This weekend marks the 12th edition of the Southern Festival of Books, the annual event that brings some of the best writers in the city, region, and country to read from their works, discuss their craft, and hang out with other bookish types. As is the case every year, the lineup is full of noteworthy names, and there’s enough taking place in the space of three days that a guide to the festival isn’t just helpfulit’s a necessity. Scene contributors Angela Messina, Laurie Parker, and Michael Sims offer their picks for the event, listed in chronological order. All programs take place at War Memorial Plaza, located downtown between Union and Charlotte Avenues. The schedule is subject to change, so be sure to check the festival’s Web site at http://www.tn-humanities.org/sessions.htm.
William Trogdon, a.k.a. William Least Heat-Moon, is a traveler who writes. Unlike most authors of travel writing, he experiences his way through this country, opting to write on the people (Blue Highways: A Journey into America) and the journey (River-Horse: A Voyage Across America) rather than the scenery or the food. He focuses on the human and historical links in travel, and his writings contain all of the humor and adventure of Kerouac, void the pretension and self-praise; better still, his delivery is without regret or complaint. Least Heat-Moon logs over 17,000 miles in the two books, records the stories of hundreds of Americans, and manages to visit almost every county in the continental United States. He accomplishes all of this with a passion for human experience and a love of adventure. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to witness the master traveler read from River-Horse, Friday at noon in the House Chambers. A.M.
The notoriously shy T.R. Pearson (who was once so embarrassed to read his own work that volunteers from the audience stepped in for him) will be one of the first writers making an appearance at the Festival this year. He’ll read from his new novel, Blue Ridge, 12:30 p.m. Friday in the Old Supreme Court Room. His sardonic yet loving take on his fellow human beings in works such as A Short History of a Small Place and The Last of How It Was has earned Pearson a devoted (and well-deserved) following. His first book in seven years, Blue Ridge is the story of two very different men, cousins Ray and Paul Tatum. The new deputy sheriff in a small Virginia town nestled alongside the Appalachian Trail, Ray finds himself trying to solve an old and difficult murder with little to go on. He is, however, accompanied by an unlikely sidekick, foul-mouthed female park ranger Kit Carson, who is one of the most amusing characters in recent fiction. As always, Pearson has some surprises up his sleeve. L.P.
Gerald Duff, a former Vanderbilt professor who is now an academic dean at McKendree College in Illinois, writes some tough-as-nails, savvy, neo-noir prose. His fourth novel, Memphis Ribs, takes homicide detective and former cotton farmer J.W. Ragsdale on a hilarious and suspenseful tour of the underbelly of the Southern mystique. Along the way, the reader is treated to some of the best dialogue this side of Elmore Leonard. For “Murders and Hauntings: Novels of Crime and the Supernatural,” taking place 1:30 p.m. Friday in the Old Supreme Court Room, Duff joins with Christopher Farran, author of Houdini and the Séance Murders, and Julie Ann Parks, author of Storytellers, to talk about things that go bump in the nightusually with some homicidal result. M.S.
The art of storytelling has been perfected here in the South; for generations, spinning tales has served both as a form of entertainment and as a way of preserving history. By this standard, Bobbie Ann Mason is a traditionalist. Her works of fiction and memoirs, most notably In Country and Clear Springs, are rooted in her Kentucky childhood. Like any good Southern writer, she enjoys description and detail, but she manages restraint at all the right moments. At the same time, her works are not exclusively Southernshe writes of strong, independent women and social evolution. Feminist undertones course throughout most of her writings, balancing out family history with cultural relevance. Mason appears 2 p.m. Friday in Room 12/14 of Legislative Plaza. A.M.
Think of the Voices of the South panelRichard Bausch (Rebel Powers, The Night Season), George Garrett (The King of Babylon Shall Not Come Against You, An Evening Performance), Elizabeth Spencer (The Voice at the Back Door, The Salt Line), and James Wilcox (the hilarious Modern Baptists)as the literary equivalent of the Yankees of the early ’50s. Every year, LSU Press sends to the Festival a group of authors whose works are being brought back to print in its acclaimed “Voices of the South” series, and every year these writers show us how it’s done. Not to be missed, 3 p.m. Friday in Room 12/14 of Legislative Plaza. L.P.
