Free Fall Baltimore’s NEW Literary Arts Week!

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Free Fall Baltimore is back! Every fall, our awesome friends over at the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts present an exciting series of cultural events during the month of October. However, this year’s Free Fall Baltimore will be even more exciting with a new Literary Arts Week added to the festivities!

Literary Arts Week runs from October 13-20 and will feature author readings, writing workshops, open mic performances and other events to highlight Baltimore’s rich literary culture.

Beyond Literary Arts Week there are literally dozens of free museum tours, theater performances, concerts, kid-friendly events and much more! Check out the list of events on Free Fall Baltimore.

Follow @promoandarts on Twitter to get all the latest news on upcoming events throughout Baltimore.

National Book Festival This Weekend!

There’s no better way to kick off fall than with the Library of Congress’s National Book Festival! The event, now in its 12th year, features over 100 authors, poets and illustrators on the National Mall. There are events for just about everyone from children and teens, to history buffs, foodies, poetry lovers and more.
The National Book Festival kicks off today at 10 a.m. and ends tomorrow evening. For those of you in the DMV area, getting to the National Book Festival is quite easy via Metro. The National Mall is only steps away from the Orange Line’s Smithsonian Metro Stop.

In Honor of Black History Month…

As an avid reader, I almost always have my nose in a book. Sometimes I’ll be reading more than one book at once, reading a few chapters of one and then switching to the other for a few chapters. Despite my undying love for books, there are not too many books that affect me in such a way that they change my life.

However, The Known World by Edward P. Jones is one of the books that changed my life.

I had been introduced to Jones’s works through the Writing Program at JHU. In one of my fiction writing classes, I read “The Girl Who Raised Pigeons,” a short story from his collection Lost in the City. I aspired to write about Baltimore the way Jones wrote about his native Washington, DC.

It was during the fall of 2009 when I was in a fiction workshop that I got another introduction to Jones. I had submitted my first set of manuscript pages for workshop, and was nervous about the feedback I would get from my classmates and my instructor. I was stunned when my instructor pointed out, almost immediately, that the opening chapters of my historical novel reminded her of the Pulitzer-prize winning novel The Known World. I was floored! At the time, I had heard of the book, but had not yet read it. I ordered the book with the intention of starting it while on Thanksgiving break.

From the first page, the opening paragraph, the first sentence, I was hooked. Jones’s gorgeous prose and compelling characters drew me into a world I never knew existed. Without giving too much of the plot away to those who have yet to read The Known World, this novel is about former slave Henry Townsend who becomes a slave owner in fictional Manchester County, Virginia, and the people on both sides of slavery. There were many sentences, chapters and moments in the book that swept me off my feet and took my breath away. To have my own unpolished writing compared to his was a tremendous compliment, and at the same time quite intimidating.

I started The Known World that Thanksgiving weekend, and finished it a few days before Christmas. The ending was so breathtakingly beautiful that I wept, my tears staining the last pages. Everything in the book made sense and was tied up, but not in a contrived way. It was pure and logical. Intrigued by the man and this book, I scoured the internet for anything I could find. In one interview before he won the Pulitzer, Jones said that he had the book floating in his head for several years. Once he left his job as the editor of a tax newsletter, he wrote the novel (it’s 388 pages in paperback) in three months. However, the ending he already written. He said, in fact, that most of his story endings, he knows and writes ahead of time.

I revisited The Known World several times trying to deconstruct elements of it to learn from the master. The story of The Known World isn’t told in linear fashion. There are several secondary storylines running concurrently with the main one. And there is an omniscient narrator hovering overhead informing the reader of every single detail down to the thoughts of each character. When I started working on my novel, I had an omniscient narrator, too. I was dismayed when my instructor and classmates shot it down. “It cheapens the experience,” my instructor said. “It’s a device used by lazy writers.” Well, Edward P. Jones isn’t lazy. I tried rewriting portions of my novel using a third-person narrator, but there were details that they couldn’t share because there were things they couldn’t know. Only my omniscient narrator – who was about to be laid off by my instructor – would know! I kept plugging away attempting to restructure my novel using the third-person narrator, which stifled me greatly.

Imagine my delight and surprise when my workshop instructor called me a year later to tell me she had invited Edward P. Jones to speak to her class. She asked me if I’d like to sit in. I told her I was already there.

Meeting Jones in person was a moment I will cherish for the rest of my life. It is not every day that a reader gets to me his or her favorite author and engage them in a conversation about craft. Armed with his books and a writing journal, I was prepared to ask questions and take notes.

There was so much that I learned from Edward P. Jones on that evening. It affirmed me as a writer to be in his presence and relate to his thoughts and perspective on writing. I strive to tell my story as well as the stories of our people and the culture. Edward P. Jones is a master at that. For Black History Month, I will be re-reading The Known World to commemorate our history, our heritage, our culture and our literature.

“Fiction,” Jones said, “[is] adding wonderful sauce to all of the lies so the reader will be able to swallow.”

That sounds delicious.

A Friend of the Written Word

I had the pleasure of meeting one of my favorite authors, Tayari Jones, at the Gaithersburg Book Festival back in May. She’s the author of a fascinating and breathtaking new novel, Silver Sparrow, that has garnered much critical acclaim in the literary world. When I learned that she was going to be one of the featured authors at the book festival, I knew I had to make the trek from Baltimore to Gaithersburg to see her.

It was mesmerizing to hear her read from Silver Sparrow. Her words floated off the page and danced in the air, stirring up all kinds of thoughts and emotions in the standing-room only crowd. A very lively discussion about Tayari’s book, the subject and the writing process soon followed. It’s strange to say, but for some reason I felt energized and affirmed as a writer on that day.

After the reading, I went over to the authors’ signing tent to get her autograph. While waiting in line I gripped the book in my hands, its gorgeously iridescent cover shimmered in the sunlight.  When my turn finally came, Tayari and I chatted for a few, brief moments before she signed my book: “To Kimberly, Keep putting words on the page. Tayari Jones 2011.”

I started reading Silver Sparrow when I got home that evening and couldn’t put it down. It only took me a few days to finish the novel and then to start touting it to friends, family and my “tweeps” in the Twitterverse.

Since then, I’ve been reluctant to loan my copy of the book out for fear of someone else falling in love with it and not giving it back. So imagine my surprise when Tayari Jones tweeted the other day that she was signing bookplates for readers. I jumped on it. Even though she had already autographed my copy of her book, I asked for a couple of signed bookplates for copies I had planned to give to a couple of friends. She graciously obliged my request, and she included a signed bookplate for me:

From one friend of the written word to another, thank you for the affirmation, Tayari! My novel is a work in progress, but I’m still putting words on the page...

Baltimore Book Festival – Sept. 23-25

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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.

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