Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

A Festival for Readers Everywhere

The 2020 Southern Festival of Books takes its stellar roster of authors online

UPDATE: The current list of authors participating in the 2020 Southern Festival of Books can be found here. A complete list of Chapter 16‘s coverage of festival authors and books is available here

This year, book lovers around the country can connect with more than 100 of their favorite authors across a spectrum of genres online and for free, as the Festival has transitioned to a virtual format to preserve the health and safety of attendees, authors, volunteers, and partners during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The online format brings the Festival to readers nationwide, making author sessions and panel discussions accessible right from the comfort of home. 

“People who attend this year’s Southern Festival of Books online edition will receive the same great author interviews, conversations, and readings that they have come to know from the Festival, but they will do so in community with others around Tennessee and the globe. During this year’s virtual event we will also feature some of Tennessee’s literary heritage sites, historic libraries, and natural areas across the state,” said Tim Henderson, executive director of Humanities Tennessee. “Whether it’s a poetry reading, a visit to a historic literary home, or a conversation with a Tennessee writer, we will be showcasing our state and its literary life throughout the Festival.”

Access to the Festival is free and available to everyone. The Festival’s presenter, Humanities Tennessee, is partnering with the Tennessee State Library and Archives to provide access to the Festival’s programming to families across the state.

The Southern Festival of Books is made possible by generous support from funders and partners including: the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, Metro Nashville: Office of Arts & Culture, Tennessee Arts Commission, Ingram Content Group, Vanderbilt University, Dollar General Literary Foundation, Parnassus Books, Nashville Scene, and Comcast.

Headlining authors that the Festival has announced to date are:

  • JULIA ALVAREZ has written novels, collections of poems, and several books for young readers. She is the recipient of the Pura Belpré and Américas Awards for her books for young readers, the Hispanic Heritage Award, and the F. Scott Fitzgerald Award. In 2013, she received the National Medal of Arts from President Obama.
  • MICHAEL IAN BLACK is an actor, comedian, and writer who started with the sketch comedy show The State on MTV and has since appeared in several television shows and movies. Black is the author of several books for children, including the award-winning I’m BoredI’m Sad, andI’m Worried, and the parody A Child’s First Book of Trump. His latest work A Better Man: A (Mostly Serious) Letter to My Son will be available this September.
  • BRUCE FEILER is a six-time New York Times bestselling author and presenter of two prime-time series on PBS. His work often explores the intersection of families, relationships, health, and happiness. His latest work Life is in the Transitions: Mastering Change at Any Age explores how to navigate change through growth and purpose.
  • YAA GYASI is a Ghanaian-American novelist and recipient of the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Award and the PEN/Hemingway Award for her 2016 debut novel, Homegoing. Her follow-up work, Transcendent Kingdom, is an intimate novel about a Ghanaian family living in Alabama.
  • JOY HARJO is the 23rd Poet Laureate of the United States and the first Native American to receive the honor. Harjo is an internationally renowned performer and writer of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. From Tulsa, Oklahoma, Harjo is the author of nine books of poetry, several plays and children’s books and a memoir.
  • JOE HILL is an American author and comic book writer. He has published three novels—Heart-Shaped Box, Horns, and NOS4A2—and a collection of short stories titled 20th Century Ghosts. He is also the author of the comic book series Locke & Key. Hill’s parents are authors Stephen and Tabitha King.
  • ERIK LARSON is the author of six New York Timesbestsellers, including Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, which hit no. 1 on the Times list soon after launch, and his newest book, The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz. Erik’s The Devil in the White City is set to be a Hulu limited series; his In the Garden of Beasts is under option by Tom Hanks for a feature film.
  • ANN PATCHETT is a New York Times bestselling author of seven novels and three nonfiction works. Patchett has been the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, including England’s Orange Prize, the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Patchett is the co-owner of Nashville’s Parnassus Books and has been a champion for independent booksellers. Patchett was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2012.
  • KILEY REID is a recent graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop where she was the recipient of the Truman Capote Fellowship. Such A Fun Age is her first novel.
  • NATASHA TRETHEWEY served two terms as the 19thPoet Laureate of the United States (2012-2014). She is the author of four collections of poetry, Domestic Work (2000), Bellocq’s Ophelia (2002), Native Guard (2006)—for which she was awarded the 2007 Pulitzer Prize—and Thrall, (2012). She is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, and recipient of fellowships from the Academy of American Poets, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Beinecke Library at Yale, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard. In 2013 she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in 2017 she received the Heinz Award for Arts and Humanities.

