Press "Enter" to skip to content

What (and who) to expect at this year's Virginia Festival of the Book

The Virginia Festival of the Book has been going strong for 30 years now, and Jody Hobbs Hesler has been right there as a volunteer.

“Mostly, I was counting crowds and passing out review sheets at the end” of a variety of festival events, Hesler said. “I’ve also volunteered to moderate.”

This year, Hesler will participate in both a time-honored tradition and a brand-new one, reflecting the fact that the festival, which takes place in Charlottesville Wednesday through March 24, continues to write new chapters.

Hesler and colleague BettyJoyce Nash, who teach at Charlottesville’s WriterHouse, will be among the panelists for a long-running favorite event: the Moseley Writers’ “Write Start: Moseley Speed Critique,” set for 1 p.m. March 24. They’ll join filmmaker and author Meredith Cole and author Deborah M. Prum to read aloud from the first 100 words of unpublished writers’ manuscripts and offer suggestions for making them sing.

Both Helser and Nash published their debut books in 2023; “Everybody Here is Kin” is Nash’s first novel, and Hesler wrote “What Makes You Think You’re Supposed to Feel Better,” a collection of stories. Hesler’s first novel, “Without You Here,” will be released in September.

But there’s no time for resting on laurels. Festival fans can see Hesler and Nash at a brand-new event this time as well: Festival Friday, which gives Charlottesville’s beloved First Fridays visual art opening reception tradition a literary twist.

Hesler and Nash will be on hand for a reading and conversation at 5:30 p.m. Friday at New City Arts Initiative. Other Festival Friday events will include sweet treats, book signings and a Virginia Center of the Book showcase of book arts at Omni Charlottesville Hotel; panel moderators reading from their own works at VPM’s Charlottesville headquarters; a WTJU zine release at the Beautiful Idea featuring Erin O’Hare’s new issue of “Under the Table and Screaming: a poetry critique circle at New Dominion Bookshop; an art and listening party at the Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative; and a book signing at Hello Comics with Kelly and Zach Weinersmith.

The Virginia Festival of the Book will complement its creative collections of readings and panels with parties, because there’s plenty to celebrate, director Kalela Williams said.

“I guess I thought about my own 30th birthday” while planning events, Williams said. “It’s scary in a way, because it’s the end of an era.”

After her first year on the job, “I really understand how community focused this festival should be,” Williams said. For Festival Fridays, she said, “I wanted that sense of community. I wanted that sense of stopping in at local places.”

She said she looks forward to the “30th-Anniversary Kickoff: ‘90s Rooftop Party,” which begins at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Common House. Rob Harvilla, pop culture critic and author of “60 Songs That Explain the ‘90s,” will be there to share tunes, slang and memorable moments from the era. The event is $40.

“I think the ’90s party will be great,” Williams said. “I’m planning my outfit right now.”

“Wordy Thirty,” a 30th-anniversary party set for 7 p.m. March 23 at the Bradbury, offers music and dancing, food and drinks and a VIP author reception. Patrons can choose their own adventures from among three packages, at $150, $60 and $30.

Williams also recommended “Alternate Appalachias” at 2:30 p.m. Friday at New Dominion Bookshop. The event brings in three memoirists offering different perspectives on embracing and confronting life in Appalachia: Jeff Man, author of “Loving Mountains, Loving Men,” which examines his experiences through essays and poems; “Holler Rat” by performance artist and author Anya Liftig; and “Holler: A Poet Among Patriots” by poet and professor Danielle Chapman. Moderator Jeffrey Dale Chapman is the author of “Red Clay Suzie.”

Author, farmer and advocate Brooks Lamb will speak about his new book, “Love for the Land,” at 11:30 a.m. March 24 at Ivy Creek Natural Area. Lamb writes about racial injustice encountered by farmers of color, as well as the loss of farmland to suburban sprawl and the toll of agricultural consolidation.

“Coffee and Crime with Sarah Weinman,” scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday at Omni Charlottesville Hotel, will feature Weinman speaking about her most recent book, “Evidence of Things Seen: True Crime in an Era of Reckoning,” and her 2020 anthology, “Unspeakable Acts: True Tales of Crime, Murder, Deceit and Obsession.” Williams said Weinman will offer food for thought on “our appetite for crime and what that means, and what it says about us.”

“Multigenerational Fiction: Ghosts and Secrets,” set for 12:30 p.m. Friday at Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, will dive into “The Apology” by Jimin Han, “One Blood” by Denene Miller and “Take What You Need” by Idra Novey. “There are ghosts; there are family secrets rising,” Williams said.

It’s possible to get an all-day pass to four featured and headlining events March 23 at Paramount Theater, where readers can listen to Danica Roem at 10:30 a.m., U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limón at 1 p.m., Roxane Gay at 4 p.m. and Percival Everett at 6:30 p.m. The all-day pass is $75 for priority seating, $150 couples’ priority seating and $25 for students’ priority seating.

Everett’s novel “Erasure” inspired the recent film “American Fiction,” which was screened at the Virginia Film Festival and won an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay for Cord Jefferson on March 10.

“He’s ahead of his time so much,” Williams said of Everett. “I really think he’s an American treasure.”

Learn more about Virginia Festival of the book and map out your schedule at


Be First to Comment

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *