A Q&A with Virginia Festival of the Book director Jane Kulow.
The Virginia Festival of the Book, a program of the Charlottesville-based Virginia Foundation for the Humanities that kicks off March 22, is the largest community book event in the mid-Atlantic region. Last year, 25,000 visitors attended more than 250 lectures, panel discussions and workshops. Festival Director Jane Kulow, a former communications consultant and spirited advocate for libraries, schools and students, orchestrates it all with a full-time staff of two and 300 volunteers. In just two years at the helm, Kulow has doubled the number of events, amped up the star power of the headliners and encouraged people to think through difficult issues by reading thought-provoking texts and then discussing what they've read. Here, she shares her thoughts about the event's success.
Is the Festival typically organized around a theme?
Our goal is to provide books for every level of reader, from picture books to poetry to science fiction, so an overall theme doesn’t quite work. We do ask, of ourselves and our community partners, which conversations would we like to support? This year, topics such as income inequality, the international refugee crisis, and the intersection between violence and mental health are represented, among many other, lighter subjects.
How do you choose whom to invite?
We have an open call for submissions, and this year over 800 authors applied. For the headliner positions, we look for great writing on an important and timely topic, a certain amount of name recognition, with an emphasis on new books published in the last twelve months. Often our community partners recommend someone, as with both Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Sue Klebold (mother of Columbine High School shooter Dylan Klebold and author of A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy).
Last year 97 percent of attendees report that the Festival broadened their views. Is this part of your goal?
We feel very strongly about the opportunity for a civil conversation about difficult topics. Our audience expects to hear a variety of perspectives about an issue in a nuanced presentation. A program may include fiction and nonfiction on the same subject, or both adult and YA frames, which broadens the appeal to different types of readers and brings them into the discussion.
The Virginia Festival of the Book takes place March 22-26. Visit VaBook.org for a full schedule of events. Headliners are listed below. Wednesday, March 22, 7:00 p.m., Culbreth Theatre Beloved by children, young adults, and adults alike, Kwame Alexander and Ekua Holmes will discuss their new book, Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets, sharing stories from their careers and engaging with topics from children’s publishing and collaborative projects to the African-American experience and underrepresented readers. Tickets are $5. This program is sponsored by the UVA Department of Drama. Friday, March 24, 7:00 p.m., Martin Luther King, Jr., Performing Arts Center Joseph Stiglitz (The Great Divide: Unequal Societies and What We Can Do About Them) will speak on one of America’s greatest economic challenges: the expanding gap between rich and poor. Stiglitz explores why inequality has increased and what we can do about it. Tickets are $5. This program is sponsored by the Clergy and Laity United for Justice and Peace. Sunday, March 26, 1:00 p.m., Culbreth Theatre Sue Klebold, author of A Mother’s Reckoning and advocate for mental health awareness, research, and suicide prevention, shares the story of her son, one of the two shooters at Columbine High School, to help families see the signs when their children need help. Free admission. This program is sponsored by the Wesley Foundation at UVA and co-hosted by Partner for Mental Health; UVA Health Systems; and UVA Institute of Law, Psychiatry, and Public Policy.