Baltimore Book Festival
By Julie Sumper
Each year, crowds of people surround Mt. Vernon's Washington Monument to take part in a weekend long book festival. The festival is outdoors, with the books being protected by white tents and caring people who simply love to read.
Thousands of people work collectively to put together the Baltimore Book Festival. These people include authors, food and drink vendors, lecturers, publishers, students, musicians, chefs and others, all who donate their time to make an exceptional event happen. They each have their own unique story.
One of the larger aspects of the book festival is the authors’ tent, which is filled with new and up-and-coming authors. The authors’ tent gives people a chance to meet and greet all different kinds of writers. Each day different authors sit in the tent to discuss, sign, and answer questions about their books.
Keisha Bell and her sister Kellee attended this year's festival to promote Keisha’s new book called “Emerging Free.”
“I’ve never been to Baltimore before,” said Bell, who was born in Florida. Bell also said that it wasn’t until she attended law school that she began to think of writing as a possible career.
“I was always interested in practicing family law, but I realized in law school that it was not as satisfying to me as writing. Writing is my way of turning a tough situation into something that people can relate to in their own way.”
The concept of Bell’s first novel is forgiveness and understanding the different choices that people make.
Bell also attended the book festival to scout out the Baltimore area for future book signings. “People here are really nice,” she said, “but the weather is pretty crazy.”
William Scott Neidhart, another author who took part in this year’s festival, was born and raised in Baltimore. Neidhart is not only a writer. He also carves small inspirational phrases into pieces of slate that he collected while working at his previous job on the railroad.
As for the festival, Neidhart was happy to be able to take part. “This festival is great because I’m meeting all kinds of people. There are so many different ethnic groups here,” he said of both the festival and Baltimore. “I’m just taking everything as it comes but I’m really glad to be here today.”
These authors are only two examples of people who never thought that they would one day be promoting their own books. They were able to restore faith in some of the less confident partakers of the event.
"It's nice to be able to show that anyone can write their message if they put their mind to it," said Bell.
Both of these authors also shared stories and offered suggestions on getting published.
Bookworms at the annual festival don’t just have to indulge in literature. They can also enjoy a variety of hands-on activities including poetry readings, writing workshops, art tents, and more.
Eldon Hubner is a Minnesota native who has analyzed the handwriting of book festival attendees for eight years. At the handwriting analysis tent, participants are asked to write “My handwriting reveals a lot about my thinking and personality. Why? Because handwriting is both a science and an art,” and sign their name on the same piece of paper. Then Hubner and his colleague Arthur go through a checklist of characteristics that help them to figure out what each person’s handwriting says about their personality.
“Whether or not your writing slants tells me how emotional you are,” Hubner said.
Hubner has lived in Baltimore for 13 years and has no plans to leave. “Before I came to Baltimore I was a divorcee,” said the self-proclaimed matchmaker. “I’ve also worked as an actor, in insurance claims, and I used to teach English at Towson University.”
Now Hubner is a certified handwriting analyst and a member of the Columbia chapter of the International Graffo Analysis Society. He sees many private clients but really enjoys working at festivals and fairs.
“This festival is great because of its clientele. It appeals to the literate section of the population as well as people who like books and everything that goes along with them,” he said.
In the School 33 Books Arts Tent, old books were made to look new, comic strips were created and aspiring artist Yoojin Shin taught a workshop on the brushstroke techniques of calligraphy. Shin, a graduate studentMaryland Institute College of Art (MICA), spent two hours teaching the novice public the art of calligraphy.
“It’s all in the steadiness of the hand,” she said. “You need to be patient and relaxed. But you must have good posture to get it right.”
Shin has lived in Baltimore for about six years and was happy to share her artistic talent with the city, which she and her friend Danny Bae called “a very friendly and manageable place to live.”
The American Literary Press was also represented at this year's festival. “We’ve been here all 10 years,” said Jim Frey, who has owned the self publishing firm for a year. This year a sign in Frey’s booth reads “Ask us how to get published.”
“All you have to do is provide us with a manuscript and a specification form about how you envision your book,” Frey said. “We don’t publish everything we get, but we have published close to 1,400 books in the past 20 years. We publish unknown and known authors from all around the world.”
Frey also said that the festival is beneficial to both the publishing company and the people, who at this years’ festival alone submitted over 30 manuscripts.
Food and Drink
Of course, no outdoor festival experience would be complete without the right type of food. The book festival was not lacking when it came to the typical hot dog and popcorn stands. The festival, however, went a step further with stands that had things like veggie gyros, wine and free Starbucks samples.
Woodhall Wines has attended the Baltimore Book Festival for about five years. This year the wine company sold white and red wine by the glass as well as by the bottle. They also sold unique wine jelly.
Al Copp, who is one of the owners of Woodhall Wines, originally came to Baltimore in 1959. In 1983 he opened his first winery with three other families, all while he was working on the city’s Inner Harbor Project.
“We completely redeveloped the center of the city,” he said. “It looks great now. Baltimore is a wonderful place to live. People are friendly, and there is lots to do. The Inner Harbor is also very historic.”
Even though Copp used to be involved in rebuilding the inner harbor, his real passion lies with wine.
“It’s challenging and fun. You’re always looking forward to next year and hoping for great. You never know what kind of wine you’re gonna get.”
Woodhall Wines is based out of Pennsylvania, but Copp doesn’t mind the commute. “I’m a Baltimorean and I intend to stay that way.”
The “Food For Thought” stage is another presentation that has added to the distinctiveness of the book festival. Throughout the weekend, 15 different published chefs presented various recipes out of their books. Each presentation ended with gourmet samples for the entire audience.
Kevin Brown hosted this years’ “Food For Thought” stage. “I’m not really sure how I got the opportunity to host,” he said. “The mayor’s office just likes me. I guess they know I’m frothy, and I can be animated.”
Brown spent 15 years as a Baltimore Sun reporter, hosted “Around Town with Kevin Brown” and was the editor of Afro Magazine. He eventually realized that he needed a change and became involved in Baltimore City communications.
“No, I’m not a chef,” he said, “but I have nine sisters, how could I not know how to cook?”
Some of Brown’s favorite presentations included salmon, chocolate cheesecake, frozen hot chocolate, lemon rice, lasagna and the 15 different types of bread that were made. He especially loved the lemon gelato, calling it the most incredible gelato that he has ever had.