Published March 26, 2024

The 2024 Virginia Festival of the Book has celebrated our thirtieth year! We’ve hosted more than 130 authors in 80 events, stretching from the town of Grundy in Southwest Virginia, up to Alexandria, and across the state to Charles City, with the five-day centerpiece in Charlottesville. We welcomed debut authors who spoke about their very first books, and authors with publication lists that were too long to count on all fingers—on three sets of hands. ​

Many of our events were standing room only. Others held intimate, engaged groups who enjoyed more Q&A time with the authors. From greeting the mornings with wonder and writing, to coffee and crime stories, or to an asana posture and appreciation of the world around us; to ending evenings with ’90s nostalgia, readings and wanderings around the downtown mall, or a big, bookish bash, we’ve made memories that will span another 30 years.

…Or, another 50. Because Virginia Humanities, which produces this beloved Festival, is turning 50 at the end of 2024. What will the next decades bring? From deeper imprints across the state, to engaging more Virginians in what the humanities mean to all of us, we look forward to what is to come.

And as I look back over the last few days, I think of the people who have gathered together to make this festival happen. Our sponsors and contributors’ support—all of theirs—​is the underpinning of this Festival. To our major sponsors: The Joseph and Robert Cornell Foundation, Dominion Energy, the University of Virginia, and the National Endowment for the Humanities, please accept my gratitude. I am particularly honored that our premier sponsors, Michelle and David Baldacci, not only have given us such generous support, but that they champion literacy and access to books for all, and especially across the state of Virginia. 

I am beyond-words grateful to my teammates at Virginia Humanities, especially Assistant Director Aran Donovan, and Coordinator Emmy Thacker, who worked days and nights and weekends, devoting their talent and expertise, to bring our state this festival. Aran’s passion for and knowledge of everything from poetry to rom coms, and her penchant for pulling together literary theme, have added so much. Emmy’s panache and eye for art and graphic design, and her glowing enthusiasm, have elevated our Festival’s look and our team’s mood through all the challenges. It takes a special person to devote so many months to the Festival. It takes the patience of a saint, the fearlessness of a daredevil, and the attention of an air traffic controller. I am lucky to work alongside two such people. 

Rachel Beanland spoke about her novel, “Florence Adler Swims Forever,” at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center in Charlottesville on 3/20/24. Pat Jarrett, Virginia Humanities

I am also thankful to another member of the Virginia Center for the Book, our Book Arts Program Director, the steadfast Garrett Queen., who has literally added another dimension to the Festival, along with our Book Arts Studio members. And I’m so thankful to our Virginia Humanities Communications and Advancement team members, who worked above and beyond, and then beyond some more, to spread the word and bring on the special events. Special thanks to Trey Mitchell and Nina Wilder; and to Hannah Catherine Allport, Kevin Hoffer, and Matthew Streets. And to Jennie Taylor and Cauline Yates, thank you for everything. ​I am also lucky to have such astute and hard-working finance colleagues, who answer all my questions and get the bills paid to our deserving talent. I am thankful to all of my colleagues at Virginia Humanities, for the big things like donning a volunteer tee shirt and joining us at the events, to the tiny things they might think I don’t notice, like taking on committee meeting planning so that I could spend a precious hour planning, sensing I need a hug, or writing a “you got this!” email. 

There are other teammates who came together to make this Festival happen. Ray Nedzel and Dana Ainsworth, Festival veterans by now, join us for part of the year but work hours upon hours, often doing the behind-the-scenes work that we cannot do without. Ray’s give-it-all-you’ve-got attitude and Dana’s sharp acumen for the twisty logistics of this festival pulled us through as they worked the long hours and figured out the difficult details. I am so thankful that you’re both in the Festival’s corner. And Nita Forgnone and Monica Hand, thank you so much for jumping in at the crucial moments and for taking on so much with grace and fortitude!

Conversation is what makes our Festival special. And to those who have led such wonderful and insightful conversations with our authors, I give my heartfelt thanks.

Kalela Williams

I’m also fortunate to work with the leadership of Virginia Humanities, Matthew Gibson and Athena Gould, who give me latitude and grace, encouragement and insight, and who issue the kind of challenge that allows me to grow. 

Rob Harvilla, author of “60 Songs that Explain the 90s” discussed his book with Davey White during a party at Common House. Pat Jarrett, Virginia Humanities

And our volunteers: our many, many volunteers who lifted boxes and checked in guests, who answered questions and made sure authors got where they were going, who ran from one end of the Omni to the other, snapped on hundreds of wristbands and scanned hundreds more tickets, made sure events started and ended on time and that surveys got handed out. I especially thank volunteers Rosanna Breen and Davey White, who took a week off of work and spent those days working with us! And to April Muniz, a rock star working our big stage events; and Nancy Damon, for leading your charge like the general you are. So many volunteers made this Festival run. I cannot express how thankful I am to each and every one of them. The Virginia Center for the Book absolutely could not, and would not have, produced a festival of this magnitude without you. 

The Virginia Festival of the Book takes place across Virginia and especially in Charlottesville. To the staff at all of our venues, please know that we could not reach so many people without your welcoming space. And all of us at Virginia Humanities are proud to have partnered with independent bookstores who have hauled books and gotten them into readers’ hands: especially Bluebird & Co., the Jefferson School of African American Heritage bookshop, New Dominion Bookshop, Stone Soup Books, and the UVA Bookstore; as well as The Beautiful Idea, Daedalus Books, Fountain Bookstore, Hello ComicsOld Town BooksSecond Act Books, and Staunton Books and Tea. And I happily applaud the James Madison Regional Library for the free books they gave away through their Same Page program, and their shelves of Festival books to lend!

Conversation is what makes our Festival special. And to those who have led such wonderful and insightful conversations with our authors, I give my heartfelt thanks. You’ve spent days and weeks reading, analyzing, considering, and applying your knowledge and skill to books, and our programs could not connect with readers without your connecting with our authors and their books.

And to our authors: those who traveled across the country, and those who joined us from Charlottesville; those who Zoomed in when emergencies required it, and those who stayed with us for days; my applause and my immense gratitude goes to you. You are the heart and soul of this Festival, and that you’ve devoted your time to us is worthy of the most thunderous and ground-shaking applause. I wish I could have attended every single program and shaken every single hand, but whether I shared a stage with you or haven’t had the opportunity to say hello, know that I am so appreciative of your time and talent! Thank you so much for being with us! 

Photo by Nina Wilder, Virginia Humanities

And to our audiences—those who traveled far, those who tuned in from home, and those who found seats in the cities and towns we’ve reached across the state: thank you for being a part of the community the Festival of the Book seeks to create. I am a year-and-a-half into my tenure, having learned much, but having so much to learn in the years to come. Thanks for turning the pages with me. I am honored that you have been a part of our thirtieth year. 

Here’s to thirty more!

Warmly,

Kalela Williams


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