The West Virginia Book Festival returns to the Charleston Civic Center the last weekend of October, and this year’s authors have some scary talent appropriate for the Halloween weekend.
R.L. Stine, the best-selling children’s author whose “Goosebumps” series has sold millions of copies since it began in the 1990s, will headline the festival on the evening of Friday, Oct. 27. Among the authors at the festival on Saturday, Oct. 28, will be best-selling supernatural horror author Joe Hill.
Other authors coming to the festival include Henry Winkler, best known for playing The Fonz on “Happy Days,” but now author of several children’s novels; National Book Award finalist Nicola Yoon, whose young-adult novel “Everything, Everything” was turned into a movie earlier this year; and Sharyn McCrumb, an award-winning Appalachian author who headlined the first West Virginia Book Festival in 2001.
The annual McCreight Lecture in the Humanities from the West Virginia Humanities Council, scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 26, will feature Azar Nafisi, author of the memoir “Reading Lolita in Tehran,” about one university professor’s experience during Iran’s Islamic Revolution.
Stine’s appearance will be the first time a children’s author has led the festival since its creation in 2001, according to Toni Blessing, associate director for Kanawha County Public Libraries.
“It just seemed right for this year,” Blessing said. “One of the goals of the festival is to get people excited about reading — especially children and teens.”
Authors invited to the festival are chosen and invited based on a number of factors. Blessing and Terry Wooten, marketing and development manager for the Kanawha library, look at what authors are publishing at the time, what books are being circulated through West Virginia libraries and what authors Book Festival visitors say they’d like to see at future events.
Last year’s survey results included many of the authors who are headlining, including Hill, who is the son of horror-writing powerhouse Stephen King, but is well-known in his own right for bestselling works like “Horns,” “NOS4A2” and “The Fireman” and his comic book series “Locke & Key.” His new book, “Strange Weather: Four Short Novels,” will be published on Oct. 24, four days before his appearance at the festival.
Winkler also appeared on the survey results. His children’s series “Hank Zipzer: The World’s Greatest Underachiever,” written with Lin Oliver, is inspired by the trouble Winkler had growing up and trying to learn with undiagnosed dyslexia.
“His story is truly inspiring, and anyone who shows up to hear him talk, I think, will agree,” Blessing said.
Past headliners for the festival have included authors such as Nicholas Sparks, Neil Gaiman, Erik Larson and Charlaine Harris. Blessing said household names like those, and Stine, ensure people pay attention to the festival, and to other, more local talent it features.
“The purpose of this [festival] has always been to promote West Virginia authors, but what we found was without the national best-selling authors, we didn’t get the numbers or turnout we wanted,” she said. “This way, we get to host these big-name authors, event-goers get to see some of their favorite writers and we get to show off some West Virginians.”
Among those West Virginians this year are Carter Taylor Seaton, whose recent “The Rebel in the Red Jeep,” tells the story of maverick politician Ken Hechler, who died late last year at 102 years old; Candace Nelson, a Gazette-Mail food columnist whose book “The West Virginia Pepperoni Roll” documents the roots of the Mountain State’s favorite snack; state poet laureate Marc Harshman and children’s author Anna Egan Smucker, who will talk about their collaboration on “Fallingwater,” a children’s picture book about Frank Lloyd Wright’s home to be published in October; and Patricia Harman, author of the “Midwife of Hope River” series.
Other events include McCrumb speaking about “The Unquiet Grave,” a novel about West Virginia’s Greenbrier Ghost to be published in September; a panel of three romance writers — Sarah Title, Jo Goodman and Sarah Loudin Thomas — with West Virginia connections; and a reading from the West Virginia University Press poetry and fiction anthology “Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods.”
“Appalachian literature is very unique and much loved in this country, much like Southern literature,” Blessing said. “There’s so much talent in West Virginia. We’re very blessed to have so many authors and writers like this.”
This year’s Book Festival will be a challenge in one respect. The ongoing construction at the Civic Center will force organizers to hold events in different parts of the arena.
The festival’s marketplace and the annual Kanawha County library used book sale will both be in the Civic Center’s Coliseum this year, instead of the Grand Hall. Because of that, both events will be a little smaller than in previous years, Wooten said.
“Even though it’s a little smaller, it’s still a huge book sale,” she said. “Also it gives people a chance to see the new renovations at the Civic Center.”
Presentations and workshops will be in the parlors, the Little Theatre and the North Hall.
For Wooten and Blessing, the two-day festival is a very long, but very rewarding process — especially when they get to see festival-goers meet some of their literary heroes.
“It’s thrilling, really. My favorite moments have all been when I see people respond to their favorite authors. I’ve seen people scream, cry, it’s really touching,” Blessing said. “That’s why we do the festival — we really want people to know West Virginia is a very literature-loving state.”
Charter presenters of the West Virginia Book Festival include the Kanawha County Public Library, the Library Foundation of Kanawha County Inc., the West Virginia Humanities Council and the Charleston Gazette-Mail. Sponsors for this year’s festival are West Virginia Public Broadcasting, the West Virginia Library Commission, the Center for the Book, the Martha Gaines and Russell Wehrle Memorial Foundation, the Friends of The Library and BB&T. All events at the festival are free and open to the public.