore’s City Paper that caught my interest. There was something folksy and raw about this grassroots workshop that brought together experienced writers and those looking to find their voice as they re-entered society. Many of the program’s participants had stories to tell about their lives beyond life behind bars and barbed wire. The name of the workshop — Writing Outside the Fence — seemed fitting. After reading the article, a sense of urgency swept over me. I had to be a part of this effort.

My mother instilled the “giving back” mentality in my younger sister and me while we were growing up. As children, we volunteered at church sorting and folding clothes for the needy, or helping out with the church’s soup kitchen. Instead of teaching us to pity the images of the destitute and the homeless on the TV screen, my mom took us out to see what homelessness looked like on the streets of Baltimore. We met orphaned children at a local shelter. We took sandwiches and coffee to men and women living on the city streets, under bridges and in alleyways. I learned a very sobering lesson about life at a very young age.

Reading the article about this writing workshop brought back memories of my experience as a literacy tutor at church. It was humbling for me, then in high school, to sit with men and women old enough to be my grandparents and help them learn to recoqnize letters, numbers and simple words. When they were able to read that first sentence aloud on their own, and write sentences for the first time, their sense of pride brought tears to my eyes. I had taken the letters and the words they were struggling to learn for granted.

And so, on a muggy afternoon in June of 2007, I headed downtown to Enoch Pratt Library‘s Central Branch for a reading by the participants in the Writing Outside the Fence workshop. I had to meet these people. Both the instructors and the participants were rock stars in my mind. I wanted to be a part of this effort to help those struggling to find and hone their voice.

Their writing blew me away. One after the other, they stood up to read powerful, beautifully-written pieces about life, love, loss, hope, darkness, regret, redemption and God. The creative energy in the room gave me a buzz. I wanted to sit in on the next workshop (which is open to the public, by the way). After the reading I introduced myself to the workshop organizer and told her as much. “That’s wonderful, she replied. “But we’re looking for instructors. Would you be interested?” I didn’t feel like I could contribute anything by teaching a workshop. But she asked me to give it a try.

I’m glad I did.

I’ve been involved in the Writing Outside the Fence workshops for four years now. It’s been an incredibly rewarding experience. In addition to the weekly writing workshops (held on Tuesday at the Re-Entry Center at Mondawmin Mall), we’ve held several workshops and reading events at the Brock Bridge correctional facility in Jessup. I can look beyond the records and rap sheets and see the stories, the potential and the untapped talent that reside in the hearts of these men and women. Everyone has a story to tell, and no matter who you are, what you’ve done or where you’ve come from, everyone deserves to be heard.

Since becoming a part of the WOTF family, I’ve gained a greater appreciation for writing and for the power of words on the page. I’ve probably learned much more than I’ve taught in the past four years. There is a beauty in helping others breathe life into their thoughts and ideas in order unleash their stories waiting to be told.

Baltimore Book Festival – Sept. 23-25

Mark your calendars for September 23-25, the dates for the 16th Annual Baltimore Book Festival! This is one of the premiere literary festivals in the country, featuring many of the best and brightest authors from across the country.

I absolutely love the Baltimore Book Festival. It’s held in one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in all of Baltimore: Mount Vernon. The mid-September weather usually is just right, not too hot and not too cool.

The lineup for this year’s festival includes: Sherman Alexie, Common, Tananarive Due, Kimberla Lawson Roby, Laura Lippman, Roland Martin, Terry McMillan, Jacquelyn Mitchard, Tavis Smiley, Alice Walker and many more.

If you’re interested in being a part of the behind-the-scenes action at this year’s Baltimore Book Festival, you can sign up to volunteer with the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts. For aspiring writers, it’s a great way to get immersed in the literary world (and network with other writers, too).

It’s a shame that both the Baltimore Book Festival and the National Book Festival (sponsored by the Library of Congress) are on the same weekend. But if you can manage to make both events, you won’t regret it. However, if you can’t, don’t worry. Several authors, including Terry McMillan and Sherman Alexie, will be appearing at both festivals.

Me and my fellow BOPA volunteers with former Minnesota governor and author Jesse Ventura.

Artscape Turns 30

Artscape is synonymous with summer in Baltimore. It’s the time of the year when people and all things creative converge in the heart of the city’s Arts & Cultural District, when quirky and edgy are normal and square is not.

My first and fondest memories of Artscape were when it was in its infancy, just a few years old. My mother put my sister and me in the car on hot Saturday in July and headed into town so we could check out this new free arts festival. I was probably 11 or 12 years old at the time. Life for me was about Michael Jackson and Prince and MTV and the Rubik’s Cube.

The 80s were bright and big. Shoulder pads were in. So was the Jheri Curl. As a child of the era, I was subjected to both. However, it was during that decade that I learned to appreciate creativity in all its glory. Looking at all of the outdoor art exhibits at Artscape, I marveled at the wild, quirky artwork on display. I remember seeing painted toilets, newspaper and foil fashioned into art, and many other unthinkable things. Nothing inappropriate, just strange.

I embraced Artscape. It was a big playground for the creative types. Individuality and expression were celebrated. People sang, danced, ate, and danced some more. My mom, my sister and I walked around that first year and took it all in. Artscape became an annual tradition.

This year, Artscape turns 30.  To mark the occasion, Artscape are going retro. 1982 to be exact. There plenty of beats and eats to take in this weekend. Add to that karaoke and improv comedy and storytelling workshops, and shows paying homage to pop culture (Think: all the 80s toys and fashion your nostalgic heart can hold).

If you’re in the area this weekend, head on town to the Mt. Royal area. You can plan out your Artscape experience, or just let it happen. Whatever this case, you won’t want to miss all the music, the performances, the food and the shopping. (Come to think of it, I bought the cutest pink & green purse from Artscape a couple of years ago. Now I can’t find it. Someone must have borrowed it permanently. I also bought a cute pair of pants made out of 100% Egyptian cotton sheets. Now I can find those, but can’t fit them anymore. Oh well.)

Happy Birthday, Artscape!