Premier Southern authors attending this year’s Festival include:

  • WILEY CASH is a North Carolina-based New York Times bestselling author of the novels The Last Ballad, A Land More Kind than Home, and This Dark Road to Mercy. Cash is also the founder of the Open Canon Book Club and co-founder of the Land More Kind Appalachian Artists Residency.
  • SILAS HOUSE is a nationally bestselling author of six novels including Clay’s Quilt and The Coal Tattoo, a book of creative nonfiction and three plays. House is a former commentator on NPR’s “All Things Considered” and his writing has appeared recently in Time, The Atlantic and Garden and Gun among other publications.
  • JILL MCCORKLE is the author of six novels and four collections of short stories and was called a “born novelist” by the New York Times. Her novel, Life After Life, was a New York Times McCorkle has written for The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, Garden and Gun, The Atlantic, and other publications.
  • ALICE RANDALL is a Nashville-based novelist and author of several novels. Randall is also an innovative food activist committed to reforms that support healthy bodies and healthy communities. She and her daughter co-authored the acclaimed cookbook Soul Food Love.
  • RON RASH is the author of the 2009 PEN/Faulkner finalist and New York Times bestseller Serena and Above the Waterfall, in addition to four prize-winning novels. He is a two-time recipient of the O. Henry Award and teaches at Western Carolina University.
  • LEE SMITH, is the author of thirteen novels, four story collections and a memoir. A native of Virginia and former Nashvillian, Smith has been hailed as the “Southern Storyteller.”

Acclaimed children’s and young adult authors appearing at this year’s Festival include:

  • SHARON CAMERON, is a Nashville-based #1 New York Times bestselling author whose books have won the Parents’ Choice Gold Award, the Westchester Fiction Award, earned starred reviews from Booklist, SLJ, and Kirkus, and have been chosen for numerous lists, including Indie Next Top Ten, YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults, Audible Best Books, and numerous state award nominations. Her newest book The Light in Hidden Places was released in 2020.
  • DOREEN CRONIN is a Caldecott Honor–winning and New York Times bestselling author of several children’s books. Her latest is Click Clack Good Night.
  • LAMAR GILES is an American author and two-time Edgar Award finalist in the YA category for his debut YA thriller and follow-up thriller. Giles is the founder of We Need Diverse Books, a non-profit and a grassroots organization of children’s book lovers that advocates essential changes in the publishing industry. His latest novel Not So Pure and Simple his first contemporary coming-of-age story.
  • RUTA SEPETYS– an internationally acclaimed, #1 New York Times bestselling author of historical fiction and winner of the Carnegie Medal. Her work has been published in over sixty countries and forty languages. Passionate about the power of history and story to foster global dialogue and connectivity, Sepetys has been invited to present at NATO, European Parliament, the U.S. Capitol, the Library of Congress, and Embassies worldwide. Sepetys currently lives in Tennessee.
  • DAVID WEISNER is a three-time recipient of the Caldecott Honor whose books have been translated into more than a dozen languages and have won numerous awards in the United States and abroad.

More details about the Festival’s sessions and attendee registration will be announced in the coming weeks.

For a regularly updated list of all authors, please visit To learn more about the Southern Festival of Books and to stay updated on Festival announcements, please follow us on Twitter (@SoFestofBooks), Facebook (@SoFestofBooks) and on Instagram (@sofestofbooks).


A Festival for Readers Everywhere

The Southern Festival of Books is presented by Humanities Tennessee, a nonprofit organization that promotes humanities education across Tennessee.