Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

Something for Everyone

The annual Rose Glen Literary Festival in Sevierville just keeps growing in size and stature

On February 25, the Rose Glen Literary Festival is expected to bring nearly 500 writers to Sevierville, Tennessee. Nestled in the Southern Appalachians, Sevierville sees increasingly robust tourist traffic each year—like neighboring Gatlinburg, the well-known mountain playground, the town has become a destination for those seeking the respite of natural beauty in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and its surrounds. And the Rose Glen Literary Festival means there’s now a draw for book lovers and aspiring writers, too.

The festival got its start in 2010 thanks to Carroll McMahan, Sevier County Historian and Special Events Facilitator at the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce, who suggested it as an addition to the slate of events for an existing program, the Smoky Mountain Winterfest Celebration. A writer himself, McMahan saw a hole to be filled: given the rich tradition of Appalachian literature, why not create a welcoming environment for book-loving locals and visitors—especially in the curl-up-by-the-fire-with-a-good-book depths of February?

Attendance has grown steadily each year, with Rose Glen now noted among the ranks of a small but strong contingent of Southeastern literary gatherings. In 2014 it outgrew its initial location—the campus of Walters State Community College in Sevierville—and moved to the city’s new convention center, itself a crown jewel for the region. “As we enter our eighth year, the feedback from returning attendees as well as newcomers fuels my desire to add new features which maintain the tradition that has worked so well,” McMahan says.

The one-day event offers readings and book signings with invited authors, panel discussions, writing and publishing workshops, and a luncheon at which guests receive a handcrafted piece of pottery—a different work of art each year, which provides an incentive to return for those who like the idea of building a pottery collection.

This year, the keynote speaker at the luncheon is a Pulitzer Prize finalist: Ben Montgomery, whose Grandma Gatewood’s Walk tells the fascinating story of Emma Gatewood, the first person, man or woman, to hike the Appalachian Trail alone—not once, not twice, but three times. And all when she was past the age of sixty-five.

From the 2016 Rose Glen Literary Festival

This year’s author lineup includes Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson (the team behind the Body Farm series, written under the name of Jefferson Bass), June Hall McCash, and Wilma Dykeman’s son, Jim Stokely. McMahan seeks out writers who identify as Appalachian, but his reach is wide in every other way: “While we have always showcased Appalachian writing, we do not limit ourselves to only one genre,” he says. “The feedback from returning attendees as well as newcomers fuels my desire to add new features which maintain the tradition that has worked so well. Our goal is to offer something for everyone.”