Rita Mae Brown to headline Williamsburg Book Festival

Contact Reporterhbridges@vagazette.com

Founder Greg Lilly describes the Williamsburg Book Festival as a "literary taphouse."

There's a good explanation.

A writer for more than 20 years, Lilly has attended book festivals near and far, including around Richmond and Washington, D.C., and even out west when he lived in Arizona.

"The strength is that you have the local authors and local publishers, and it's very much like this craft beer movement," Lilly said. "These are the people that live near you that are setting up late at night at their computer, writing stories."

With nearly 45 authors, mostly local and regional, the fourth annual Williamsburg Book Festival on Oct. 1 looks to be the biggest celebration yet of stories close to home.

"They could have people you know in them. They could have places you know in them. They could have situations that sound familiar," he said. "It's really a celebration of that creativity and the hard work that local authors do."

The 2016 festival welcomes New York Times best-selling author Rita Mae Brown as headliner.

Brown's first novel "Rubyfruit Jungle," published in 1973, is a coming-of-age story widely regarded as groundbreaking, unlike any other works at the time in its depictions of lesbianism and sexuality.

The Virginia-based author also pens the popular "Mrs. Murphy" mysteries. With more than 50 books to her name, Brown's latest novel, "Cakewalk," comes out in October.

"The common thread is that everything I've read of hers is enthralling. I mean, you just kind of get pulled into it, and you forget time," Lilly said. "She hits some big topics, but she makes it entertaining. And she really makes you care about the main characters."

Brown will sign books in the afternoon at the Stryker Center, followed by "An Evening with Rita Mae Brown" in Andrews Hall at the College of William and Mary from 5:30-6:30 p.m. The free, interactive session is hosted by the college's Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies Department.

From its new location in the Stryker Center to building on last summer's achievement of nonprofit status, the book festival has steadily grown.

"A lot has come together this year that really has built up from the past three (festivals) that we've done," Lilly said.

Though the second year partnering with An Occasion for the Arts, this year marks the first time the two festivals occur concurrently, due to Occasion's weather cancellation in 2015.

Sally Stiles, a board member for both festivals, thinks both Occasion and Williamsburg Book Festival can draw from each other's patrons. Further, she said the partnership allows Occasion to expand into literary arts.

"I think it's a natural and extraordinarily good expansion," Stiles said.

As a local author, Stiles sees the festival as an important piece in creating a stronger local writing community. A community that is large, Lilly thinks, but scattered.

"What I'm hoping the book festival does is get them away from their computers for a day and get out and meet each other," he said.

Lilly also hopes the festival connects readers and writers. With workshops, panels and presentations open to the public, readers glimpse behind-the-scenes into the craft and the industry.

"Come out and read local and see the stories that are happening here," Lilly said.

Bridges can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342.

Williamsburg Book Festival

When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Oct. 1

Where: Stryker Center, 412 N. Boundary St.

Admission: Free

Information: WilliamsburgBookFestival.org.

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