The Natural State appears to be coming of age in literary fashion with internationally known authors descending upon the state during National Poetry Month in April.
Beginning with the Arkansas Literary Festival, April 3-6 in Little Rock, there will be several venues offering Arkansas literati, book lovers, readers and writers many opportunities to enjoy literature with like minds.
Though not well-known for its literary achievements, Arkansas has produced talent like Maya Angelou, John Grisham, Charles Portis and Dee Brown and there is a growing literary community forming public groups like the Ozark Poets and Writers Collective that holds poetry slams and open readings every month.
“We not only wear shoes, but we read too,” Katie McManners, the Development Director for Arkansas Literary Councils, Inc. and the director for Arkansas Literary Festival said and laughed.
“I’m ashamed to admit it, but before I moved here I thought the worst of Arkansas. Now I know it’s a treasure, but events like this let everyone know that we are on the literary map.”
And literary map it is in the state capitol with more than 30 authors booked for sessions, workshops and readings during the three days of the Arkansas Literary Festival.
Pulitzer Prize winner and author, Ace Atkins will be one of the featured authors at the fifth anniversary of the ALF this year. He will be reading from his latest novel, “Wicked City” released just in time for the festival. Atkins will be signing autographs along with humorist, Jill Conner Browne and other authors.
NPR’s “The Book Guys,” Allan Stypeck and Mike Cuthbert, will be on hand and will be taping shows for future broadcasts.
The Pavilion Book Fair will be open with music, exhibits, vendors and booksellers, in addition to free writer’s workshops for beginning and advanced writers.
Special ticketed events include the Author Party, a special session with former White House chef, Roland Mesnier who will present his new cookbook, “Basic to Beautiful Cakes and presentation of the “Food-Shelter Story” by Crescent Dragonwagon.
Aside from the special ticketed events, admission to the festival is free, thanks to corporate sponsors and publishers who underwrite the basic costs.
The schedule of events and a full list of featured authors can be viewed at the website www.arkansasliteraryfestival.org/.
CELEBRATING 40 YEARS
The University of Arkansas will present readings by Susan Perabo and Leon Stokesbury for the kickoff of this year’s Festival of Writers at 5 p.m. April 9 in the Giffels Auditorium in Old Main on the University of Arkansas campus in Fayetteville.
The festival includes two days of readings to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the Programs in Creative Writing and Translations at the university.
Perabo is the author of a collection of stories, “Who I Was Supposed to Be,” which was named Book of the Year by The Los Angeles Times and a novel, “The Broken Places.” She is an associate professor of English at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Penn.
Stokesbury teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in poetry writing at Georgia State University. His poems have appeared in many journals, including The Partisan Review, The Kenyon Review, The New Yorker, The Georgia Review and The New England Review.
The university will also offer a film screening of “Fighting Mad” featuring Peter Fonda, at Giffels Auditorium.
MT. SEQUOYAH CONFERENCE
National Book Award winner and three-time recipient of the Thomas Wolf Award, Ellen Gilchrist, will headline the Mt. Sequoyah Writer and Storytellers Conference at the Mt. Sequoyah Retreat in Fayetteville, April 11-12.
The two day conference is designed to give writers, both experienced and not, the opportunity to write freely under the influence of great authors, perfecting and learning certain genres and styles.
The conference will include workshops by six different authors, a dinner catered by Lyn D’s Cajun Gypsy Café, a meet-and-greet with the authors and a concert by folksinger and songwriter, Jack Williams.
Other workshop leaders are:
• Roger Armstrong, United Methodist pastor and nationally known storyteller, also known as the “Wordweaver”
• Clayton Scott, A Poet Laureate of Fayetteville and founder of the Student Poetry Movement
• Robert Ford, Novelist, playwright, actor, musician and director of the Arkansas Playwrights Workshop
• Barbara Youree, Freelance writer from Rogers, Ark. and author of a series of Christian romances and children’s books
• Radine Trees Nehring, An Arkansas Ozarks writer since 1986
In addition to the conference, attendees are free to roam 30 acres of the retreat’s hiking trails and will have access to a tennis court, swimming pool and gardens.
“A writer is a person who writes, who continues to create, who believes he can create and that the world is so full of material that if we all wrote all the time we would never begin to use it up,” wrote Gilchrist in “The Writing Life” (University Press of Mississippi, 2005).
In addition to Gilchrist’s many awards, she is the author of six novels and has been included in several short story collections including the national bestseller, “The Bitch in the House: 26 Women Tell the Truth about Sex, Solitude, Work, Motherhood and Marriage.”
Gilchrist will teach one of the workshops and read from her latest work during the author meet-and-greet on the first night of the conference. Williams will perform the following night.
Registrants can choose from several different packages. The cost for the entire conference, including housing is $299. Without housing the cost for the conference is $179. Individual workshops are $30. The deadline to register is March 28. For information call 800-760-8126
WORKSHOP IN WINSLOW
Velda Brotherton, author of “Springdale: The Courage of Shiloh” (Arcadia Publishing, 2002) will teach a daylong workshop at Ozark Folkways in Winslow on April 12. The workshop will run from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Brotherton will teach the basics of good storytelling and creative writing, drawing from the experience and ideas of attendees. Everyone attending should be prepared to write a story plan and plot a book during the workshop. Lunch will be brown bag or at Grandma’s Café.
Prepayment of $25 for the class is requested. To register Brotherton at 634-3151 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A LITERARY STRUGGLE
The Arkansas Literary Festival, the fortieth anniversary of the UA’s creative writing program, the famed authors who were born in Arkansas or who currently live here are definitely a reason to celebrate, but the process of creativity and the history of Arkansas literature is long and at times been arduous.
“The scattered population could not easily support public education or other humanistic endeavors, and the old-time religion, requiring no other books than the Bible, often regarded aesthetic expression with suspicion or hostility,” wrote Ethel C. Simpson in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture.
Even so, the writers of this state managed to make themselves known through their individual expression. Thomas Bangs Thorpe became known nationally for his “Mysteries of the Backwoods” and “Scenes of Arkansaw” (1858).
Though the festivals and National Poetry Month highlight the Arkansas literary community, novelists, journalists and poets, published by Knopf, William Murrow, Norton, Scribner, Random House and several university presses dot the University of Arkansas alumni list, along with their numerous awards. There is an ongoing process of diligence and productivity throughout the year. And, as Walter Wellesley Smith so aptly puts it, “…All you do is sit down at the typewriter and open a vein.”
Warming lit lovers up to April, the Northwest Arkansas Community College drama department brings Shakespeare’s King Lear to the stage at 7 p.m. March 15-16, and 2 p.m. March 16 in White Auditorium at Burns Hall. Tickets for performances are $6 for students, faculty, staff and senior citizens and $8 for the general public. Audience members may receive $ 1 off ticket prices by bringing a nonperishable food item to be donated to local food banks. More information is available by calling 619-4228.