Dianne Blais has had the date marked on her calendar for months: Sunday, Sept. 22. The official first day of autumn, it signals changing leaves, brisk winds and pumpkin-flavored everything. But Blais will be celebrating a different kickoff: not fall, but Fall for the Book.
The Fall for the Book festival began in 1999, and from the start it earned a starring role in Blais’ yearly planner. Blais has even plotted work and vacation schedules to fit around it. This year, Fall for the Book runs from Sept. 22-27, and for those six days, her family and friends will know where to find her.
“I basically live at George Mason that week,” Blais said. “That’s what I tell people. I mean, I don’t have a room there or anything, but I’ve thought about it.”
In its 15th year, the regional literary festival, organized by George Mason University and the City of Fairfax, spans more than 100 events. Blais, a Fairfax resident, lives just a short drive from George Mason University’s main Fairfax campus, which serves as the festival’s hub, but rarely takes a break to go home between the packed schedule of readings, signings, exhibitions, workshops and more.
“Every morning, I go through the calendar and lay out my schedule for the day,” Blais said. “And I’m there basically from the 10 a.m. start until the night ends.”
Fall for the Book events are free and open to the public. While most take place in downtown Fairfax, others are sprinkled at locations throughout Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.
More than 150 writers are participating, representing genres ranging from fiction to poetry to sportswriting. Headliners include Pulitzer Prize-winning humor columnist Dave Barry and thriller author and Virginia native David Baldacci. Barry will receive the Fairfax Prize for outstanding literary achievement on Sunday, Sept. 22, while Baldacci will cap the festival’s final day, Friday, Sept. 27, by accepting the Mason Award for extraordinary contributions in bringing literature to a wide audience.
Fall for the Book aims to bridge the gap between readers and authors. Mystery novelist Ellen Crosby, who lives in Oak Hill, is looking forward to the festival as an opportunity to meet her readers face-to-face.
“You’re going to read the book, but you’re not going to know why I did what I did, or how I came to write the story,” Crosby said. “Going to these events, it just brings the story so much more alive, and your connection with the author is so much more tangible.”
Attendees may even find themselves exploring outside their comfort zones.
Poet Joe Hall, another of this year’s participants and alumni of George Mason’s master’s program in creative writing, has attended Fall for the Book as both a fan and as a writer, and he believes it creates an atmosphere rife with serendipity. According to Hall, outside of such a festival, readings almost exclusively attract fans of the author at hand. Not so at Fall for the Book.
“It connects authors and readers to each other in a new way, a way in which they may not meet otherwise,” Hall said. “If you’re at the festival and you have an extra hour, you give something a shot.”
Blais, for her part, will be sampling all that she can. If she has one pet peeve, it is that Fall for the Book’s bursting roster of offerings means that some events take place at the same time, leaving her to choose from the tantalizing options.
“I can’t be in three places at one time,” she said. “But I do the best that I can.”
For a complete schedule of this year’s Fall for the Book festival, visit www.fallforthebook.org.