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The Year in Reading

A look back on Richmond's literary trends.

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Carole Weinstein kicked off a $10,000 poetry prize in September, offering financial hope to poets throughout the Central Virginia area. And Nov. 2 was proclaimed Jeannie Baliles/Virginia Literacy Foundation Day, honoring a former first lady of Virginia and the foundation she started for their tremendous work combating illiteracy.

One-man-show writer/actor Slash Coleman offered writing courses at Comedy Alley, and the First Annual Virginia Writing Competition's short story prize, hosted by the Piedmont Writers' Institute, went to Richmonder Teri Sherab for her story "The Seduction of Lady Gerrett."

The Junior League started a Junior Book & Author event inviting the award-winning writer of children's literature Avi to speak at the Byrd Theatre. The fund-raiser was established to raise awareness for children's literacy.

If there were a lot of firsts in 2005, there were even more why-not-do-it-agains. The Second Annual People's Choice Awards, held at the Library of Virginia, honored JRW board member Dean King for "Skeletons on the Zahara" and David Baldacci for "Hour Game." The Edgar Allan Poe Young Writer's Workshop brought creative writing to high school students for the second summer in a row, and we witnessed a full second season of the Just Poetry Slam! at the Firehouse Theatre.

If two's good, three's a charm. Style Weekly sponsored its Third Annual Fiction Contest, receiving more than 200 entries and publishing the work of winners Lenore Gay, Darren Morris and Eva Langston (online at www.styleweekly.com). The third annual James River Writers Conference was held during what organizers have coined "Booktober," bringing dozens of literary greats to a sold-out auditorium at the Library of Virginia. Building on past success, Go Read Richmond embarked on its fourth year, drawing Virginia Commonwealth University students into discussions about alcoholism sparked by Alice McDermott's "Charming Billy." And gaining momentum, the fourth annual VCU First Novelist Award went to Lorraine Adams for her novel "Harbor."

Of course, some of Richmond's more tried and true literary traditions played out in their regular grand fashion. We saw the eighth annual Library of Virginia Literary Awards and the 60th Book & Author Dinner sponsored by the Junior League.

When locals haven't been attending events, they've been writing about them. VCU professors have brought to press such literary treats as Susann Cokal's "Breath and Bones," Tom DeHaven's "It's Superman," Dennis Danvers' "The Bright Spot" and Kristin Swenson's "Living Through Pain: Psalms and the Search for Wholeness."

Professors weren't the only prolific demographic this year. Hairdresser Lee Tremonti delivered a taste of the Mafia to the capital of the South with "Cousins: A Mafia Story," while hip-hop fiction writer Nikki Turner taught us about "The Glamorous Life." JRW executive director Colleen Curran published her controversial "Whores on the Hill," as teacher Anne Thomas Soffee made us laugh hysterically through "N‰rd Girl Rocks Paradise City."

Community activist Gigi Amateau wrote "Claiming Georgia Tate" for the young-adult set, while Jeannette Drake, a licensed clinical social worker, facilitated our re-emergence through a "Journey Within." Antiques expert Emyl Jenkins began her series, "Stealing With Style," while race-relations professor Laurie Gunst reminisced about her past in "Off-White." Martin Agency brothers Stephen and David Martin fabricated a satanic electoral race in "The Color of Demons," while outdoorsmen Nathan Lott guided us through "60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Richmond."

If Richmond were a book, 2005 would be at the center of the rising action. Using the past as an augur of the future, we are in for a verbally rockin' 2006. S

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