The Virginia Festival of the Book is quintessentially Charlottesvillian in the embarrassment of educational and cultural riches it consistently brings us each year. It fits right in with the bustling local food and beverage scene, the stunning beauty of our natural and built environments, and our ample opportunities to take in elite athletics and vibrant arts offerings. But we’re pleased to point out that this celebration of the written word is one blessing we can extend to you wherever you are.


Our picks for this year’s festival are here in date order for you locals along with our insistence that you make time to soak up the abundant insights and inspirations these authors and moderator will be serving up in person. And we’re equally excited to share the heart of the festival – its books – with all of you regardless of where in the country or world your favorite comfy chair is situated. With the festival’s tradition of convening more than 400 authors and moderators for over 250 programs, the options can be overwhelming so our staff has crafted a short list of some of the events we find most intriguing this year.


Happy listening and reading! And special thanks to Abby Palko, Wynne Stuart, Mary Esselman, Claire Kaplan and Alison Kuhn for their contributions to our list.


Wednesday, March 22

Frances Curtis Barnhart (The Beauty of Impermanence) and Beatrix Ost (More than Everything and The Philosopher’s Style) share the stories of their lives and their art.


Authors Marie Benedict (The Other Einstein), Carrie Brown (The Stargazer’s Sister), and Stephen O’Connor (Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings) share their novels featuring characters with intimate connections to historic figures.


Our own Abby Palko has in past years taught a course called Jane’s Heirs, in which students read Jane Eyre and a variety of 20th and 21st century adaptations. She describes Patricia Park’s Re Jane as a very smart, modern retelling of Brontë’s novel transposed to the contemporary U.S. with a lesbian protagonist. At this event, Park and rare book curator Barbara Heritage will discuss the enduring influence of Charlotte Brontë’s nineteenth-century novel. The discussion will be held in the Dome Room of the renovated Rotunda, and will conclude with a book signing and an opportunity to examine and handle some of the rare artifacts displayed in the accompanying exhibition, “Shaping Eyre: Charlotte Brontë’s Classic Novel in 200 Objects.”


Hugh Byrne (The Here-and-Now Habit: How Mindfulness Can Help You Break Unhealthy Habits Once and for All) and Emily Esfahani Smith (The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters) offer powerful practices for incorporating mindfulness and meaning into our lives.

Newberry and Caldecott Honor duo, Kwame Alexander and Ekua Holmes will discuss their influential work as well as their collaborative book, Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets. Beloved by children, young adults, and adults alike, Alexander and Holmes will share stories from their careers and engage in conversation on topics from children’s publishing and collaborative projects to the African American experience and creating books for underrepresented readers. Read Alexander’s recently conversation with the Cavalier Daily about how he sees his responsibilities as a writer for young people and the power of words to instill empathy and you’ll know you need to hear more in person if you possibly can.


Thursday, March 23

Irresistible Oddballs: New Voices in Fiction, 2pm
Julia Claiborne Johnson (Be Frank With Me), Rebecca Kauffman (Another Place You’ve Never Been), and Liz Kay (Monsters: A Love Story) discuss their debut novels and the kooky yet lovable characters who inhabit them.


Academic and public historians Catherine Clinton, Claudrena Harold, Dava Sobel, and Susan Southard join in conversation with the UVA Women, Gender and Sexuality Department’s Corinne Field about pathways available to women writing history.


As if food and pioneering women weren’t enough, this event’s got gorgeous photography, too. Join Ashley Christensen (Poole’s), Shane Mitchell (Far Afield), and Ronni Lundy (Victuals) as they discuss food traditions and their experiences as female chefs.


Friday, March 24

Authors Jennifer Ackerman (The Genius of Birds), Abraham H. Gibson (Feral Animals in the American South), and Bill Schutt (Cannibalism) discuss the evolutionary history, exceptional talents, and natural traits of animals.


Elizabeth Nunez (Even in Paradise) will discuss her novel, a modern recasting of Shakespeare’s King Lear, about greed, jealousy, betrayal, and romantic love in the postcolonial world of the Caribbean.


Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz (The Great Divide: Unequal Societies and What We Can Do About Them) will address one of America’s greatest challenges, asking why inequality has increased in the Western world and what we can we do about it. Frank Sesno will join Stiglitz on stage for discussion and questions. [note – ticket event, related free event at 4]


Saturday, March 25

Camilla Fojas (Zombies, Migrants, and Queers), Glenn Frankel (High Noon), and Jack Hamilton (Just Around Midnight) discuss different elements of pop culture and how they help define social and political beliefs.


Sunday, March 26

The Law School’s Richard Bonnie will join Sue Klebold for a discussion of mental health awareness, research, suicide prevention, and the signs that children need help. Klebold, whose son was one of the two shooters at Columbine High School in 1999, found the courage to take these topics on in the form of A Mother’s Reckoning after attending a lecture by Andrew Solomon and eventually being featured in his 2012 book, Far from the Tree.