As we beat on, boats against the current of this infernal pandemic, arts organizations continue to adapt with gusto to the times. Last month, Humanities Tennessee — our state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities — announced that the Southern Festival Books would be virtual for the second year in a row. 

Though we again won’t be able to roam the stalls of booksellers and literary organizations at Legislative Plaza, or congregate in the lobby of the Nashville Public Library downtown, the folks at Humanities Tennessee have planned a spine-tingling schedule of readings and author talks. We’ve highlighted some standouts below, followed by reviews and Q&As that go deeper into the fest. Visit to see the full schedule and access the digital events, which will be available on the festival’s YouTube channel. You can also download the festival’s handy app to plan your weekend. One benefit of a virtual festival is that the events will be archived on YouTube, so you can tune in later if you wish. 

We’re always out to give locals their due, and there are plenty of Nashvillians participating in the fest, including Andrew Maraniss, author of Singled Out: The True Story of Glenn Burke (1 p.m. Saturday); Rachel Louise Martin, author of Hot, Hot Chicken: A Nashville Story (1:15 p.m. Sunday); and J.T. Ellison, author of Her Dark Lies (11:30 a.m. Saturday). Alice Randall, author of Black Bottom Saints, will introduce a can’t-miss event in which the Southern Foodways Alliance presents the 2021 John Egerton Prize to Dara Cooper, national organizer with the National Black Food and Justice Alliance (7:30 p.m. Thursday). In place of the festival’s usual Round Table fundraiser, we’ll see Nashville pastry chef and memoirist Lisa Donovan, author ofOur Lady of Perpetual Hunger, appear in conversation with Alice Waters and Laurie Woolever (5 p.m. Friday). Tickets for that start at $50 and include signed copies of books. It’s a great way to support Humanities Tennessee and many Southern Festivals of Books to come! 

Not to toot our own horn, but we’re incredibly proud to note appearances at the fest by current and former Scene contributors. Onetime Scene books editor and current New York Times columnist Margaret Renkl will discuss her new collection of essays Graceland at Last: Notes on Hope and Heartache From the American South with Ann Patchett (10 a.m. Saturday; read on for our Q&A with Renkl). We Are Familyis co-authored by music journalist Andrea Williams and a guy you might have heard of named LeBron James. In this spirited middle-grades chapter book, a group of kids hustle to save their basketball team. Williams will discuss her book with Tracey Baptiste, author of African Icons: Ten People Who Shaped History (2:30 p.m. Sunday). Longtime Chapter 16 and Scene contributor Ed Tarkington’s second novel The Fortunate Ones follows a Gatsby-esque Nashville man as he grapples with, as Tark told author Odie Lindsey, “the often-destructive allure of wealth, and the perils of noblesse oblige.” He’ll appear in conversation with Simon Van Booy, author of Night Came With Many Stars (3:30 p.m. Sunday). Tennessee State University professor and historian Learotha Williams is the co-editor of I’ll Take You There: Exploring Nashville’s Social Justice Sites with Amie Thurber. This unconventional guidebook foregrounds the struggles and achievements of people’s movements toward social justice in our city, and is co-authored by more than 100 writers, including academics, community members and students of Vanderbilt University (2:15 p.m. Saturday). The Porch Writers’ Collective recently released an anthology of writing that Tennesseans produced during the pandemic. The panel about Reckoning: Tennessee Writers on 2020 will include Scene contributor Margaret Littman, as well as Delaney Gray, Nicholas Bush and Porch co-founder Susannah Felts (5 p.m. Saturday). Finally, Scene contributor Destiny O. Birdsong is among our city’s great living poets. Her collection Negotiations pushes us to see each other with greater humanity. She’ll appear in conversation with Janisse Ray, author of Red Lanterns: Wild Spectacle, and Marianne Worthington, author of The Girl Singer: Poems (3:15 p.m. Saturday). 

And remember: Friends don’t let friends purchase books from a guy who can afford to take joyrides in space. Support your local bookstores by ordering from Parnassus and The Bookshop, both of which are open for browsing and ordering online, or don a mask and go digging at McKay’s for your next read. 

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