This week marks the 13th anniversary of Fall for the Book. What began in 1999 as a two day event has grown into a six-day regional festival.
William Miller, executive director of Fall for the Book, said the idea grew from a conversation between Alan Merten, president of , Randolph Church, a Fairfax lawyer and former rector of George Mason's Board of Visitors, and the then mayor of the City of Fairfax, John Mason.
"Randolph Church, or Ranny as he is known, thought that the region should have a festival of this kind and that Mason was the one institution that could pull it off," said Miller. "He thought the city should be involved as a co-host."
A study committee was convened. The festival was planned. Miller was on the original committee, and thus has been involved since the beginning.
The festival was eventually incorporate as a non-profit with its own board of directors. Miller said it is housed at George Mason, with the school providing major support. "In turn about half of the festival's overall events happen at the university. But it really is a regional undertaking, even into DC and Maryland," said Miller.
Support for the festival is provided by sponsors, private contributions, and Friends of the festival. "Currently the budget is projected to total about $210,000 this year," said Miller. "One or two donations have yet to arrive and a couple of bills, I hope, will come in a little lower than projected after the festival closes."
"The donors each contribute what they can and it all adds up," said Miller. "There is no one donor who does most of it."
All Fall for the Book events are free and open to the public, although free tickets are required for some events.
Each year Fall for the Book precedes the two-day National Book Festival sponsored by the Library of Congress, but Miller said the two are not related. "The board of Fall for the Book has met with the folks at the Library of Congress who run that festival, and we have talked about some partnerships, but that is very much a single-venue event and ours is not," said Miller. In addition, Fall for the Book predated the National Book Festival by two years.
In addition to 150 author presentations, Fall for the Book will present four awards this year.
The $10,000 Mason Award, funded by the festival and its sponsors, will be presented to Stephen King on Friday night.
The inaugural Busboys and Poets Award of $5,000, funded by Busboys and Poets, will be presented to poet Claudia Rankine on Thursday, September 22, at 7:30 p.m., in Harris Theater on George Mason University’s Fairfax campus. It is the festival’s first prize dedicated to poetry.
The first annual Mary Roberts Rinehart Award to a woman writer of major nonfiction was presented to Mary Karr on September 18. Karr is the author of three memoirs and four collections of poetry. The $5,000 prize is funded by the Mary Roberts Rinehart Foundation.
"I would say that the number one benefit [of Fall for the Book] is putting readers together with writers in venues in which a sense of co-involvement is possible -- co-involvement in the poem or story or the subject being written about, the act of writing and reading and the reciprocity between those two and between the writer and audience," said Miller.
"At the National [Book Festival], the writers are too far away, the crowds too large, and the lines for autographs too big to make that sort of connection possible, though certainly that festival does a great job with visibility," he said.
"Now, with thirteen years under out belt, we plan to start monthly events in partnership with some of those with whom we do events during the festival's key week. What we hope to be, then, is an even more vital and vibrant force for the cause of reading," said Miller.
Fall for the Book events continue Thursday and Friday.