Baltimore Book Festival

Jose Garcia of the Book Outlet unpacks books for his company's booth as they set up for the Baltimore Book Festival Thursday. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun / September 22, 2011)

Baltimore's book festival got here first.

Organizers of the 16th annual Baltimore Book Festival, which opens Friday, say they aren't fazed that a larger, glitzier, more star-studded event is being held on the exact same weekend just 40 miles to the south.

They aren't concerned that the upstart National Book Festival will feature celebrity authors the likes of actress Julianne Moore, or that the Washington extravaganza is expanding this year from one day to two.

But not everyone is as gracious.

"They copped our weekend," said Judy Cooper, an avid reader who also works as the coordinator of public programs for the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

"We started it. We were the first in the area. And now that they're running for two days instead of just one, it is kind of a problem."

Indeed, book lovers in the Mid-Atlantic region must choose from among a plethora of literary activities crammed into the second half of September.

The Brooklyn Book Festival was held Sunday. The Baltimore Book Festival runs Friday through Sunday, and the National Book Festival operates Saturday and Sunday. Finally, the annual festival run by The New Yorker magazine — arguably the most prestigious literary happening of them all — occurs Sept. 30-Oct. 2.

Organizers say that early fall is an ideal time to throw a book party on the East Coast: The weather usually is nice. The kids are back in school. And it's traditionally the time of year when publishers roll out major releases.

Nonetheless, Cooper can't help wondering why at least one of these galas couldn't debut in, for example, April.

"I'm going to spend most of the day Saturday at the Baltimore Book Festival," she said. "If the festival in Washington were held on a different weekend, I'd go to that one, too, but I have such limited free time. I can't attend both. Just the thought makes me tired."

The Library of Congress, which organizes Washington's 11th annual book fair, hasn't exactly been taking the hint.

Kathy Hornig of the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts said that organizers of both events met after the Library of Congress bumped the 2005 festival back from October, when it traditionally had been held, to late September.

As she put it: "We noticed that the dates of the festivals were the same, and we went to Washington and had a meeting."

The Baltimore group was told that the National Mall was committed for virtually the entire year to hosting other cultural activities. If the Library of Congress wanted to mount a book festival, the organization was limited to the third weekend in September.

"Everybody is always asking us why Baltimore has its book festival on the same weekend as the one in Washington," Hornig said. "In an ideal world, would I want them to be scheduled on the same days? Probably not. But do I see their festival as detracting from ours? No."

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Thursday at a news conference kicking off the festival that a 2009 economic impact study found that the Baltimore Book Festival generates about $4.5 million annually for the city.

"I hope everyone comes out this weekend with their wallets in hand," she said.

But Rawlings-Blake added later that she's not concerned that the city could lose out financially because it competes head-on with the Washington fair.