Swampy, Southern surrealism best describes The Long Home, the debut novel by Hohenwald resident William Gay. The often dark mystery, set in the rural South during the 1950s, offers a haunting tale of love, murder, and retribution. Though Gay’s work is comparable with that of Larry Brown and Cormac McCarthy (though less heady and philosophical than the latter), by and large, hat tips go to the lord of Southern writing, William Faulkner. Gay’s own talent for detail and description is a paean to the legend. Most striking is his lyrically charged prose; using phrasing from a time long since passed, he captures a language that is truly Southern. At this year’s festival, he’ll be reading from Provinces of Night, his yet-to-be-released novel. Deemed a “character and charming storyteller” by Publishers Weekly, this South Eastern Booksellers Association Award finalist is sure to entertain when he appears 3:30 p.m. Friday in the House Chambers and 3 p.m. Saturday in Room 16 of Legislative Plaza. A.M.
Emory professor and Chinese native Ha Jin is a welcome addition to the esteemed list of writers at this year’s book festival. Winner of the 1999 National Book Award for fiction, and of numerous short-story awards as well, Ha notes the changes in Communist society over the last 30 years. His first full-length book, Waiting, examines the struggle between love and duty to family and tradition. Set in China, the story spans two decades in the life of Lin Kong, a married doctor working in an Army Hospital who falls in love with a nurse, Manna Wu. The ensuing novel details the prolonged, 18-year period of waiting he must endure to get a divorceand don’t expect a fairy-tale ending after all this idle time. A realist, Ha avoids a hooky happily-ever-after, instead taking the path of harsh irony. Brandishing his pen like a weapon throughout the book, he lashes out at China’s oppressive society. His words are poetic, political, and genuine, and he’ll appear 10 a.m. Saturday in the House Chambers. A.M.
Edward Caudill is one of three authors who worked on The Scopes Trial: A Photographic History, an informative and entertaining new book from the University of Tennessee Press in Knoxville. The photographs are surprising and frequently amusing, and Caudill wrote the excellent long introduction, which sets the stage and places the still resonant Scopes Trial in historical perspective. A scholar of, among other things, the social response to the idea of evolution, Caudill is also the author of Darwinian Myths: The Legends and Misuses of a Theory. Even now, at the 75th anniversary of the trial in nearby Dayton, the story doesn’t seem dated, because Tennessee is still undergoing a wrestling match between scientific evidence and opposition to the teaching of evolutionary theory in our schools. He’ll speak 10:30 a.m. Saturday in the Supreme Court chambers. M.S.
One minute Tony Earley is sitting on his couch in East Nashville, suffering from writer’s block, and the next he’s named one of the best young writers in America by Granta and seeing his first novel, Jim the Boy, reviewed on the cover of The New York Times Book Review. Not a bad year for this assistant professor of English at Vanderbilt. The Times review and many more praised Earley for his magical portrait of a young boy growing up in Depression-era North Carolina; there are no major crises, no murders, no traumajust understated, lyrical prose and a story about a very ordinary, yet very memorable boy. Jim would get along just fine with Scout and Jem. Earley will appear noon Saturday in the War Memorial Auditorium, and he’ll be joined by first-rate tunesmith and musician Paul Burch, who’ll offer dusky, stripped-down songs inspired by the novel. L.P.
Harry Potter this most definitely isn’t. As children’s author Lemony Snicket relates in the very first sentence of the first installment in his Series of Unfortunate Events, “If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book.” Snicket is the reluctant chronicler of the miserable lives of those most unfortunate of children, the Baudelaire orphans, Violet, Klaus and Sunny. These poor waifs struggle against hardship after hardship, from the death of their parents in a terrible fire to the predations upon their fortune by a conniving uncle, only to encounter even more gloom and doom ahead. In the words of Snicket, “The lives of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire are very different from most people’s lives, with the main difference being the amount of unhappiness, horror, and despair.” Expect as many adults as children at Snicket’s reading, noon Saturday in Room 12/14 of Legislative Plaza. L.P.
In the program “Westerns: Noveau and Classic,” Tim Champlin, author of Wayfairing Strangers and The Tombstone Conspiracy, joins with well-known former Nashvillian (and now Montana resident) Karyn Follis Cheatham to discuss ways of telling Western stories. At 1 p.m. Saturday in Room 31 of Legislative Plaza, both will read from their work and discuss the whole idea of a “Western” as opposed to other forms of story. Cheatham is the author of several books, including critically acclaimed young-adult novels such as The Best Way Out and Bring Home the Ghost. Her new novel, The Adventures of Elizabeth Fortune, features a young woman who disguises herself as a man and joins a hard-bitten crew of cowboys while she looks for the villain of the book. Not surprisingly, she encounters other villains along the way. M.S.
