Book festival return offers new chapter

It’s a celebration of vibrant imagination, the plentiful inspiration present in the real world and the creative spirits near and far who combine them to thought-provoking effect. The Williamsburg Book Festival returns Saturday for its fifth year, with more than ever to offer for writers and readers alike.

“There is a wealth of knowledge and writing experience and entertainment that’s coming out of this area,” said Greg Lilly, author and the festival’s organizer. “The whole region is coming together here.”

Beyond the locals, writers from West Virginia, North Carolina, New York and other areas, from small and large publishers, will appear. The festival aims to shine a light on lesser known works.

“It’s great to get out there and see what else is available besides what you see on the New York Times bestseller’s list,” Lilly said, adding that the list so often features the same names. “Sometimes it’s nice to try something a little different; get a different voice.”

New attractions this year include a reading by four Poet Laureates of Virginia and the debut of Publishers’ Alley. There, publishers, editors and authors of five independent companies from across the commonwealth will offer tips for aspiring writers on the road to publication.

In another new twist, graphic novelist Laura Lee Gulledge will give a live demonstration of her creation process, while attendees offer suggestions for characters, dialogue and world-building. At the end of the day, Gulledge will post the finished work on her blog.

“It’s kind of a crowdsourcing thing,” Lilly said.

Other workshops and panels will fill the Stryker Center throughout the day, offering insights into writing, literature and poetry. Andrew Smith, of the Williamsburg Regional Library, will also discuss the library’s resources for area book clubs.

The book fair also returns, featuring the works of 40-plus writers spanning children’s books, sports, poetry, history and contemporary novels.

“I’m surprised at the quality of what came in,” Lilly said, noting that some 70 writers submitted works for inclusion. “We’re really selective in who we offered an invitation to.”

“There are a lot of fun things going on,” Lilly said. “We try to make it so people can come and spend a lot of time or they can spend a little time.”

The main attraction promises a journey through one of the most iconic landscapes in literature, the Hundred Acre Wood, courtesy of Kathryn Aalto.

A wonderful world

Aalto is a landscape designer, historian, lecturer and New York Times bestselling author of two books: 2011’s “Nature and Human Intervention” and 2015’s “The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh: A Walk Through the Forest That Inspired the Hundred Acre Wood.”

“They were looking for an author that had a book with wide appeal,” Aalto said. “My book kind of fits that. It’s a book with tremendous nostalgia attached to it.”

It’s a natural history book and a travelogue about a very real place in England, Ashdown Forest, the tangible inspiration for a setting that’s captivated generations for more than 90 years.

“A lot of people don’t realize there was a real place,” she said, adding that the forest is noteworthy for its rare flora and fauna. “My book is about the backstory. People are always surprised after my talks to learn that it’s this really interesting place.”

Aalto envisioned the book after moving to England with her young children, who enjoyed Winnie the Pooh’s adventures and asked her about the books’ setting, wondering if it was a real place and dreaming of walking through it themselves.

Those big picture questions about the nature of the world apply to adults as well, part of the reason Aalto thinks her discussion will appeal to a Williamsburg audience.

“I think it has international, national, local appeal,” she said, adding that it’s for anyone with an interest in traveling or for those who simply love walking through nature.

She also touched on the notion that the children of today are spending more and more time in digital landscapes rather than natural ones.

“It’s a reflection on the changing nature of childhood,” Aalto said. “That’s a theme that will appeal to parents and grandparents.”

Her appearance promises an educational storytelling experience for children and nostalgic adults who are curious about a literary classic and the reality that inspired it.

“I almost always make grown men cry at my talks, and that’s always what I strive to do,” Aalto said. “But it’s a fun talk.”

She will field audience questions and sign books as well. As a writer and a reader, she said she is grateful for the opportunity to be there.

“I love book festivals,” Aalto said. “I think it’s wonderful when readers can meet writers and understand the importance for reading books. I like to meet authors. I’ll probably be fan-girling some people too.”

The Williamsburg Book Festival serves as a reminder that neighbors, coworkers and even ourselves have plenty of ideas worth sharing.

Lilly lauded what an event such as 2nd Sundays can offer as it showcases the talented musicians who live throughout the area.

“That’s what I want to do for books,” he said. “I think everybody will find something there that will interest them.”

Want to go?

The Williamsburg Book Festival runs 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Stryker Center, adjacent to the Williamsburg Regional Library, at 412 N. Boundary St. Admission is free. For a full schedule, visit

Looking for more to do?

The Williamsburg Regional Library is hosting an appearance by Newbery Award-winning and New York Times bestselling children’s author Kwame Alexander at 7 p.m. Friday. Doors open at 6 p.m. It is free and open to the public.

Birkenmeyer can be reached by phone at 757-790-3029.

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