The inaugural Memphis Literary Arts Festival will draw fiction and cuisine writers, poets and essayists from New York to New Orleans, Columbus to Atlanta, as well as writers and artists from the host city and region.
The event is scheduled for Friday and Saturday in the Edge neighborhood of downtown.
The festival’s opening night literary headliner is Kiese Laymon, whose 2013 debut novel “Long Division” – a time travel story set in Mississippi – won the Saroyan Award for international writing.
Laymon’s 2013 collection of essays, “How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America,” drew this reaction from writer Roxane Gay: “I was jealous – frankly, green eyes, how can someone can he write that … This happened quickly, however, because Laymon’s handwriting was too important and too necessary for me to be insignificant.
The one-year-old Center for Southern Literary Arts in Memphis hosted the self-service festival, which is certainly not a roundup of the usual topics.
“Our programming is not only dedicated to authors whose books have been released this calendar year, like traditional book festivals, but emphasizes the overall audience and artist experience,” said Molly Rose Quinn , co-founder of CSLA, by email. It “features literary writers alongside journalists, musicians, muralists and DJs who will discuss literature, politics, education, food justice, pop culture, gender, sexuality, region and class. “.
The guest artists of the festival are enjoying it along with the audience, she said.
“Writers like Mychal Denzel Smith and Doreen St. Félix… come to Memphis not just for a concert but to see what’s going on here,” Quinn said. “They also come to meet you, not just the other way around.”
Smith, author of “Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching,” was on The Root’s 100 Most Influential African Americans list. St. Félix writes for The New Yorker. Both are based in New York.
Documentary photographer Andrea Morales, whose work appears in The New York Times and MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, will also be in attendance at the opening fundraising dinner on Friday; Nashville blues musician Adia Victoria; and Memphis chef Desmond Robinson.
On Saturday, the festival will feature free talks, readings and performances from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at venues in the Edge District, a niche neighborhood near downtown, followed by an after-party.
Among the fictional writers who will appear include Daniel José Older of Brooklyn, winner of an International Latino Book Award for his YA fantasy novel “Shadowshaper”; Maurice Carlos Ruffin of New Orleans, winner of the 2014 Iowa Review Fiction Award; and Ravi Howard, author of the novel “Like Trees, Walking”, finalist for the Hemingway Foundation / PEN Award.
Poets speaking include Hanif Abdurraqib of Columbus, Ohio, also an essayist and cultural critic; and Sam Sax, whose “Madness” collection won the 2016 National Poetry Series.
Memphis writers on the festival schedule include Alice Bolin, a creative and non-fiction teacher at the University of Memphis, whose “Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession” will be released in June by HarperCollins; and Arthur Flowers, author of “Another Good Loving Blues” and the memoir “Mojo Rising: Confessions of a 21st Century Conjureman”.
Oxford American literary magazine will host a conference with writers Crystal Wilkinson and Jamey Hatley, who is also a co-founder of CSLA.
A food writing panel hosted by the Southern Foodways Alliance will focus, unpredictably, on Beyonce’s Coachella performance and Donald Glover’s “Atlanta” TV series.
Speakers are Osayi Endolyn, associate editor of Gravy, who won a James Beard Award for publication of the year; and Ashanté M. Reese, who teaches in the Food Studies program at Spelman College and writes a book titled “Between a Corner Store and a Safeway: Race, Resilience, and Our Failing Food System”.
A conversation on “Power & Privilege in YA” will feature S. Jae-Jones, author of “Wintersong”; Sarah Nicole Lemon, author of “Valley Girls”; and Kaitlyn Sage Patterson, author of “The Diminished”. Other lectures are titled “Solid Gold Soul Writing” and “New Media Journalism in a Changing Memphis,” the latter featuring reporters from MLK50, Chalkbeat Tennessee and High Ground News.
The Literary Arts Festival replaces the Mid-South Book Festival hosted by Literacy Mid-South from 2014 to 2016. Literacy Mid-South will be hosting a street vendor fair during this year’s event.
The guest list is drawn from a wide geographic range, but “what sets this festival apart from the rest is Memphis,” Quinn said. “The South is complicated – we would love to see what it looks like when that complexity is truly celebrated. “
For more local coverage of the books, please visit Chapter16.org, an online publication of Humanities Tennessee.
In one look
Memphis’ premier literary arts festival will begin Friday with a paid benefit, “Dinner at the Hibiscus Lounge”, and will continue from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday with a series of lectures, readings and performances by writers, musicians and artists from across the country. in the Edge neighborhood in downtown. An after-party with DJ Siphne Aaye will start on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
For more information, including a time and locations, visit https://www.southernliteraryarts.org/festival.