Montgomery County residents like their literature in all shapes and fonts: fiction and non-fiction books, poems, biopics and homegrown essays. And every year, in downtown Bethesda, thousands soak up, share and celebrate the wonders of words at the Bethesda Literary Festival.
Now in its 18th year, the 2017 Bethesda Festival will take place from Friday, April 21, through Sunday, April 23. The schedule features an impressive list of local, national and even Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, journalists and poets, as well as the 2017 writing contest winners.
“The Youth Writing Contest is a particularly delightful part of the festival, with more than 500 children in grades kindergarten through eight applying annually,” said Valerie Hillman, marketing and communications manager for Bethesda Urban Partnership, which produces the event. “Both parents and teachers encourage the kids to apply, writing up to 500 words on a prompt that changes every year. This year, it was ‘If I Had a Time Machine.’”
Featured authors include bestselling Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times Pentagon correspondent Helene Cooper (“Madame President: The Extraordinary Journey of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf”); bestselling author Jennifer Close (“The Hopefuls”); and Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post senior editor Marc Fisher, (“Trump Revealed: An American Journey of Ambition, Ego, Money, and Power, co-written with Washington Post reporter Michael Kranish).
For many authors, this event is close to home—literally; they live and work in the D.C. metro area. For others, it is a coming home.
“I attended high school in Rockville and spent many of the wastrel days of my youth in Bethesda,” said award winning biographer John A. Farrell, author of “Richard Nixon: The Life,” who will be at The Writer’s Center at 8:30 p.m. Friday. “Doing a reading there — aside from the noble purpose of advancing reading in a time when fact and truth are especially under fire — is a nice recognition.”
“You always want to look good in front of your home town,” he added.
And that’s also the case for former Washington Post reporter Frank Ahrens, author of the memoir “Seoul Man.” “I lived in Bethesda for nine years and well know how smart and diverse it is,” he said, noting that his subject, “Korea, is suddenly in the news for a number of important – and some scary reasons, so I hope my appearance will be relevant and interesting.” Ahrens will be at the Hyatt Regency Bethesda at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
The D.C. area, in fact, is home to one of the largest concentration of professional writers. This makes Bethesda perfectly placed to gather top talent and the festival a likely place to meet the personality behind the book jacket. New authors, established journalists and budding poets will co-exist for more than 20 events. Some will talk about their process. Others will read from their work. Writers will discuss the craft with fellow writers. Events especially tailored to children are planned. If you’ve never been to a poetry slam, this could be the weekend to change that.
As a debut novelist, television journalist Christina Kovac is new to the literary scene, but not to Bethesda. “I’ve never participated in a literary festival, and I’m so glad my first will be in Bethesda,” she said. “When I wanted to learn how to write fiction–and stop thinking like a journalist, I took workshop after workshop at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda.
“That’s where I made friends, joined writer’s groups and found mentors who helped me on the long road to writing a first novel (“The Cutaway”). The very first–and only–short story I wrote won a contest in Bethesda Magazine.
“Through it all, I kept my eye on Bethesda Literary Festival, wishing, dreaming, about how cool it would be to publish a novel and share it with readers at the festival. I had no idea what it’d be like. Next week, I’ll find out!”
What makes this literary festival different? Hillman pointed to the Reading and Awards Ceremonies for the Essay and Short Story Contest, the Youth Writing Contest and the Bethesda Poetry Contest.
“The amount of creativity, thought and writing talent that goes into the youth essays is extraordinary, and it’s a difficult task narrowing all the submissions down to 10 or 11 winners,” Hillman said. “All children who submit receive a certificate of participation, and we encourage them to keep writing!” And the winners read their essays at an awards ceremony and reception.”
What began in 2000 has grown, with a noticeable change when the writing contests were added in 2004. “The Bethesda Literary Festival’s adult and high school essay and short story contests provide a significant way for local writers to be recognized, share their work and be a part of a larger festival of professional writers, journalists and poets,” Hillman said. Three separate receptions will honor contest winners–Essay and Short Story on Friday, Poetry on Saturday and Youth Writing on Sunday—and the winning submissions will be reproduced in booklets, which will be available at the events.
Due to the variety of events throughout the weekend, expect a crowd of all ages from throughout the area. All events are held in downtown Bethesda and are free and open to the public. The line-up, complete with locations and times, is posted on the festival’s website, www.bethesda.org/bethesda/schedule. Call 301-215-6660. View this event on CultureSpotMC here.