There’s more than one way to put on a literary festival. Held around the world, they range in size and focus, some bringing in big-name authors while others draw regional writers. Some incorporate conferences or workshops, others offers booths where authors and publishers can sell their wares. The important thing is to a find a sustainable formula. Celebrating its 10th anniversary, with events running from Thursday, Sept. 8, through Saturday, Sept. 10, the Carolina Mountains Literary Festival has done that.
“We do try to get a lot of debut authors,” says Kathy Weisfeld, festival president. That’s part of the objective of the event, along with creating “a literary community which is in dialogue with readers, aspiring writers, and established authors about craft and ideas of sustaining merit,” according to the festival’s mission statement.
“We’re also affiliated with the Avery Mitchell Yancy Regional Library. They let us know about new authors,” says Weisfeld. In that category this year are Cindy McMahon, a semifinalist for the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Award for her memoir, Fresh Water from Old Wells; James McTeer, who won the 2015 South Carolina First Novel Prize for his work Minnow; and Chad Rohl, who published the graphic novel Heavy Sketches Among Worldly Distractions.
But the festival also brings a number of well-known writers, such as former North Carolina Poet Laureate Fred Chappell (he will give the keynote address at the sold-out Friday banquet), New York Times best-selling author Leigh Ann Henion, and Pulitzer Prize finalist David Haskell.
Haskell, who penned the literary scientific work The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature, is the Saturday night keynote speaker. He takes part in the the Carolina Mountains Literary Festival as a collaboration with the AMY Regional Library and the N.C. Humanities Council Pulitzer Initiative grant.
If the genres represented — from science to memoir and poetry to fiction — seem wide-ranging, there is a through-line: The theme for this year’s festival is “Journey out, journey in.” “We have authors whose books are about travel and authors who have written more personal journeys to self-discovery, to forgiveness, to self-awareness,” says Weisfeld.
Even the food authors (including Lauren Faulkenberry, who contributed to the anthology Hungry for Home: Stories of Food from Across the Carolinas and former Short Street Cakes owner Jodi Rhoden, who wrote Cake Ladies: Celebrating a Southern Tradition) fit into the topic of journeys. “Partly why we chose them is that they traveled through the South to find the recipes,” says Weisfeld.
But when it comes to well-traveled literature, it’s hard to surpass the miles covered in Wayfaring Strangers: The Musical Voyage from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia. That tome, published in 2014, is the joint effort of Scottish radio broadcaster Fiona Ritchie (known for the NPR program “Thistle and Shamrock”) and former Warren Wilson College President Doug Orr. It covers the history of the WNC’s traditional music as carried to the region by Scots-Irish settlers. Orr and his wife, Darcy, both musicians, perform a free concert on Thursday night to kick off the literary festival.
Friday and Saturday programming is a mix of ticketed workshops (mostly sold out at press time) and free presentations, including readings, panel discussions and book signings. Asheville Playback Theatre has planned a program in which audience members will share stories, and the performers will then act them out. The three-day schedule is planned to appeal to readers as much as to writers. “Part of the draw of the festival is that it is informal,” says Weisfeld. Downtown Burnsville has a number of restaurants, is easily walkable and offers plenty of opportunities for authors, presenters and attendees to meet, relax and get to know each other.
“The Nu Wray Inn is there and they have all these porch rockers. … The bookstore is in the town center, and that’s a big space where people hang out and talk. The town square has benches,” says Weisfeld. “That’s what’s great about the festival — it’s interactive.”