Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

Calling All Writers

A spring bounty of writers’ workshops and festivals is being offered across Tennessee

As Leo Tolstoy wrote in his masterpiece Anna Karenina, “Spring is the time of plans and projects.” That’s certainly true for literary culture across Tennessee, where abundant book festivals and writers’ workshops will soon welcome poets, authors, aspiring writers, and students.

The Meacham Writers’ Workshop, held in Chattanooga, has the distinction of being entirely free and open to the public, requiring registration only for those who are submitting their work for critique. (That deadline, alas, has passed for the spring conference, though there will be another conference in the fall.) “Meacham has attracted Pulitzer Prize winners Charles Simic and James Tate, and other major prize winners, as well as internationally known writers from Slovenia, Hungary, Israel, England, Czech Republic, Serbia, Hong Kong, and Germany,” says founding workshop director Richard Jackson, a poet and professor at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga.

He notes that this spring’s event—held March 3-5, 2016—will feature a number of prominent authors, including poets Dara Wier and Art Smith, children’s author Monica Brown, novelist and short story writer Barry Kitterman, and memoirist Dana Shavin, among others.

The program includes readings, seminars, and some individual conferences held variously at the UTC campus, Chattanooga State Community College, and the Hart Gallery. But as an earlier Chapter 16 piece notes, perhaps what’s most valuable about the gathering is that it encourages informal meetings between writers and other attendees, who find time over meals and breaks to share their work or just get to know one another. For more information, maps, and a schedule of events, click here.

The following Friday and Saturday—March 10 -11, 2016—the Middle Tennessee State University campus in Murfreesboro will host the inaugural Southeastern Young Adult Book Festival, sponsored in part by Humanities Tennessee. This new event is unique in that the first day of the festival is open only to young readers, featuring author sessions with 1,800 students from local schools. “Those attributes really set us apart,” says publicity chair Amanda Bair.

The festival will feature some of the biggest names in YA literature, a total of thirty-six authors, including Maggie Stiefvater, Laurent Oliver, Adam Silvera, Carrie Ryan, Ruta Sepetys, and many more, Bair says. There will be workshops, book signings, meet-and-greets, and author panels. Saturday is the festival’s community day, which is free and open to the public. For more information, a schedule, and directions, please click here.

Founded in 1937 by Robert Penn Warren and friends, the Southern Literary Festival is an organization of Southern colleges and schools dedicated to promoting Southern literature. “Each year a different school hosts the festival, featuring an undergraduate writing contest and an anthology of winners,” says event chair Jennifer Kates. “MTSU is thrilled to be hosting this event for the first time.”

Among the highlights of the festival—held March 24-26, 2016, on the MTSU campus in Murfreesboro—is a free keynote address by novelist Ann Patchett, perhaps Nashville’s best-known literary ambassador and a co-founder of Parnassus Books. Patchett’s remarks will be followed by a Q&A and book signing. Later that evening, the inimitable Nashville spoken-word artist Minton Sparks will perform in Tucker Theatre, and that event is also free and open to the public. Over the course of the weekend, there will be workshops, demonstrations, readings, and master classes. A full schedule and description of all presenters and contest winners can be found here.

“Word by Word,” is the theme of the twenty-eighth annual Tennessee Mountain Writers’ Conference, scheduled for April 7-9, 2016, at the DoubleTree Hotel in Oak Ridge. Among the presenters for the gathering, which requires paid registration, is mystery writer Beverly Connor, “who weaves her professional experiences as an archaeologist and her knowledge of the South into interlinked stories of the past and present in both her mystery series,” says conference publicity director Melanie Harless. The keynote speaker for the weekend’s concluding banquet will be Sonja Livingston, author most recently of Queen of the Fall, a collection of essays.

Beyond general sessions on poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, the conference will also offer more specific workshops on storytelling, editing, oral history, self-publishing, and other topics. Early registration fees (for those who sign up before March 24) are $185 for the full conference, though it’s also possible to register for individual sessions, for just Friday and Saturday, or for only the banquet. High-school and full-time college students may attend the full conference for $50. Additional information and a conference registration form can be found here.

Manuscript submission deadlines for the Duck River Writers’ Conference—held April 16, 2016, at Columbia State Community College—have been extended to March 18. Teens and other writers are encouraged to submit poetry, short stories, and novel excerpts, which a panel of judges will review ahead of a conference workshop during which they will offer feedback. The featured speaker is poet Mark Jarman, whose most recent collection is Bone Fires: New and Selected Poems.

Columbia State students may attend the conference at no charge. Otherwise, registration fees are $10 in advance and $15 at the door. According to poet Jeff Hardin, a Columbia State professor who will be giving a craft talk at the conference, “All writers are welcome to attend: beginners, MFAs, published, unpublished, anyone looking to understand more about how the process of composition unfolds.” For a schedule of events and more information, click here.