Sara Gruen headlines this year’s Blue Ridge Bookfest

NOVEL CONCEPT: Blue Ridge Bookfest was founded in 2008 by Flat Rock resident Bob Greenwald. Bill Ramsey, far left, one of the festival organizers, confers with featured author Ken Grossman in 2015. Author Sara Gruen, right, will be interviewed on Friday evening.
NOVEL CONCEPT: Blue Ridge Bookfest was founded in 2008 by Flat Rock resident Bob Greenwald. Bill Ramsey, far left, one of the festival organizers, confers with featured author Ken Grossman in 2015. Author Sara Gruen, right, will be interviewed on Friday evening. Photos courtesy of Blue Ridge Bookfest. Gruen's author photo is by Tasha Thomas

“Once again, our bookfest will deliver on the promise that readers will really meet and get to know writers,” says Bill Ramsey, one of the organizers of the annual Blue Ridge Bookfest. The event, now in its eighth year, is held at Blue Ridge Community College in Flat Rock on Friday, April 22, and Saturday, April 23. And not only will readers, writers and fans of local literature be able to attend workshops and presentations by authors, and wander an exhibit hall where dozens of local writers will sign books and discuss their work with readers one-on-one — “They will leave feeling connected to Sara Gruen as a person and not just as a best-selling author,” says Ramsey.

Gruen, who penned Water for Elephants, Apehouse, At the Water’s Edge and other titles, is this year’s featured author. Her novels have been translated into 43 languages and have sold more than 10 million copies around the globe. But despite worldwide fame, Gruen (a native of Canada) calls Western North Carolina home. She’ll speak at the festival’s opening event on Friday evening.

That ticketed reception, followed by a public interview with a marquee author, is a recurring feature of the bookfest. In the past, the festival has hosted Robert Morgan, Ron Rash, Wiley Cash and Elizabeth Kostova. The conversation with Gruen will embody the mission behind Blue Ridge Bookfest, which was founded to connect writers with readers.

“If you turn over a rock in WNC, there’s a writer under it,” Ramsey says. As an author in his own right, he knows how difficult it can be for writers to reach out to the public. “Individual book signings for small audiences are just not worth it,” he says. “I know how challenging it can be to get people interested in a book — the writing is hard, but the harder part is getting the word out to the community.” Bridging that gap is one of the bookfest’s chief goals, and the local writing community has responded with enthusiasm. This year, organizers received twice as many applications for space and presentation slots than they could accommodate.

Blue Ridge Bookfest offers aspiring authors more than just an audience, however. On Friday afternoon, three free workshops are aimed at educating writers about their craft. One focuses on grammar while another introduces authors to the lucrative fields of ghost writing and copy writing. In addition, the festival will include a third free workshop on genealogy and family history geared toward those who, as Ramsey puts it, “want to learn to write just quietly for themselves.”

The organizers intend for the bookfest to serve readers as well. In keeping with this goal — and along the lines of this year’s theme, “Mountain Life: Then and Now” — presentations on Saturday afternoon will look at two local legends. Literary giants Thomas Wolfe and Carl Sandburg will be represented by Tom Muir of the Thomas Wolfe Memorial in Asheville and Ginger Hollingsworth of the Sandburg Home National Monument in Flat Rock.

“Those two writers characterize the writing life in North Carolina,” Ramsey says. He hopes that the presentations will give readers a fresh insight into these writers’ works and the writing process in general. Ramsey adds that the festival is thrilled to be able to host Muir and Hollingsworth. “They fit the theme so ideally, and they were so enthusiastic about joining us,” he says.

A dozen contemporary authors are also scheduled to present on Saturday, in sessions that will explore topics including historical fiction, poetry, children’s books and other genres.

Outside of the presentations, the bookfest will also host an exhibit hall, with book sales managed by Malaprop’s Bookstore. According to Ramsey, the hall is the perfect setting for informal encounters between writers and the public they hope to engage. It’s also the organizer’s favorite part of the event. “What I always enjoy is just watching and listening to the exchange as our visitors have dialogue with writers,” he says. “It’s fun to be in the room to hear the enthusiasm.”

WHAT: Blue Ridge Bookfest, blueridge.edu/blueridgebookfest

WHERE: Blue Ridge Community College, 180 West Campus Drive, Technology Education & Development Center, Flat Rock

WHEN: Friday, April 22 and Saturday, April 23. See website for workshop times. Most events are free. The opening reception is Friday, April 22, 5:30-6:30 p.m. $25

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About Doug Gibson
I live in West Asheville. I do a lot of reading. Follow me on Twitter: @dougibson

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