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Thursday, March 25, 2004 03:30 pm

Books, briefly noted

art929
Erik Larson

Admit it. When you think of the literary capitals of the world, Springfield doesn't leap to the top of the list. But beginning on Saturday, Springfield shines like a literary luminary on the prairie. Two major events light the match: the Eighth Annual Illinois Authors Book Fair and the University of Illinois at Springfield's Verbal Arts Festival.

• Visitors to the book fair on Saturday get the opportunity to meet more than 30 authors, most from Illinois, and shop from a great selection of their works. Among featured authors is Erik Larson of Seattle, whose The Devil in the White City explores the lost history of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, including the lives of two men, fair architect Daniel H. Burnham and serial killer Henry H. Holmes. The work of nonfiction, which is currently on the New York Times best-seller list, reads like a mystery thriller in Larson's capable hands.

Fairgoers (the book fair, that is) will also be able to meet, among others: Elizabeth Berg, a popular novelist whose works include Talk Before Sleep and Open House, an Oprah's Book Club selection; Catherine Gourley, an author in The American Girl series whose latest work, Society's Sisters, chronicles the efforts of pre-suffrage women who changed their communities; and Robert Hartley, author of Lewis & Clark in the Illinois Country: The Little-Told Story. The fair also boasts several book-related workshops and activities. Tom Joyce, a regular on HGTV's The Appraisal Fair, will be on hand to appraise books. Other presentations include puppet-making, self-publishing, writing children's books, and talks by featured authors.

The fair will be held from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m., Saturday, March 27, at the Gwendolyn Brooks Building of the Illinois State Library, 300 S. Second St. Admission is free. Complete program information is available at the Web site of the Illinois State Library, which can be located at www.cyberdriveillinois.com

• Distinguished local poet John Knoepfle kicks off this year's Verbal Arts Festival at the university with a reading at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 31. A founder of the first Verbal Arts Festival in 1974, Knoepfle is a professor emeritus of English at UIS and a regular contributor to Illinois Times.

The festival continues at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 1, with a release party for The Alchemist Review, the university's student literary magazine. Contributors will read selections; free copies of the magazine will be available after the readings. The event will be held in the Visual Arts Gallery.

At 7 p.m. Friday, April 2, Marge Piercy, the author of more than 30 volumes of poetry, fiction and nonfiction, reads from her work in Studio Theatre. A political activist with a record of involvement in civil rights and anti-war groups, Piercy has introduced generations of women's studies students to feminist ideals. Her most recent novel is The Third Child; her most recent collection of poetry is Colors Passing Through Us.

On the final day of the festival, things get a bit Wilde. The Ideal Husband, a film based on Oscar Wilde's play of the same name, screens at 4:30 p.m., Saturday, April 3, in Brookens Auditorium. Admission is free. At 6:30 p.m., Corrine Frisch (yours truly) gives a short lecture about Wilde's life and work, followed at 8 p.m. by a production of Wilde's best-known play, The Importance of Being Earnest.

Wilde once said that he never traveled without his diary. "One should always have something sensational to read in the train." This week, forget about traveling anywhere. You will be able to find something sensational to read, right here in Springfield.

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