Book festivals will be busting out across the U.S. this spring, continuing an annual tradition that shows no sign of stopping. The desire to celebrate books and reading, to showcase local and national authors and to offer activities for the whole family in furtherance of literacy and the sheer joy of reading, is the common theme of these events. Most of the festivals—which range from one to five days—are free except for special events such as luncheons, gala receptions or benefits.

While most of the festivals have been going strong for many years, a brand new festival this year is the Ann Arbor Book Festival. Marking important anniversaries are the Lee County Reading Festival (five years), the Virginia Festival of the Book and the Border Book Festival (both 10 years). Shifting seasons are the Central Coast Book & Author Festival in San Luis Obispo, Calif., which has moved to the fall from its previous June date, and the Phoenix leg of the Latino Book and Family Festival, which will take place in the summer instead of February.

Columbia, February 28—29
(803) 771-2477

What began in 1997 as a one-day event has now become the largest literary event in the state: readings and signings with more than 60 well-known authors, dozens of booksellers and exhibitors and thousands of avid readers. The events, all Southern-themed, include panel discussions on horror writing, science fiction and fantasy, coming-of-age stories, Southern families and Low Country writers. Registration and a fee are required for master classes and the opening night reception and silent auction fundraiser. Authors participating include Tina McElroy Ansa, David Baldacci, Jeffrey Ford, Tayari Jones, Francis Ray, Kimberla Lawson Roby and the state's poet laureate, Marjorie Wentworth.

Ft. Myers, Fla., March 13
(239) 461-2924

This year the Lee County Reading Festival hosts its fifth annual "Celebration of Reading." Highlights of the festival will include author panels, a storybook character parade, crafts, puppet shows and street theater performances. Featured authors include Rick Bragg, Douglas Brinkley, Tim Dorsey, Joy Fielding, Travis Hunter, Philip Margolin, Mary Alice Monroe, Kevin Powell, Jack Prelutsky, Mary Jo Putney and Sarah Strohmeyer. Last year the free festival drew 20,000 people to Centennial Park in downtown Ft. Myers.


Fort Lauderdale, Fla., March 19—20
(954) 357-7469

Now in its 16th year, Literary Feast promotes reading and writing skills while generating substantial support for the Broward Public Library Foundation. The Feast is made up of individual events: "Novel Day for Students," with authors visiting local high schools and universities to discuss their life and work, with a writing contest to follow; "Night of Literary Feasts," featuring a cocktail reception—during which books are sold—and book signing at the Main Library followed by a series of dinner parties hosted in private homes; and "Day of Literary Lectures." Authors include Ann Louise Bardach, Nicholas Basbanes, Ted Chapin, Joni Cole, Ed Dee, Robert Greer, Brian Haig, Wil Haygood, Khaled Hosseini, Jonathon King, Kelly Lange, Sena Jeter Naslund, Gerald Posner, R.A. Scotti and Jim Swain.


Plano, Tex., March 20
(972) 633-9603

The Plano Station and Plano City Hall will host 50 authors from Texas and beyond during this third annual festival to benefit the cause of adult literacy. Authors will meet and greet the public; county elementary school children can enter a creative writing contest; and workshops will be offered. There will also be a silent auction benefiting adult literacy programs. Authors scheduled to appear include Dick Armey, William Baker, Trudy Bourgeois, Ken C. Cross, Gary M. Lavergne and Hazel Spire. Borders will sell books at the festival and is donating 20% of sales to adult literacy.


Charlottesville, March 24—28
(434) 924-6890

The 10th annual Virginia Festival of the Book—"VABook!"—will feature many award-winning authors. Booker Prize winner Michael Ondaatje and Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon will headline events co-sponsored by the University of Virginia and the Virginia Quarterly Review. Also present will be National Book Critics' Circle Award winner Henry Wiencek and National Book Award fiction nominee Edward P. Jones. An evening with the Fellowship of Southern Writers will include Clyde Edgerton, Kaye Gibbons, Richard and Robert Bausch, Henry Taylor, Fred Chappell and George Garrett. A program on the writers of the Literary West features Gretel Ehrlich, Judy Blunt and Dan O'Brien. There will also be panels on the legacy of the Brown v. Board of Education decision. The popular Crime Wave will return, with mystery authors Lawrence Block, S.J. Rozan, T. Jefferson Parker and David Baldacci (who hosts the Crime Wave luncheon). Authors Henry Wiencek, Donna Lucey, John Gregory Brown and Carrie Brown will cohost the annual Authors Reception at the home of the president of the University of Virginia.


