Words’ worth

Now in its sixth year, the Spring Literary Festival on the campus of Western Carolina University boasts deep roots. The event is sponsored by WCU’s Visiting Writers Series, which has brought local luminaries (Fred Chappell, Kathryn Stripling Byer) nationally known authors (Li-Young Lee, Thomas Lux) and internationally prominent writers (Eavan Boland, Menna Elfyn) to Cullowhee. This year’s festival honors that precedent, welcoming some of the region’s best authors and poets—and all of the events are free and open to the public.

Words to live by: Hillsborough, N.C.-based author Lee Smith (pictured) joins bestselling author Pat Conroy and others for the WCU Spring Literary Festival.

Appalachian author Lee Smith, who lives in Hillsborough, N.C., says she’s happy to be part of the festival. Why did she agree to sign up?

“Actually, I said ‘Yes’ mainly because I will do anything Ron Rash tells me to do,” she jokes. But seriously, “There is no one writing today whose work I admire more. He is such a fine person, as well. WCU is very lucky to have him.” (Though Rash isn’t listed as a presenting author, the award-winning fiction writer and WCU professor’s influence is very much a part of the event.)

On Monday, April 7, Smith will read from her novel, On Agate Hill, preceding a performance of that work by Barbara Bates Smith and Jeff Sebens.

“I have seen Barbara Bates Smith performing On Agate Hill several times,” Smith says. “I think she is stunning, and you know what? It’s a long novel, but I don’t miss anything Barbara cut. She gets right to the heart of the story.”

The roster of featured authors includes Charleston, S.C.-based Pat Conroy, who penned The Prince of Tides and My Losing Season among other distinctly Southern novels. Though noted as a Southern writer, Conroy’s work extends far beyond the southeastern seaboard. Many of his books have made their way to the big screen. For his efforts, Conroy has garnered literary awards such as the Georgia Governor’s Award for the Arts and the Southern Regional Council’s Lillian Smith award for fiction.

Poet Joseph Bathanti has been in North Carolina since 1976, when he came as a VISTA (the domestic arm of the Peace Corps) volunteer. That early job which brought him south from Pennsylvania, was work in the prison system, and for the past three decades he’s continued to teach inmates and inhabitants of women’s and homeless shelters. Bathanti’s 1996 volume of poetry, This Metal, was nominated for the National Book Award. He won the Carolina Novel Award in 2001 for his debut novel, East Liberty.

One more to note: Russell Banks lives in upstate New York, but his every-man themes of working class heroes make his works applicable to audiences worldwide. So much so that his book-length meditation on American history was recently published as Amerique: Notre Histoire in France. His 2004 work, The Darling, is being adapted for a Martin Scorsese film staring Cate Blanchett.

who: WCU Spring Literary Festival
what: Four days of readings, panels and performances
where: Western Carolina University’s Coulter Auditorium and UC Theatre
when: Monday, April 7-Thursday, April 10 (Free. Event times vary. Info: www.litfest.org or 227-3265.)

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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