Writing tends to be a reclusive art, but Humanities Tennessee has lured 265 authors out of their garrets for the twenty-second annual Southern Festival of Books: A Celebration of the Written Word. The festival, a free event for the whole family, will be held this weekend in Nashville on Legislative Plaza. Whether your tastes run to memoirs or cookbooks, literary novels or thrillers, biographies or beach reads, picture books for the kids or adult-only fare, this year’s sessions cover the literary waterfront. “Our goal is for anyone to be able to come to the Plaza, pick up the program, and find authors and sessions of interest,” says Serenity Gerbman, director of literature and language programs at Humanities Tennessee. “Whether you read a hundred books a year, or ten, or none, it’s an engaging and rewarding experience to hear authors read from and discuss their books, and to be a part of the discussion.”
Plus, it’s free.
As always, the festival features individual readings, panel discussions, book signings, and musical and literary performances on three different festival stages. This year Humanities Tennessee is proud to host the launch event for Fresh Medicine, Governor Phil Bredesen’s book on health-care policy, which won’t be available in stores until next week. Also on sale for the first time anywhere is Ian Frazier’s Travels in Sibera, a new nonfiction book from a master of long-form journalism.
Documentary filmmaker Mary Murphy will also debut her new film, “Hey, Boo: Harper Lee & To Kill a Mockingbird,” and discuss the companion book, Scout, Atticus & Boo: A Celebration of 50 Years of To Kill a Mockingbird.
This year’s featured out-of-state children’s authors include Mo Willems, creator of Knuffle Bunny; Jon Scieszka, The Stinky Cheese Man; and Holes author Louis Sachar. They join adult bestsellers like novelist Audrey Niffenegger (The Time Traveler’s Wife), sportswriter Frank DeFord (Bliss, Remembered), memoirist and Mad Men star Bryan Batt (She Ain’t Heavy, She’s My Mother), Helen Simonson (Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand), and Robert Goolrick (A Reliable Wife).
Home-grown bestsellers include former Congressman Harold Ford Jr. (More Davids Than Goliaths), Adam Ross (Mr. Peanut), Marshall Chapman (They Came to Nashville), Amy Greene (Bloodroot), Michael Knight (The Typist), and Hampton Sides (Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the International Hunt for His Assassin).
Festival favorites back this year by clamoring demand: Richard Bausch, Rick Bragg, Lee Smith, Ron Rash, Brad Watson, William Gay, Tom Franklin, and Jill McCorkle.
These, of course, are just a few of the many, many fascinating writers too numerous to mention by name. To read the full list—and find out where and when they’re appearing—please check the festival schedule, here.
In addition to the children’s stage and the café stage, this year’s festival features a new Chapter 16 stage. Like this publication, the Chapter 16 stage will highlight various forms of the written word: poetry, plays, author interviews, and spoken-word performances. “We are really pleased to have organizations like Tennessee Repertory Theatre, Circle Players, Actors’ Bridge, and Youth Speaks Nashville committed to showcasing their work on this new stage,” Gerbman says.
Also new are several festival sessions dedicated to fostering a return to civility, particularly in public discourse. “Jim Leach, the new chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, is very concerned about the lack of civility in modern life, and at Humanities Tennessee we are, too,” says Robert Cheatham, president of Humanities Tennessee. “With the help of our Civic Engagement Task Force, as well as the Robert Penn Warren Center for Humanities and the Cal Turner Program for Moral Leadership at Vanderbilt, we’ve put together a program called ‘Building Community in the 21st Century–Perspectives on Civility & Democracy,’ and we welcome Chairman Leach when he joins the festival as part of his national civility tour.”
The first civility sessions will be held Friday, October 8, at noon with a panel discussion (“A Conversation on Civility and Democracy”) featuring former U.S. Senator Howard Baker, legendary journalist John Seigenthaler, and NEH chairman Jim Leach. Saturday will feature a performance by E. Patrick Johnson, author of Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South, and panel discussions on food and politics, immigration, religion, and the myth of digital democracy, among others.
Food vendors at the festival include Provence Breads and Café, Fleur De Lis, Bolton’s Spicy Chicken and Fish, Dog of Nashville, Jay Jay’s Food Truck, Jimmy Carl’s Lunchbox, Moose Head Kettle Corn, Pied Piper Creamery, and PizzaBuds. Their offerings are not free, but they are delicious and a handy way to feed the body when you have a spare moment between mind-and-soul-nourishing sessions.
Did I mention that—except for food, festival t-shirts, and books available for sale near the author-signing colonnade—the whole lively, literary weekend is free, paid for by grants and donations? If you’d like to make a contribution, please stop by the information booth in the center of the Plaza and leave a check. Or just stop and say hello. We’ll be happy to see you. This weekend is like a homecoming for book lovers in Tennessee, and Chapter 16 readers are family.
Southern Festival of Books, this weekend at Legislative Plaza in Nashville:
Friday, Oct. 8, noon to 6 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 9, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Sunday, Oct. 10, noon to 5 p.m.
Check the festival schedule here.
All events are free and open to the public.