Columbia might rank among the state capitals with the fewest bookstores — even miniscule Montpelier supports four independents — but it does host a well-established annual book festival. This year, the South Carolina Book Festival officially kicks off at 5:30 p.m. May 16 with a keynote address by Christopher Buckley, author, most recently, of “But Enough About You: Essays.”
Buckley is one of more than 90 presenters at the event, which runs through May 18 at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center (the keynote, however, will take place in the University of South Carolina Law School Auditorium). The book festival is a project of the South Carolina Humanities Council.
Among the other well-known, genre-spanning names on the weekend roster are Kwame Alexander, Pat Conroy, Christopher Paul Curtis, U.S. Rep. James E. Clyburn, Nathalie Dupree, Walter Edgar, Nikki Giovanni, Gail Godwin, Joshilyn Jackson, Cassandra King, Mary Alice Monroe, Jason Mott, Ron Rash, George Singleton, Marjory Wentworth and Karen White.
“One of the new taglines we’re using this year is, ‘For every age and interest,’” said T. J. Wallace, the book festival’s director. “We truly have something for everybody, even if they’re not lifelong lovers of reading and books. We have storytelling and music at our Children’s Pavilion, we have food and cooking panels, history panels. The ability to get books signed by our presenters is such a perk: imagine giving a signed copy of Nathalie Dupree’s just-revised ‘Shrimp and Grits Cookbook’ for a gift.” Or a signed copy of Clyburn’s ‘Blessed Experiences.’”
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Clyburn is known for his focus on literacy. “The book festival brings together thousands of South Carolinians from every walk of life to bond over a shared love of literature,” he said in an email. “It is a wonderfully diverse and immensely entertaining weekend that I look forward to every year. This year will be special for me, as I will be attending not just as a book lover but as a published author."
In 2013, it brought together 6,000 — a little better than 1 percent of the state’s population. In terms of state capitals, an equivalent draw in Sacramento would be 330,000.
For the seventh year, the festival and the South Carolina Center for Children’s Books and Literacy of the University of South Carolina School of Library and Information Science will sponsor a Children’s Field Trip Day Friday. Five hundred second-graders from five Midlands elementary schools will head to the convention center for readings by children’s book authors and a visit with USC’s First Lady Patricia Moore-Pastides as well as Cocky, USC’s mascot. Each child will leave with a free book and a bracelet.
“Certainly, one goal of the South Carolina Book Festival is to promote reading and literacy to the next generation,” said Wallace. “This year, we also have a really strong lineup of children’s and young adult authors. We’re excited about that.”
Wallace also is excited about Buckley, a best-selling writer whose satire “Thank You For Smoking” was a popular film a few years ago. “I saw that he had a new book coming out in May and I emailed his publicist,” Wallace said. “Fortunately, he’s on tour and had a Columbia connection through his wife. He’ll do a reading from the book, an informal talk, and a book signing — the book will be for sale at the law school auditorium.”
A number of participating authors are making repeat appearances at the book festival. Nikki Giovanni is one of them. “She appeared in 2007 to a standing-room-only crowd and graciously signed for hours following her presentation,” Wallace said. Giovanni will be reading from “Chasing Utopia,” a collection of poetry and essays.
In addition to a schedule of presentations and readings, the festival features a preview event at the Lexington Main Library Thursday night.