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Virginia Festival of the Book announces headliners for 26th season

The 26th annual Virginia Festival of the Book, scheduled for March 18 to 22, will bring more than 250 writers, illustrators and publishing professionals to a variety of Charlottesville and Albemarle County locations. Book lovers will see plenty of fresh faces among them — particularly at the festival’s marquee events.

Organizers of the festival, a program of Virginia Humanities, announced the headliners Thursday at an event at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center that was sponsored by the Miller School of Albemarle. Most of the festival’s programs are free, and tickets for the following handful of headlining events will go on sale at noon Friday at

» Jonathan Eig, author of “Ali: A Life,” will speak at the Read & Lead Lunch on March 18 at the Omni Charlottesville Hotel. His first book, “Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig,” won the Casey Award for best baseball book of the year. A former staff writer for The Wall Street Journal, Eig has written for The New York Times, The New Yorker online and The Washington Post.

» Vashti Harrison, a University of Virginia alumna who went on to earn an MFA in film/video from CalArts, will speak to two assemblies for private- and public-school students on March 19 at the St. Anne’s-Belfield School Convocation Center. The freelance graphic designer and picture-book illustrator penned “Little Legends.”

» Ian Rankin, who wrote “In the House of Lies” and dozens of other bestselling novels in the John Rebus collection and other series, will be the speaker for the 2020 Crime Wave Brunch on March 21 at the Omni. He was knighted for his services to literature, and his prizes have included the Chandler-Fulbright Award, the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award and four (British) Crime Writers’ Association Dagger Awards, including the Diamond Dagger.

» Jacqueline Woodson, author of “Red at the Bone,” will be the 2020 Literary Luncheon speaker on March 19 at the Omni. The 2018-2019 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature is the author of more than two dozen books and was the 2014 National Book Award winner for “Brown Girl Dreaming,” which also picked up a Coretta Scott King Award, a Newbery Honor, the NAACP Image Award and a Sibert Honor.

The Virginia Festival of the Book covers a wide range of genres, including poetry, nonfiction, fiction, history, sports, true crime, mystery, children’s literature, fantasy and the publishing industry, to name but a few. Guests and programs are chosen with local residents in mind.

“We are always trying to find authors of excellent work that is of vital interest to the community,” said Jane Kulow, the festival’s director.

Other speakers on the schedule revealed Thursday include Jaquira Diaz (“Ordinary Girls”); Ilya Kaminsky (“Deaf Republic”); Kenn Kaufman (“A Season on the Wind: Inside the World of Spring Migration”); Pamela Paul (“How to Raise a Reader”); Rachel Louise Snyder (“No Visible Bruises”); and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (“Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership”).

Bibliophiles look forward to the festival each year, but Kulow said it’s important to remember that casual readers are welcome.

If you’ve got a stack, or just a list, of books you’ve been meaning to read but haven’t cracked open yet, you are welcome; if you simply like the sound of a topic and want to drop by to hear the conversation, consider yourself invited. By design, the environment isn’t stuffy.

Birders are expected to flock to Kaufman’s appearance, for instance — even ones who might not consider themselves voracious readers, Kulow said. Expertise in a subject area isn’t required, either.

“We also feel you don’t have to be a serious reader,” Kulow said. “We want people to just show up and see what they might enjoy. Just bring your curiosity. This festival was designed by the founders as a community festival to take place all over town and appeal to all kinds of readers.”

For a complete list of festival speakers, head to The full 2020 schedule, complete with times and locations, will be announced Jan. 15.


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