Key School celebrates writing at Annapolis Book Festival

The 10th annual Annapolis Book Festival at the Key School promises volumes.

Faculty and parent volunteers are expecting more than 2,000 visitors on the 15-acre campus Saturday, April 21, for a free, family-friendly celebration of the written word. The day offers opportunities to meet more than 40 authors, participate in panel discussions, preview the latest best-sellers and browse through thousands of new and gently used books.

While adults pursue classes in creative writing or delve into election news, 21st-century China and the popularity of audio books, children can learn bookbinding, indulge in science experiments or exercise at the "Hunger Games" training center.

"You will walk away with a lot of books and enriched by your experiences at the festival," said Debbie Daugherty, Key School director of advancement. "There is something for everyone, from the astute political personality to the casual reader who barely has time to pick up a book."

The school has indoor and outdoor space for the festival, which includes live music, storytelling, a coffee shop and even a quiet room.

What began as a one-room book fair and fundraiser for the largest independent school in Anne Arundel County has since evolved into "a statement of who we are," said Missy Attridge, a parent volunteer who helped start the event. For the past eight years, she has led the authors committee, which this year has signed 42 authors and organized 18 panels that promise to generate lively discussions throughout the day. Corporate sponsors help defray costs, and the authors donate their time, she said.

"We keep it free as our gift to the community," Attridge said.

Many writers, like Iris Krasnow, a festival founder and parent for 18 years at the school, return every year. As a journalism professor at American University in Washington, Krasnow often encourages colleagues and guest lecturers to participate in the festival. Word has spread, and the network of participants has grown, she said.

"I love how its reputation is building and how the festival is drawing nationally known authors from across the country," she said. "This is a school built on books, one that helps children learn the value of making reading the centerpiece of their lives."

While they receive no stipend, authors gain publicity by lecturing or participating in panel discussions. They also find opportunities to interact with others in their field and with the public.

"Most of us have brand-new books out," said Laura Oliver, who will conduct a writing workshop. "This helps us spread the word and gives us name recognition."

Stephen Frantzich, a political science professor at the Naval Academy and author of several political tomes, will moderate a discussion on the 2012 election and hopes he can catch Oliver's workshop.

"Everyone should write a book, whether it is ever published or not," he said.

A writer might find inspiration at the festival, said Gary Jobson, Annapolis businessman, sailor, author of numerous books on sailing, and another frequent festival participant. The questions he answers during discussions often spark an idea that shows up in his future writings, he said. The interaction with fellow writers can also inspire, he said.

"It is fascinating to exchange information, research and writing techniques with other writers," he said. "There is always something to learn."

He also enjoys time away from his office and computer.

"Authors take great pride in their work, but rarely interface with readers, or potential readers," Jobson said. "So a book fair is a nice opportunity for a two-way exchange."

Science-fiction writer Charles E. Gannon and two of his children, who enrolled at Key this year, are making their first appearance at the festival. The diversity of topics, the connection to real-world issues and the many opportunities that engage youth in literature are drawing them, he said.

"As writers, if feedback is your goal, this is a great place," he said.

Frantzich finds the festival's relaxed atmosphere much more appealing than the typical academic affair and the topics much broader in scope than promotional events authors usually attend, he said. In previous years, as a panelist and moderator, he has prepared several questions ahead of time, just in case discussion lags.

"I seldom had to use them," he said. "These audiences are really interactive. I tell the panelists to cut back on their own time to allow for more questions."

Anything that gets families together and encourages reading should take hold and last forever, Oliver said. Krasnow's youngest sons graduate this year, but she hopes to return to the festival for decades to come.

Attridge, who still calls herself a parent volunteer although her three children have graduated, expects to leave the festival with a stack of books. Her festival duties may not allow her time to attend as many discussions as she would like, but she knows how to catch up. Several workshops will be recorded and posted on the school's website.

Soon after the festival, she knows boxes of donated books will start appearing on her doorstep again. Those will be added to the thousands the school will receive in anticipation of the next festival. This year's donations filled nearly half of the school's gym and took volunteers many Saturdays to sort into genres and price for sale.

"Used-book junkies love to sift through them," she said.

She does not fret over unpurchased volumes. Frantzich will take them for Books for International Goodwill, an Annapolis-based book bank he has operated for 17 years. The bank receives about 30,000 donations a month and has shipped more than 5 million volumes to 25 developing countries and to impoverished areas in the U.S.

As usual, Attridge said, she will end the day exhausted and wondering if she can possibly volunteer for another year. She knows the answer.

"I can't wait for next year," she said.

The festival runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 21, at the Key School, 534 Hillsmere Drive, Annapolis. Information: 410-263-9231.

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