GAITHERSBURG – People from Gaithersburg, different parts of the state of Maryland and all over the country converge to celebrate the 10th annual city book festival on May 18.
Gaithersburg resident Ryan Richards browsed the Book Crossing tent of free books. He was carrying four books in a plastic bag as he browsed, but said he was not sure if he would take them all home.
The display included four tables arranged in a square shape, with Book Crossing members positioned in the middle of the square to provide book suggestions. Book Crossing members from the Washington metropolitan area were giving used books away.
Richards said he was looking for “new classics” to add to his collection of books and was searching for books in the mystery genre.
Event organizers estimate 23,500 people came to this year’s festival. This year’s edition included many pavilions, each with a schedule of speakers plus several rows of tables, which vendors paid the city to use for the event.
One author with a table at the festival was Shabnam Curtis, a 47-year-old Iranian native and Sterling, Va., resident who was selling copies of her book, “My Persian Paradox.” Her book is about her “memories” of living in Iran from as early as 1978, around the time when the dictatorship took power.
“All I want to do is (share) my story and (say) that people in Iran are different from what you see in the news. People want freedom, you know?” Curtis said. “The desire for their freedom is like everywhere else, like all other human beings.”
Curtis said she had wanted to come stateside for freedom, and she arrived in 2004. Curtis is in the process of writing a second book about being an immigrant.
She applied to participate in the book festival by completing a form and describing the contents of her book. She said she was glad to be accepted, and was joined at the festival by her father.
Mathina Calliope, a Pentagon City resident, was sharing a table with Curtis, who had previously hired her as a consultant. Calliope is also a teacher and a writer. She was scheduled to give a workshop at the festival about writing scenes later in the afternoon.
Washington, D.C. resident Jenny Masur, 70, had one of the tables located next to Curtis. Masur, too, was selling her second book, titled “Heroes of the Underground Railroad around Washington, D.C.”
“Some of them (the stories) go against some of the stereotypes people have… A couple of families that were trying to keep together, large families,” Masur said.
One of the people in her book was from Montgomery County. Masur found out about the individuals who would end up in her book through her former job with the National Park Service.
“I worked for the National Park Service until I retired, and I got to know people who had been working on the Underground Railroad and who had been researching many of the stories,” Masur said.
A Gaithersburg family, Todd and Susan Brost and their son Ryan, stopped at Masur’s table, twice. The first time, they purchased a copy of her book. They returned because their 8-year-old son Ryan, who attends Washington Grove Elementary School, wanted Masur to sign his new book.
“I like history,” Ryan said. “I like stories, and I like stories from a long time ago, and the Civil War and things like (…) the Underground Railroad.”
The Brost family had bought four books so far, all with authors’ signatures. “They’re all for Ryan,” Susan Brost said.
The Brost family has attended the festival for the past four years.
Some people at the book festival came from outside the city. County resident Larry Waldman, who has attended the festival for the past few years, lives in Kensington.
Maryann Deery, 42, who lives in Syracuse, New York, said she was attending the festival with her husband Terrence, 44 – the first time they had attended. While the couple traveled to D.C. for Maryann Deery’s birthday; the book festival was the main activity on their itinerary.
Terence Deery said he had first found out about the Gaithersburg event when he searched the internet for book festivals this year.
Maryann Deery said she bought a copy of Curtis’s book because her sister works with refugees.
Not all the authors were selling non-fiction books. Retired Washington Post columnist and first-time Gaithersburg Book Festival participant Bob Levey, a 73-year-old Bethesda resident, was promoting his recent book. It was “Larry Felder, Candidate,” his first work of fiction.
Levey and his wife, Jane, have attended several book festivals, including two in the past couple of months, and he believes the Gaithersburg Book Festival was one of the best. He said Mayor Jud Ashman, one of the co-founders of the festival, has been a longtime business colleague of his.
“We love this book festival,” Jane Levey said. “It’s well-organized, and (has) lots of space.”
Bob Levey was one of the authors who had a book signing. Levey said he did not count how many copies he had sold so far because that would be “bad luck.” Earlier in the afternoon, he gave a lecture at one of the pavilions; a city staffer told him 97 people attended it.
Also in attendance at the festival were Ashman; city council members, Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot; State Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D-17); Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton; and Robin Ficker, a former state delegate.
The festival included writing workshops for adults and for teenagers as well as activities for children.