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Meet the Mason Nation: Kara Oakleaf

Job: Manager, Fall for the Book Festival

Kara OakleafPhoto by Evan Cantwell

Kara Oakleaf
Photo by Evan Cantwell

For book lovers, it seems like a dream job, and Kara Oakleaf, MFA Creative Writing ’10, has it.

Oakleaf runs Mason’s Fall for the Book Festival, a staple on campus for the past 18 years. An adjunct English professor, Oakleaf has handled the event since 2010, and is in charge of contacting authors and figuring out where and how to fit them into the jam-packed program. She also maintains finances, writes grant proposals, and secures funding to keep the festival going. This year’s festival took place September 25-30.

Biggest changes: Fall for the Book has taken on more book- and reading-related projects, as well as outreach initiatives, Oakleaf says. “We have a Writers in the Schools program now, where Mason graduate students in writing go into public schools to teach classes. We also have our student- and alumni-run presses, Gazing Grain and Stillhouse. And we work with the English Department on the New Leaves Conference for writers, which happens every spring. Last year, we began partnering with Orientation for Mason Reads, a shared reading initiative for incoming freshmen.”

Heavy hitters: A turning point for the festival, Oakleaf says, was Stephen King’s appearance in 2011. “That raised the level of awareness quite a lot. Also Amy Tan, Sherman Alexie. Alice Walker was huge. Lauren Groff was this year. It changes things up when we get one of the bigger authors to come. But we also love highlighting local writers who are right in our backyard.”

Most requested author: J. K. Rowling. We’ve talked with her agent a couple of times. It’s not happening.

Plot twists: During the event, Oakleaf says she troubleshoots “any little things that come up. An author shows up at the wrong place, their flight’s late, we have to send someone to the airport, a tent rental company takes down the wrong tent. We had to call the police once when an individual was warning attendees of the coming apocalypse. We had sprinklers go off that got readers and the crowd wet. And for one event in the Concert Hall lobby, we thought we had about 100 students coming. Then a high school teacher walked in with 400 students. We just spread them out on the floor and along the walls.”