For the past 11 years, the Carolina Mountain Literary Festival in Burnsville has launched its three-day gathering with either a film or live concert. That may seem like an unconventional start to an event that celebrates the written word, but that’s kind of the point, says Kathy Weisfeld, the festival’s chair. The opening act brings in a broader audience, she says. And when those book enthusiasts realize there are other happenings, Weisfeld adds, they often come back for more.
This year’s festival, which runs from Thursday, Sept. 7, through Saturday, Sept. 9, features a diverse and extensive list of participants, including local, national and international authors. These writers range from award-winning poets and first-time novelists to historians and cookbook authors. Throughout the three-day event, writers will share their works and advice in a series of free readings, discussions and Q&As. There will also be five workshops, a Friday night banquet and a Saturday night keynote by James Reston Jr., all of which require advanced registration and cost between $20 and $45.
Sticking with tradition, the festival will commence its 12th annual celebration with a kickoff concert featuring Bruce Greene, Shelby Stephenson and a dozen other musicians. The performance, held at Burnsville Town Center, will showcase an eclectic mix of blues, ballads, Tin Pan Alley, country, rock and gospel. According to the event’s website, the intention behind this blend is to highlight the wide range of influence that has contributed to the American musical landscape.
The concert’s nod to the country’s evolving soundtrack also exemplifies the festival’s theme, “Old Ways, New Ways: Change and Tradition.” Weisfeld says this year’s concept was inspired by recent and ongoing events. “The world is changing rapidly in many ways,” she says. “We thought [the theme] would be a good way to celebrate what we want to hold onto, as well as look at what the future brings and how the world has changed.”
Intimate locations, including churches and senior centers, galleries and yarn stores, will host the various events. In Weisfeld’s opinion, this is one of the distinguishing characteristics of the three-day festival. “By having it in smaller venues around the Burnsville square, there’s always time for questions and discussion,” she says. “I think that’s what really makes the festival special. … Even though there are 30 authors and sometimes hundreds of attendees, there’s a chance to really talk together between the authors and the people who come.”
Jeremy B. Jones, author of the 2014 Appalachian Book of the Year, Bearwallow: A Personal History of a Mountain Homeland, is a returning participant. He echoes Weisfeld’s point, noting the festival’s unique layout. According to Jones, the setup encourages writers and readers to intermingle throughout the day, during and after events.
In addition to reading from his award-winning memoir, Jones, an associate professor of English at Western Carolina University, will lead a free discussion about the writing process. He says the festival emphasizes the supportive nature of the writing community in Western North Carolina. It also highlights the plethora of talent in the area. “Going to a festival like this and talking to other people in this region about writing kind of constantly reminds me how rich a literary tradition we have in this pretty small space, in the scope of the country,” he says.
Other local and regional writers participating in the event include Ronni Lundy (author of Victuals: An Appalachian Journey, with Recipes), Frances Ruthe Figart, (Seasons of Letting Go: Most of What I Know about Truly Living I Learned by Helping Someone Die), Marjorie Hudson (Searching for Virginia Dare), Mark Essig (Lesser Beasts: A Snout-to-Tail History of the Humble Pig) and recent Asheville transplant Lucy Corin, author of One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses.
Corin, who is currently a National Endowment for the Arts fellow, splits her time between teaching at the University of California Davis and her home in the mountains of WNC. Originally from Orange County, just outside Durham and Chapel Hill, Corin says Asheville was always viewed as “the magical, mythic place” of her youth. “So, when I felt like I was at a place in my life where I could step back a little from my professional ambitions and focus more on my writing and try and build roots in a community, this is where I decided to place myself for the long term,” she says. Along with a reading, Corin will hold a workshop on the revision process.
One of the Carolina Mountain Literary Festival’s main missions is to introduce readers to writers and books they might not otherwise come across. Weisfeld says the importance of reading a diverse set of authors is simple but important: “[It] opens our point of view to new ideas, things that we may not have thought about before, or ways of thinking about things that are new to us. We need writers to do that.”
WHAT: Carolina Mountain Literary Festival
WHERE: Throughout downtown Burnsville, cmlitfest.org
WHEN: Thursday, Sept. 7-Saturday, Sept. 9. See website for full schedule