New Orleans, March 24—28
(504) 581-1144

Now in its 18th year, this festival showcases national and regional scholars, writers and performing artists through panel discussions, theatrical performances, a one-act play competition, lectures, literary walking tours, musical performances and a book fair. Festival activities are based around Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carré; however, the growth of the Festival in recent years has caused expansion to nearby sites, including the Cabildo of the Louisiana State Museum, the Historic New Orleans Collection, the Palm Court Jazz Café and the Contemporary Arts Center. A talk will be given called "A Writer's Profile: Zora Neale Hurston." Among the presenters will be author John Biguenet, ICM agent Lisa Bankoff, journalist Bob Schieffer, critic David Denby, celebrity chef Sara Moulton and food expert John Mariani.


Springfield, March 26—27
(217) 785-6925

A gala dinner honoring Illinois authors and benefiting the Illinois Center for the Book will kick off this eighth annual fair. The following day, more than 30 Illinois authors will sign their books and participate in workshops and discussion groups, with a number of events held for children. Erik Larson is the event's featured author; other authors include Catherine Gourley, Elizabeth Berg and Robert E. Hartley, whose presentation will launch the 200th anniversary celebration of the Lewis & Clark expedition.


New York City, March 27—28
(212) 764-7021

Once again focusing on literary publishing, this 16th annual fair is one of the major events of Small Press Month, providing hundreds of independent publishers with an eclectic forum to display and sell books and magazines. More than 2,500 visitors are expected to attend the midtown Manhattan event, whose highlight will be an interview with Grove-Atlantic's Morgan Entrekin conducted by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt. Other special events include readings by small press authors; a literary cafe; a co-op bookstore; an exhibit and program on Emily Dickinson, the Small Press Author of the Year; and seminars on publishing. The Small Press Center will also present the Poor Richard's Award to an individual who has made a significant contribution to independent publishing.


Mesilla, N.Mex., April 1—4
(505) 524-1499

For 10 years, this festival has been celebrating the literature and authors of the border region between the southern U.S. and northern Mexico. Mesilla, now 42 miles from the Mexican border, was once part of Mexico. The theme for the 10th anniversary festival is "Warrior Words"; the festival poster, featuring a bandolier belt filled with pens instead of bullets, reflects the belief that the pen is mightier than the sword. Invited writers and artists include Ana Castillo, Li-Young Lee, Luis Urrea, Cherrié Moraga, Sandra Benítez, Kathleen Alcalá, Sherwin Bistui, Mary Sojourner, Miriam Sagan and Noel Bennett.


San Diego, May 15—16
(760) 434-4484

This traveling festival is now in its eighth year of advancing the cause of Latino literacy. This year San Diego—which has been hosting the festival for five years—replaces Phoenix as the first locale on the tour. The Festival's unique "village" concept features a "Book Village" as one of six themed areas where yet-to-be-confirmed authors will do readings and book signings. There will also be a Youth & Adult Writing Exhibition. This year's venue has changed from a convention center to the Southwestern College campus to involve the academic community. Organizers expect that the location's proximity to Mexico will help establish relationships with authors across the border.


Phoenix, April 3
(602) 257-0335

More than 200 local and national authors are expected at this festival, which is also the kick-off event for OneBookAZ, a statewide effort to bring readers together by focusing on one book during April. The Festival celebrates books and reading by offering thousands of new and used books for sale, hundreds of exhibitors, book appraisals, interactive discussions, multicultural programs, author signings, cookbook demonstrations, an entire area devoted to children's activities and costumed characters. Events will take place on the grounds of Phoenix's first public library. Last year more than 14,000 people attended. Among the authors expected are Ron Carlson, Nancy Farmer, Alan Dean Foster, Diana Gabaldon, Ursula K. Le Guin, Tom McGuane and Sandra Day O'Connor.


