Baltimore Book Festival expands

The 17th Baltimore Book Festival is expanding into a fifth city block as a result of a new partnership with Center Stage that could become an annual tradition.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced Tuesday morning that the book fest, which will run Sept. 28-30, will expand down Monument Street between St. Paul and Calvert streets — toward Center Stage.

"When my family arrived in Baltimore a year ago, one of our first days out was to walk up the hill to the Book Festival," Kwame Kwei-Armah, Center Stage's artistic director, said at a news conference. "We heard any number of brilliant speakers. When I came back, I asked my staff why Center Stage wasn't part of this wonderful celebration of the word."

The collaboration, dubbed "From Page to Stage," will include paintings on the Monument Street asphalt of costume designs from Center Stage's 50-year history, while actors in character will stroll through the festival, interacting with visitors.

Festival-goers can also attend free performances by local musicians, poets, dancers and local theater troupes such as Fells Point Corner Theatre and the Baltimore Improv Group. At 4 p.m. Saturday, three staged readings will be held of the works of Baltimore native and horror icon Edgar Allen Poe.

In addition, Center Stage will throw open its doors on Saturday for its annual open house. Visitors can take a backstage tour, listen to a storyteller and attend a workshop on stage combat.

Kwei-Armah says he'd like for the collaboration to continue during future festivals if funding and other practical details can be worked out.

"We're not doing it just this one time because this is our 50th anniversary," he said. "There was never any doubt in my mind that we'd be part of this again."

Other festival highlights include two new stages: a Science Fiction and Fantasy Stage and "Discover the 21st Century Library," a stage sponsored by the Enoch Pratt Free Library in which visitors can explore free technology available at the library.

And as always, readers can meet some of their favorite writers, including chick lit author Emily Giffin, mystery writer Laura Lippman and Newbery Award-winning children's author Laura Amy Schlitz.

Rawlings-Blake said the Book Festival was a key part of her initiative to increase the city's population by 10,000 new families in the next decade.

"We're bringing in new people and getting them to fall in love with Baltimore," she said.

mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

If you go

The 17th Baltimore Book Festival runs from noon to 8 p.m. Sept. 28-29 and from noon to 7 p.m. Sept. 30 in Mount Vernon Place. Free. baltimorebookfestival.org

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