Plainsong is one of those books that resonates with you long after you close the cover and put it down. Part of this is because of the plotan examination on the true nature of familyand part of it is thanks to writer Kent Haruf’s style. As Annie Proulx does in Close Range, Haruf uses the sound and structure of his writing to reflect the starkness and ultimate solitude of the high plains so clearly, you’ll find yourself reaching for a jacket to ward off the wind. Against this harsh background, his characters glow with warmth and careful crafting. Returning once again to his own Yoknapatawpha, Holt County, Haruf draws us into the seemingly simple lives of the inhabitants and reveals the richness and color hidden beneath. A finalist for the National Book Award, Plainsong is one of the best books of 1999. Haruf will discuss it and his other work 1 p.m. Saturday afternoon in the House Chambers. L.P.
A member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a critical favorite, and author of a novel that has become a movie, Josephine Humphries is deservedly popular for such personal and quirky contemporary novels as Rich in Love and The Fireman’s Fair, but her new novel is a total departure in setting, character, and tone. Nowhere Else on Earth takes place on the coast of North Carolina during the Civil War and tells the story of a young Lumbee Indian woman on whom fate forces a role of more importance than she wanted for herself. Tender, ferocious, and amusingfrequently all at onceit is a novel of sudden, surprising turns that then seem inevitable. In other words, it hits with the force of life itself. If you missed Humphries at Davis-Kidd last month, you owe it to yourself to hear her read, to ask her questions, and to learn the fascinating story behind Nowhere Else on Earth. 2 p.m. Saturday in the House Chambers. M.S.
Three poets join for a discussion and reading, noon Sunday in the Old Supreme Court Room. David Bottoms is the author of Vagrant Hearts and Easter Weekend, and Shara McCallum is the author of The Water Between Us. But Nashvillians will find the third poet particularly interesting. The only thing predictable about Diann Blakely is that she will be mentioned whenever anyone talks about this city’s best writers. The frequent Scene contributor writes about everything from claustrophobic images of death in the Yucatan to how the soul fails as winter attacks people in Vermont. Nor does she shy away from imagery or language that might offend. She’s possessed of a heartening emotional and linguistic courage that leads her to begin a poem in media res with a jump cut like, “Triangulation, he screeches,” or an image from the film Tom and Viv, in which T. S. Eliot’s wife scrubs blood-stained sheets. All of these vivid pictures and intense moments can be found in Blakely’s most recent collection, the elegiac and darkly humorous Farewell, My Lovelies. M.S.
Readers tend to be skeptical when critics compare a first-time novelist to the likes of Thomas Pynchon or Ralph Ellison. However, Colson Whitehead makes good on such high praise. The Intuitionist is his first novel, and much like Invisible Man it is a highly charged allegory about one individual’s struggle to overcome oppression by a majority. But Whitehead has a voice all his ownI dare say, this is the first book I’ve ever read on the subject of elevator inspection. It is beautifully written, with an otherworldly feel, capturing the turmoil and struggles of a professional black woman in the 1960s with grace, intelligence, and sharp wit. The writer will appear 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the Old Supreme Court Room as part of the program “Giant Steps: The New Generation of African American Writers.” A.M.
There is simply nobody else like Padgett Powell. He writes some of the most original, language-drunk, take-no-prisoners prose being produced today. His hilarious novel Edisto has been compared to everything from Catcher in the Rye to Huckleberry Finn. His short-story collection Aliens of Affection includes everything from a down-and-out loser watchdogging a sinkhole to a woman who beds a young neighborhood boy. In his writing, his public speaking, and even his response to questions from the audience, Padgett Powell is completely, wonderfully unpredictable. The Festival organizers probably scheduled him alone because they knew that, as the Millennial Gathering of Writers at Vanderbilt this past spring demonstrated, no panel could hold him. He will be reading from his new book Mrs. Hollingsworth’s Men and discussing writing, 3 p.m. Sunday in the House Chambers. M.S.
I'd say the hats are more BILLY JACK, but that fits into the whole hippy-cult…
Thank you for the write up. We greatly appreciate it! Hope we raise the funds…
Looks like he was a great Artist.......who left his Legacy behind for others to follow.....
Indianapolis (CA-35), not Indiana.
There were plenty of jumps and screams at the severed-head reveal at the Sunday night…