In 2010, then Gaithersburg Councilmember Jud Ashman proposed a novel idea: that the City host a Gaithersburg Book Festival. A hit from the start, the day-long free event takes place this year on Saturday, May 18 and promises to draw thousands of book lovers to Olde Town Gaithersburg.
“I was inspired by the National Book Festival (in D.C.). We have all these wonderful authors living in the area, so I thought, why not? Of course, our festival is on a more intimate scale,” said Ashman, who now serves as Gaithersburg’s Mayor.
The setting may be small-town, but the festival is anything but. From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in tents and pavilions set up outside Gaithersburg City Hall, more than140 authors, including best-selling Pulitzer Prize and Newbery Medal winners, will be on hand to engage readers of all ages.
“For one day a year, Gaithersburg is the center of the literary universe,” Ashman said of the outdoor event that can draw as many as 22,000 visitors — at least when the weather cooperates.
And there’s plenty to see and do. The Politics and Prose Bookstore will offer books for sale, musicians and poets will perform live on stage and kid-friendly activities are planned. Food trucks and a café on site, as well as beer and wine sales, will keep the crowed nourished and hydrated.
Budding writers wanting to hone their craft are equally welcome under the tents. Eight workshops for adults and teens will cover topics ranging from creating a writing routine to tips on getting work published. Just 55 minutes long, no preregistration is required for the free workshops.
Another half-dozen free 45-minute workshops are specifically designed for elementary through high school students. Dawn Little, an educator from nearby Washington Grove Elementary School, is excited about the workshop she will lead on “The Story of a Name.“
“I try to go the festival every year, I just love it,” Little said. “But this is the first time I’ll be presenting. The goal is to have the kids really think about the origins of their names, the history behind their names and how it influences their identify.”
Little said the festival provides an “author-fix” for both her and her young daughter. “I’ve met some of my favorite children’s literature authors — and right here in Gaithersburg,” she said.
Workshop presenter Jonathon Ross, of Rockville, said that participating in the festival fulfills a line item on his bucket list. “It’s a great festival, with nationally known authors, that I’ve attended for years,” Ross said. “But to be asked to speak here — this year makes the second time — is a big honor.”
The author-illustrator of the Beep and Bob sci-fi book series for 6- to 9-year-olds, Ross is a 20-year veteran of teaching art in Montgomery County Public Schools. He knows a thing or two about sparking kids’ imaginations, and with fellow book author/illustrator Paul Noth, will co-present a workshop on “Creating Characters with Character.”
“Every kid has the imagination to come up with ideas for book characters. So Paul and I will guide them a bit on thinking up characters that are meaningful for them,” he said. “We’ll help them draw characters, teasing out possible motivations and emotions.”
The Children’s Village tent will feature nationally known authors and children are encouraged to dress as their favorite characters and march in a literary costume parade. Selfies with such beloved characters as Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” and literary-themed games will take place throughout the day.
In celebration of the festival’s 10th anniversary, Ashman said he is delighted to have singer Erin Willet, a contestant on second season of “The Voice” television show, performing for her hometown crowd. And with the support of the City, sponsors and local book lovers, the festival just keeps getting better.
“It’s been an incredible ride, thanks to the many volunteers who make it possible. The City has been blessed to have it,” Ashman said.
For the complete list of activities and parking/shuttle bus information at the 10th Gaithersburg Book Festival, visit www.gaithersburgbookfestival.org. It runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, May 18 at Gaithersburg City Hall, 31 South Summit Ave. Food will be available, and admission is free. A free, accessible shuttle bus will run to the site from Shady Grove Metro and Lakeforest Mall.