Flagstaff, April 16—18
(928) 774-9118

On February 16—two months before the festival date—the seventh annual Northern Arizona Book Festival began its year with a benefit performance featuring cowboy poet Baxter Black. As one of the largest book festivals in the region, the festival will be a weekend of literary events with a diverse group of authors hosting numerous lectures throughout Flagstaff's historic downtown and at Northern Arizona University. Authors include Percival Everett, Rigoberto González, Junot Díaz, Mary Sojourner, Craig Childs, Nancy Laura Tohe, Bo Flood, Cristina Garcia and Simon Ortiz. Other activities include high school students from Indian reservations reading their own poetry; authors visiting local schools; a reading at Sun Sounds radio for the blind; poetry slams; poetry cafes and writing workshops.


Bowling Green, April 16—17
(270) 745-5016

The sixth annual Southern Kentucky Book Festival—billed as the largest literary event in the state—will host over 200 authors in autographing and speaking sessions. New this year will be exhibitors representing major publishers, regional publishers and book-related nonprofit organizations. Headlining the festival this year are Dorothea Benton Frank, Sena Jeter Naslund, Clyde Edgerton, Brian Haig, David L. Robbins, Nick Clooney, Silas House and Steve Berry. There will also be a Children's Day with Suzy Kline, Jared Lee, George Edward Stanley and 50 more children's authors. At a special luncheon on April 16 the winners of the Kentucky Literary Awards will be announced from a list of more than 30 writers nominated for excellence in nonfiction, fiction and poetry.


Ann Arbor, Mich., April 22—25
(734) 662-7407

2004 marks the inaugural year for this festival, which will be held in the heart of University of Michigan land. The festival celebrates poetry, booksellers and publishers, literacy, book groups, songwriting, comics and book arts. Highlights include a Body, Mind and Spirit Pavilion; press tours to see how books are made; a comics pavilion, including a comic writing stage and many graphic artists; a poetry pavilion, offering workshops for young budding poets; and a pavilion celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling. Featured authors include Jim Harrison, Gore Vidal and Mark Crilley, who are being honored at a gala benefit dinner. The festival opens with a movie and panel discussion about the process of taking a book to the big screen, and ends with an antiquarian book fair where more than 40 book dealers from Michigan and throughout the Midwest will be selling fine used and rare books, maps and prints.


New York City, April 24
(203) 359-6925

New York City's landmark Cathedral of Saint John the Divine is once again the venue for this annual festival. This year, the sixth, the event has been expanded to two floors, with an added cafe. Attending authors include Tonya Bolden, E.B. Lewis, Cheryl and Wade Hudson and Beatrice Biira, a special visitor from Uganda who is the subject of Beatrice's Goat. To help make the stories come alive, storytellers and performances will be featured along with author readings. Sponsored by Pitney Bowes, half of the proceeds will be donated to the Ferguson Library in Stamford, Conn.


Los Angeles, April 24—25
(800) LATIMES, ext. 7BOOK

Filled with panel discussions, poetry readings, book signings and music for Southern Californians, this ninth annual festival will also host the 24th annual presentation of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes. The prizes recognize outstanding literary achievements in biography, current interest, history, poetry, science and technology, fiction, first fiction, mystery/thriller and young adult fiction. Among the participating authors are Tariq Ali, Clive Barker, Ray Bradbury, Christopher Darden, Arianna Huffington, Elmore Leonard, Anna Quindlen and R.L. Stine.


Huntington, W.Va., April 30—May 1
(304) 528-5700

This second annual festival celebrates contributions to writing from West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky. Held at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena Conference Center, the festival will feature more than 50 workshops and panel discussions. More than 100 authors are anticipated, including Rick Bragg, Mary Lee Settle, Allan Eckert, Jennifer Crusie, Irene McKinney (West Virginia's poet laureate) and Joe Survant (poet laureate for Kentucky)