Friday, May 25, 2012

Who'd a thunk it? Gaithersburg has a rockin' Book Festival!

Last Saturday, I had the great pleasure of attending the Gaithersburg Book Festival.  I'm not kidding about it being a great pleasure!  A little background...  I spent my teen years in Gaithersburg, Maryland.  I call DC my hometown, and it is, but Gaithersburg is the place I most associate with growing up.  It's the place I remember best; it was where I spent my high school years.  And, relatively speaking, it's a fairly sleepy little burg. 

So imagine my surprise upon, after returning home for an extended visit, discovering that little ol' Gaithersburg has grown a world class literary festival--and after only three years!  I'd never even heard about it in the prior two years, but now like the National Book Festival in DC, it's on my radar, and is enough of an event to merit a visit home in years to come. 

Gaithersburg Council Member Jud Ashman
I actually got the whole back story late in the day when I ran into Gaithersburg Council Member Jud Ashman, who founded the festival.  I didn't so much "run into him" as go up to him and introduce myself.  I knew who he was, and wanted to congratulate him on a hugely successful event.  I expected him to be too busy or too important or too whatever, but it turned out that he was a super friendly guy (politician, go figure) and we had a really lovely chat.  He explained to me that in 2008, as the Bushes were leaving office, the future of the National Book Festival was in doubt.  Per the Librarian of Congress, there was no guarantee that the Obama administration would fund it.  (Because that Obama isn't nearly the book-lover that George Bush was.  *rolls eyes*)  Anyway, when Ashman heard about this, he feared that the region would have no book festival at all, and it was then he thought of bringing a festival to G'burg. 

It's a modest enough idea for a modest town, but I'm fairly overwhelmed with the execution.  I don't know what the first two years were like, but this year boasted over 110 authors, some local, some flying in from all over.  Among them were celebrities, #1 bestselling authors, and writers of every stripe.  In addition to the many talks, interviews, and panel discussions taking place all day, there were many interesting exhibitors, writing workshops, and a truly magical "children's village."  I know this because I spent part of my day with children, and man did they have a good time!

I spent the day in the company of my friend, novelist Allison Leotta, and her lovely family--including six-month-old beagle mix, Maggie.  Let me tell you, if there was one star of the day, it was that puppy!  Ali's husband took the kids for the better part of the day, and we took the puppy.  Everywhere we went we were stopped by friendly dog-lovers.  Everyone at the festival was so friendly, attendees and authors--several of whom with which I had really lovely interactions.  It was a great day for community.

There's much more to tell, but happily, I brought my little FlipCam with me, so all weekend I'll be posting about the authors I saw, augmented by some admittedly shaky hand-held video.  It is, as they say, better than nothing.  For now, rest assured the next year's festival on May 18, 2013 is already on my calendar.  And Mr. Ashman envisions a future when the city supports a multi-day festival.  I'm so there!

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