The Kentucky Book Fair celebrates the triumvirate of literacy, writing and Kentucky. Authors with their latest books are seated at tables waiting to greet the reading public and autograph their offerings. Founded in 1981, the event has never wavered from its original mission:
■ Honoring the profession of writing in the form of a one-day celebration.
■ Providing a venue for authors to meet the public.
■ Donating to mostly schools and libraries.
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The 34th edition of the book fair will be 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 14 at the Frankfort Convention Center. Admission is free.
Over $375,000 in grants, usually from $500 to $2,000, have been used to revitalize a worn-out library collection, to assisting a library rebuild after a catastrophe. Larger grants have also been given to libraries decimated by fires and tornados. Grants have been used to help extend services to a local juvenile center, expanded adult literacy services or targeted materials for an immigrant population.
Over 100 institutions, from Paducah to Pikeville, received grants and more than 300 schools, libraries, prisons, hospitals, senior-citizen centers and other facilities received book donations from author submissions to the fair.
For the past five years, a Children's Day precedes the public event. Schools and libraries bring groups of young people to meet children's authors and hear them talk about reading and writing. Teachers also apply for travel grants.
The seed for the book fair was planted in Washington, D.C. when journalist Carl West served on the National Press Club's Library Committee, which created a book fair to support its library. In 1979, West returned to Kentucky as editor of The State Journal and brought the concept with him.
The first Kentucky Book Fair debuted in 1981 at the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives. There were about 1,000 patrons and 40 authors.
Today, there are over 3,500 customers and over 175 authors, grossing about $120,000 each year. More than 100 volunteers work throughout the year and on the day of the event.
Luminaries from all walks of life have made the trek to Frankfort, from former first lady Rosalyn Carter to Kentucky's basketball royalty, John Calipari and Rick Pitino. Other featured authors included columnist Rick Bragg, historian David Halberstam, actress Patricia Neal and novelist Ann Ross.
The most revered author/celebrity was the late Thomas C. Clark, Kentucky's historian laureate for life, who had long lines waiting during each of his 23 signings. Other prominent Kentucky writers featured included Wendell Berry, Sue Grafton and Silas House. In addition, Bobbie Ann Mason, Richard Taylor and Frank X Walker make regular appearances.
Under West's leadership, the book fair prospered. On Oct. 29, at the annual Al Smith Awards Dinner of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and the Bluegrass Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, West was named the recipient of the 2015 Al Smith Award for public service through community journalism by a Kentuckian.
While working full time as an editor, West pulled together a collective including The State Journal, the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, the Kentucky Humanities Council; the University Press of Kentucky, Paul Sawyier Public Library, Graviss McDonald's Restaurants and Joseph-Beth Booksellers to support and produce the book fair.
Besides impacting Central Kentucky, the book fair, one of the oldest festivals of its kind, fostered the development of other literary events, from a Texas-sized festival in Austin to the Southern Kentucky Book Fest in Bowling Green. West's concept came full circle when the National Book Festival debuted in Washington, D.C., in 2001.
Come out and be part of an event that invests in the literary traditions of the commonwealth and its people.
For more information about the authors and events, check out http://kybookfair.blogspot.com/.