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Kentucky By Heart: Annual Kentucky Book Fair a grand celebration of state’s literary landscape

By Steve Flairty
NKyTribune Columnist

I look forward with joy to participating, as an author, in the 38th Annual Kentucky Book Fair this Saturday, November 16 at the Alltech Arena at the Kentucky Horse Park, in Lexington. The hours are from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is the culminating event of a week of activities, starting on November 10, called the Kentucky Book Festival.

This is the seventh time — the first since 2015 — and my enthusiasm never seems to diminish for the event, starting in 2005 when I published my first book, Tim Farmer: A Kentucky Woodsman Restored, and appeared with Tim to sign. And, oh, what a premiere it was for a first-time author… one that almost spoiled me into thinking that I’d always have such a big sales day! Mostly because of Tim’s wide following on his statewide television program, we sold 107 books, finishing #7 in books sold for the day.

But despite having more modest sales with the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series in the following appearances at KBF, it’s been a fun and gratifying experience just being there, even in the years I didn’t appear at a table with a new book. Let me share some of the reasons.

First, the notion that our state is largely unsophisticated and illiterate, a stereotypical view of many outside Kentucky, is belied by the enthusiastic turnout at KBF. Crowds of over 2,000, with many traveling from locations all over the state, are a common occurrence. I often see patrons carrying around a half dozen or more books to take to the checkout and purchase; shelling out a hundred dollars signals quite a commitment to reading, don’t you think? I’m all in on Kentucky, and it does my heart good to see so many readers gathering in one place every year. It’s like a celebration, fun to watch!

Though KBF always has some noted authors from outside the state, certainly a nice touch, the event is essentially made up of home-grown Kentuckians. I believe it is generally an impressive bunch, showing that the state of our literary landscape is sound. Where else can a lover of good reading material spend as many hours roaming the aisles of a large room perusing hundreds of books about the state (or written by Kentucky authors) and chatting informally with the writers and getting your books signed?

It’s a wholesome activity for the family, too, with hundreds of children’s books to peruse.

Over the years, I’ve watched KBF “local” writers emerge to become “regional” ones, and that’s inspiring to other local authors. Individuals such as Bill Noel, Marcia Thornton Jones, Debbie Dadey, Ann Gabhart, Jan Watson, and others come to mind quickly. Not sure my humble strivings will ever lead me to that level, but seeing these amazing examples gives hope.

Steve Flairty (right) with Michael Embry at the Kentucky Book Fair (Photo by Patti George)

A personal reason for the joy of participating is one having to do with my friendship with the KBF founder, Carl West. Carl, who died a few years ago, encouraged me about my literary work through the years after I shared the fact that we both grew up in the Grant’s Lick area, in southern Campbell County. Not sure if he was kidding, but he called me “the only author ever from Grant’s Lick.” Coming from such a man as I admired, it was a compliment that I’ve lived on for a long time, though I’m not the only one (Roberta Schultz is one, and likely others). The folks around KBF, including the current sponsor, The Kentucky Humanities Council, will tell you Carl West’s spirit abides, a tribute to a man who thought it important that his home state could put on a literary show as good as much of the rest of America does!

Another enjoyable tidbit about being at the book fair has to do with the many book reviews (nearing a couple hundred) that I’ve written over the last decade or more for Kentucky Monthly. That fact brings excitement in a couple of ways. First, I can walk around to the authors for whom I’ve reviewed books, introduce myself and chat. I usually add extra comments about their books, and sometimes ask them questions to satiate my own curiosity. It gets amusing, however, that some of the authors I’ve reviewed know me, and they seem a little extra friendly. Some who’ve never had a book reviewed by me, but discover that I write reviews, sometimes seem overly friendly, too. Guess I’m not the type who writes those downright nasty reviews… so that likely fits into the positive reception I get. Oh, well, it’s fun.

But most of all, being at the KBF feels like home… a comfortable sense of belonging to something bigger than myself—Kentucky’s literary landscape. It’s like family reunion time, where even if you don’t know some of the family members well, you still feel connected.

Lexington author David Miller summed up his KBF experience like this. “Last year was my first as an author rather than just a browser, but it was equally fun and interesting–a huge room full of people who are passionate about books, authors lined up at long tables with every possible genre. A chance to have chance conversations on just about anything. Great for Christmas shopping for the readers in your family, too.”

I hope you’ll come by my table this Saturday. I always like getting constructive feedback from my readers, picking up another story to write about, arranging a time to guest speak at your group gathering… or, even selling you a book!

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Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of six books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and five in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #4,” was released in 2015. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly KyForward and NKyTribune columnist and a member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Connie McDonald)

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