Unlike larger book festivals, the Carolina Mountains Literary Festival deliberately sets out to create a “festival of ideas.” As anyone who has attended a previous festival knows (the gathering is now in its ninth year), events are informal, and are more akin to conversations than presentations. According to author liaison Lucy Doll, the goal is to bring “writers and readers together in intimate settings.” Rather than hiding away in some green room, visiting authors attend many of the programs, and discussions tend to flow from one venue to another — and often into the restaurants of Burnsville, as well.
To get started, a first-time visitor will need to grab both a copy of the schedule and a map of the town: Readings, talks and workshops take place in several locations, including the Design Gallery and the First Baptist Church. In years past, the festival has had as many as nine events occurring simultaneously, leading to difficult choices for fans. When the Carolina Mountains Literary Festival returns on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 5 and 6, its happenings will take place in only four venues, making it easier for attendees to hear from more of the invited authors.
This year’s theme is “Let’s Remember,” placing an emphasis on oral history, regional lore and storytelling. This focus on memoir and the importance of memories in creating art is clear in the first events scheduled for Friday morning. Right away, festivalgoers have to choose between Tommy Hays (executive director of the Great Smokies Writing Program at UNC Asheville) reviewing the real places and memories that informed his young-adult novel, What I Came to Tell You; poet Allan Wolf discussing his book-length poem, The Watch That Ends the Night, about the Titanic tragedy; and author Katey Schultz talking about her short story collection, Flashes of War, which includes stories set in Western North Carolina, Iraq and Afghanistan. The rest of the weekend features even more diverse events with authors expounding on the use of history and memoir to present different spheres of human experience.
One special event, which Doll is particularly excited about, is a performance of Ivy Rowe by actor Barbara Bates Smith and musician Jeff Sebens. Smith adapted the material from Lee Smith’s novel, Fair and Tender Ladies — she has been touring and performing her versions of Lee’s work for the last 25 years. The New York Times called the play “a rare and heartfelt performance that pays tribute to the women of Appalachia,” and it is being staged for free in in Burnsville’s Town Center Legacy Room.
Along with music and theater, the festival boasts a strong poetry contingent. In fact, fully half of this year’s events are poetry-themed, including appearances from outgoing North Carolina Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti, Richard Chess (professor and director of UNCA’s Center for Jewish Studies), and renowned poet and teaching artist Glenis Redmond, who is the keynote speaker at Saturday night’s closing banquet.
As well as readings and discussions of individual writer’s work, the festival includes several workshops and master classes on various disciplines, including memoir writing, fiction and poetry. Although most events are free, there is a charge for and limited room in these workshops, so check the cmlitfest.org website for more information. Doll encourages people to sign up for workshops ahead of time because “registration is limited to 15 people, and they always fill up!”
WHAT: Carolina Mountains Literary Festival
WHEN: Friday and Saturday, Sept. 5-6. Most discussions are free, tickets required for select events. cmlitfest.org