War Memorial Plaza | October 13–15
WORDS Peter Chawaga
From October 13 to 15, the Southern Festival of Books is returning to War Memorial Plaza for its 29th year of celebrating the written word.
The free event has long brought book enthusiasts and authors together in Nashville for readings and discussions about the art of writing. About 200 writers, some preeminent and some newcomers to the field, will be assembled to discuss their work in solo readings or panel discussions, which can range widely in genre and approach. There are book signing sessions, a collection of exhibitors, and three stages for dramatic literary performances.
Building on the event’s longstanding history, a few new additions will be featured this year. The festival will host some author panels and sessions at the Nashville Public Library’s downtown branch. And for the first time, the festival has partnered with Handmade and Bound, an annual event celebrating the art of bookmaking from Watkins College of Art, to present new crafters and artisans.
“Handmade and Bound will have a significant presence on War Memorial Plaza and bring creative vendors to this year’s event,” says Serenity Gerbman, the director of the Southern Festival of Books. “Bookmakers, artisans, and craftsmen will bring even more literary creativity to the festival and showcase the art behind bookmaking.”
This year’s event will also feature a panel with particular dedication to the visual arts. It will host Ke Francis, a narrative artist who has produced books, paintings, prints, photographs, and sculptures for over 40 years; Bill Dunlap, a writer and painter who specializes in abstracted figures and patterns; and Britt Stadig, who for over 18 years has specialized in artistic book binding and custom enclosures.
“Bill Dunlap contacted us early in the year about a session that focused on the interplay between words and art, with artists who are also writers,” explains Gerbman. “We were thrilled to add it to the program and honored to have Nashville artist Britt Stadig appearing with Dunlap and Francis. The panel will be a candid conversation among the three about their work as artists, writers, and publishers, the importance of aesthetics in publishing fine books, and whatever else they want to discuss.”
Francis will also be presenting his work at The Arts Company in an exhibition called Southern Narrative.
“What attracted us to his work is the breadth and depth of his artistic and technical dexterity, incorporating all mediums—from painting on canvas, sculpture, woodblock prints, watercolor, and photography to writing, designing, and printing limited-edition artist books,” says Anne Brown, owner of The Arts Company.
It is celebrations of the variety of arts at venues around the city, such as this combination of book and visual, that makes Nashville a special place, one that is sure to welcome similar events in the future.
“The city’s creative energy and culture, coupled with location, make it the ideal backdrop for the Southern Festival of Books,” says Gerbman.
All told, through its panels, readings, and book sales, the festival is an all-too-rare opportunity to focus on the power and joy that books bring us, especially today.
“Literature, in all of its forms, helps people connect and better understand their own nature,” explains Gerbman. “In today’s fast-paced society, where information is readily available and everyone is operating at full speed, books allow us to hit pause, disconnect, and get lost in someone else’s thoughts . . . The Southern Festival of Books seeks to bring together book lovers in a setting where we can slow down and enjoy books. In a world that is constantly changing through technology, innovation, and connectivity, the written word still thrives—that is something worth celebrating.”
The Southern Festival of Books will be held on October 13 from 12 to 5 p.m., on October 14 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on October 15 from 12 to 5 p.m. at War Memorial Plaza, 301 6th Avenue North. For more information, please visit www.humanitiestennessee.org.