PORTLAND — All aspects of books will be showcased this weekend at the Maine Festival of the Book.

The sixth annual festival, primarily at the University of Southern Maine, brings more than 50 authors and artists to Portland for a series of mostly free presentations and discussions Thursday-Sunday.

Sarah Cecil, executive director of Maine Reads, the literacy nonprofit that presents the festival, said discussion topics will range from romantic fantasy to the biography of Kurt Vonnegut to an insider’s view of crime scenes presented by a veteran New York Police Department undercover detective.

“(The festival) has gotten a reputation among the public for offering unique programs and interesting presenters,” Cecil said.

She said interest in the event continues to grow and she has fielded phone calls from people who plan to travel to Maine to attend.

“It just keeps getting bigger and bigger,” Cecil said, noting events expanded into a second building on USM’s Portland campus.

The festival begins Thursday, March 29, with a lecture by John Cole, founding director of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. The lecture, at 7 p.m. in the Abromson Center, is presented in collaboration with the Maine Humanities Council and the Kate Cheney Chappell ’83 Center for Book Arts at USM.

The opening-night author talk at 7:30 p.m. Friday will feature an illustrated talk by Pulitzer Prize-winning Civil War historian Tony Horwitz, author of “Confederates in the Attic.” It will be preceded by a reception at 6 p.m. at the Abromson Center. The Friday night events are the only festival sessions that require tickets.

On Saturday, free, unticketed events will be held at the Abromson Center from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Writers and filmmakers will present or read from their work and talk about the challenges of telling another’s story.

A panel discussion featuring Horwitz and Colin Woodard, journalist and author of “American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America,” begins at 11 a.m. They will be joined by Michael Willrich, a Brandeis University history professor and author of “Pox: An American History.”

Martha White, granddaughter of “Charlotte’s Web” author E.B White, will share favorite quotations, photos and home movies of her grandfather during an 11 a.m. presentation.

Biographers Charles J. Shields and Chip Bishop will hold a talk,”The Quick and Dead: Writing About Someone You Knew or Admired,” at 1:30 p.m. They will discuss their respective works and the process of creating an objective biography. Shields is author of “And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut, A Life,” and Bishop wrote “The Lion and the Journalist, The Unlikely Friendship of Theodore Roosevelt and Joseph Bucklin Bishop.”

Former Congressman Tom Allen will present a program called “Politics Swing: Swing and Independent Voters, Party Divides and Ideological Convictions,” at 3 p.m. with political scholar Linda Killian of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

The focus will shift from books to film at 5 p.m., when Michael Maglaras screens a new documentary, “O Brother Man: The Art and Life of Lynd Ward,” about the American artist. The artist’s daughter, Robin Ward Savage, will attend the film’s premiere.

In addition to events at USM, there will be a Maine Festival of the Book Poetry Party at 7 p.m. Saturday at Local Sprouts, 469 Congress St. The free event, which includes music and slams, is presented by Port Veritas in conjunction with Maine Reads.

A Book Arts Bazaar will take place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday in the Wishcamper Center at USM. It will feature book artists, page makers, bookbinders, print makers and writers. Dramatic readings of literary selections close the festival Sunday evening at Portland Stage Company, 25A Forest Ave.

Cecil said the diverse offerings are intended to interest audiences of all ages. The university provides free parking and food is available for purchase on campus.

A complete schedule of events is available at www.mainereads.org.

Gillian Graham can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @grahamgillian.

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