Maria Burchill is the head of adult services at the Schlow Centre Region Library and is helping to get BookFest 2017 up and running. BookFest, which takes place from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Saturday in the Schlow Library parking lot, is a celebration of all things literature for adults and children. Since 2009, it’s been an integral part of the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts. Although the past two years the BookFest has focused on comic books, this year the genres are wide and the authors are ready to help aspiring authors and converse with lovers of words.
T&G: BookFest has for the past few years been a celebration of comic books, but this year with the Nittany Con convention coming in September, you’ve decided to switch it up. Can you take us through the process of deciding to switch and how you ended up with this year’s theme?
Burchill: We worked with some great comic book authors, artists, and vendors the last two years. It has been a huge success, so much so that Schlow continues to be a Nittany Con sponsor. We believe strongly in the power of graphic media, especially where reluctant readers are involved. This year, rather than overload our audiences, we wanted to take the opportunity to celebrate all things that make popular culture so exciting, from mystery fans, comic book collectors, to picture book enthusiasts. It's not a big leap to us or the creators. The tent filled in less than a month with authors and artists from the Centre Region and the surrounding areas, including Pittsburgh.
T&G: More than 15 authors are attending BookFest this year and genres range from children’s books to adult thrillers. What kind of atmosphere can attendees expect?
Burchill: If it's anything like years past the tent will be hopping with lots of people strolling the festival. Attendees will see genre enthusiasts of all ages sharing their passion, some will be in costume for the contest, others will be collectors trying to find that specific comic issue they're missing. There will also be creators talking to the artists to get tips for their own portfolios, or aspiring writers chatting with the authors looking to draw inspiration from those stories.
T&G: One author attending, Finch Vandiver, just published her first book at 82 years old. What kinds of lessons about literature can children learn from her? That other authors can learn from her?
Burchill: Finch is a writing professional, so she will be a great source for feedback and advice to the aspiring writer. Her recently published book is a lesson to all of us. It's never too late to tell the story that's swimming around in your head.
T&G: Some old-school products have made a comeback in recent years — like vinyl record sales, which have skyrocketed over the past few. What is the comic book industry like today and where is it going?
Burchill: The comic book industry is enjoying some recognition from the trend in superhero movies, but that's not necessarily manifesting itself in sales of the traditional monthly issues. It's the graphic novel that is really making strides and turning the industry on its head. After all, Ghosts and Smile, written by Raina Telgemeier, are huge bestsellers, and they are both graphic novels and written for kids. The medium is so approachable and easy to understand that it crosses age groups and appeals to folks who really dig their genre, be it fantasy, romance, thriller, or horror. As to where it's going, it's not going to disappear. There are always going to be people who geek out over a story. It's what we do when we get very close to a fictional world.
T&G: Perhaps the best part of the day, the costume contest, will have prizes for contestants. Also at BookFest, another author attending, areyoshi, will be giving character creation lessons. How do all of the pieces of BookFest fit together and how can attendees learn something new?
Burchill: It's all about storytelling, creating a world, and sharing your imagination with others. So, it doesn't matter the genre, there's a little something for everyone.