Friday, October 11, 2013

Artober Nashville: Friday's Highlights for the 2013 Southern Festival of Books

Posted By on Fri, Oct 11, 2013 at 7:09 AM

Starting this afternoon at Legislative Plaza, the Nashville Public Library and War Memorial Auditorium, the 25th anniversary Southern Festival of Books is expected to draw more than 20,000 bibliophiles downtown over the next three days. A complete schedule can be found at the website of festival sponsor Humanities Tennessee, with a vast archive of related author interviews and reviews available at

Some highlights from today's SFB lineup:

• With journalist/filmmaker Jon Jefferson, famed forensic anthropologist Bill Bass writes popular mysteries under the nom de crime Jefferson Bass (noon, Nashville Public Library, Grand Reading Room). [UPDATE: The Susannah Cahalan appearance in this time slot has been canceled.]

• In Room 29 of Legislative Plaza, noon: zombies, courtesy of the "Monsters Are Loose" panel featuring Cain's Blood author Geoffrey Girard and The End Games first-timer T. Michael Martin. In Room 30 of Legislative Plaza, noon: outlaws, courtesy of Michael Streissguth, whose well-reviewed new book Outlaw transports readers back to the early-'70s Nashville stomping grounds of Kris, Waylon, Willie and the boys. Don't end up in the wrong room.

• Seattle attorney Tara Conklin not only boasts one of the festival's most striking résumé items — former casino dealer in Costa Rica — but a popular first novel in The House Girl (noon, Legislative Plaza, Room 16), in which an art-world scandal lays open the secret relationship between an antebellum painter of slave portraits and the "house girl" who may have had a more than slight influence on her work. She's paired with Harper Lee Award winner Sena Jeter Naslund, whose novel The Fountain of St. James Court; or, Portrait of the Artist as an Old Lady tells an 18th century French painter's story through a 21st century prism.

• Veteran newspaperman H. Brandt Ayers delivers a new memoir that sports maybe the festival's single best title: In Love with Defeat: The Making of a Southern Liberal (noon, Nashville Public Library, Conference Room 1A).

• Among the festival's major coups this year is a Nashville appearance by acclaimed graphic novelist and comic-book author Gene Luen Yang, whose 2006 work American Born Chinese was the first graphic novel to be nominated for the National Book Award. He was long-listed for the same honor this year for his latest work, Boxers & Saints (1 p.m., Nashville Public Library, Auditorium), which tells the story of the Boxer Rebellion through two volumes: one with the uprising Boxers as protagonists, the other focused on their Chinese Christian foes.

• One of Nashville's literary celebrities, best-selling presidential biographer and former Newsweek editor Jon Meacham, conducts a conversation with Alison Stewart, the former CBS News, ABC News, MSNBC and MTV newscaster whose new book First Class discusses the rocky legacy of Washington, D.C.'s Dunbar High School, the nation's first black public high school (1 p.m., Nashville Public Library, Conference Room 1A).

• Since 2003, the prestigious Southern Poetry Anthology has been showcasing state by state the established and emerging poets of the contemporary South. This year's volume focuses on Tennessee, and throughout the weekend contributors will read from their selections, starting with this afternoon's panel of Heather Dobbins, Jeff Hardin and Linda Marion (1 p.m., Legislative Plaza, Room 30).

Atlantic Monthly fiction editor Michael Curtis (God: Stories) and Harvard director of creative writing Bret Anthony Johnston (Naming the World: And Other Exercises for the Creative Writer) set themselves a modest task with their panel "How to Save the Great American Novel" (1 p.m., Legislative Plaza, Room 16).

• Two authors of well-received domestic thrillers — David Bell (Never Come Back) and John Searles (Help for the Haunted), the latter of whom regularly appears as book critic on The Today Show — conceal stilettos in their Swiffers as they discuss "Cleaning the Family Closets" (1 p.m., Legislative Plaza, Room 12).

• "Southern literature is full of humor but strangely short on satire," wrote The New York Times' Malcolm Jones of Wilton Barnhardt's best-selling Charlotte-set novel Lookaway, Lookaway. "Barnhardt gleefully leaps into this gap like a man with a very long to-do list, eviscerating rituals and rascals ranging from sorority rush and Civil War re-enactments to back-stabbing church ladies." Bless his heart. (2 p.m., Legislative Plaza, Room 16)

• Turned off by the Jazz Age boys club of Boardwalk Empire but love the milieu? Check out the "Gals Gone Wild" panel on scandalous women on the 1920s, featuring Therese Ann Fowler (whose Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald was an unexpected hit) and Suzanne Rindell, who scored an impressive debut with her period mystery The Other Typist (2 p.m., Legislative Plaza, Room 12). Unfortunately, they're in the same time slot against Denise Kiernan, whose nonfiction account of The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II (Nashville Public Library, Conference Room IA) has terrific word of mouth.

• If your taste runs more to modern-day intrigue, William Landay will read from Defending Jacob (2 p.m., Nashville Public Library, Grand Reading Room), hailed as "the best crime-and-courtroom drama in years" by an up-and-comer named Stephen King. Insert lawyer joke here for the opposing panel on "The Reptiles of Tennessee" (Nashville Public Library, Conference Room II).

• In The Love Song of Jonny Valentine, Teddy Wayne imagines the inner life of a tween heartthrob (not unlike one who rhymes with "Dustin Cheeber") with cringe-inducing intimacy. He's paired on a clever panel exploring identity in fiction with Amity Gaige, whose kidnapping novel Schroder has received some of 2013's best reviews. (3 p.m., Nashville Public Library, Special Collections Room)

• Even in this Friday afternoon slot, however, the festival is already presenting patrons with nail-chewing conflicts — such as whether to catch Guests on Earth author Lee Smith (3 p.m., Nashville Public Library, Grand Reading Room), an SFB favorite since the very first event more than two decades ago; the joint panel of award-winning poet/short-story author Elizabeth Cox and Gap Creek author Robert Morgan (3 p.m., Legislative Plaza, Room 12); myth-melding writer and The Golem and the Jinni author Helene Wecker; or esteemed novelist Meg Wolitzer (3:30 p.m., Nashville Public Library Auditorium), whose latest book The Interestings (following four talented friends forward from their Nixon-era teenage years) has drawn the kind of adoring notices lavished on Jonathan Franzen and Jeffrey Eugenides. Then comes another SFB stalwart, Jill McCorkle (4 p.m., Nashville Public Library, Grand Reading Room), whose retirement-home charmer Life After Life has been passed from reader to reader all summer.

• For Civil War buffs, there's no dilemma: They'll be at the panel devoted to the Disunion book, drawn from The New York Times' fascinating War of Northern Aggression blog of the same name, featuring Nashville historian Daniel Sharfstein (3 p.m., Nashville Public Library, Conference Room IA).

Click here for a full list of today's Artober Nashville activities.

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