Rita Dove and Boyd Tinsley Ashley Twiggs

A writer reading aloud conjures images that seem to glimmer for a moment in the air in front of her listeners. The Virginia Festival of the Book makes writing—the creation and consumption of which is often solitary—a shared, communal experience.

This March, the festival featured more than 300 authors and enjoyed record attendance of 20,000. At a sold-out show at the Paramount, poet Rita Dove read from her new book, Sonata Mulattica, and Boyd Tinsley (Col ’86) of the Dave Matthews Band played violin.


John Grisham explains how he prepares to write a novel. Grisham’s first legal thriller was A Time to Kill and he went on to publish 21 more books, many of which have been made into movies.

Rita Dove reads the first poem from Sonata Mulattica, “The Bridgetower,” about George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower, a mixed-race violin virtuoso who crossed swords with Ludwig van Beethoven. She was Poet Laureate at the Library of Congress and received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Dove teaches creative writing at the University of Virginia.

Debra Nystrom (Grad ’82) reads poems about family—one about a mother, another about a father and the last about a grandmother’s lace—from her most recent book of poems, Bad River Road. She teaches creative writing at the University of Virginia.

John Casteen IV (Col ’93) reads “Cold on the Shoulder” about the Blue Ridge Mountains. He wrote the book of poems, Free Union, and teaches poetry at Sweet Briar College in Virginia.

Mary Doria Russell explains one of the inspirations for her latest novel Dreamers of the Day. The book takes as its subject the 1921 Cairo Peace Conference, which laid the foundations for the modern Middle East. Russell also wrote The Sparrow, Children of God and A Thread of Grace.

Ted Genoways (Grad ’99) reads two poems from the book Anna, Washing in which Anna, the wife of a prospector in the 1890s, writes to her sister. In his book, Genoways re-imagines the real lives of two Finnish immigrants to the Klondike, Anna and Abe. The significantly older Anna had raised Abe before they married when he turned 18. Genoways is the editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review.