In November 2007, an article in the (Raleigh) News & Observer suggested that there might not be a future for the North Carolina Literary Festival because the “university librarians who have organized the event say it may no longer be practical to pull it off.” A month later, a second article championed UNC Chancellor James Moeser for finding funds and “rescuing the popular but difficult-to-organize event.” But still, the sense persisted that the festival might not find firm footing. Even as recently as this past Christmas — a full year after those N&O articles — I had friends and book-lovers asking me if I’d heard anything about the festival’s prospects for the future.
New festival director Amy Baldwin took a few moments recently to talk about what’s in store later this year — and to chat about the festival’s new website, which debuts today.
Art Taylor: What can fans of past festivals look forward to at the 2009 event?
Amy Baldwin: The North Carolina Literary Festival (NCLF) theme is “A Celebration of Reading and Writing,” and that’s exactly what festival goers will experience when attending the festival. In addition to many distinguished keynotes, the festival will feature North Carolina favorites, emerging artists, well-known southern writers, and world-class authors from around the country. The author sessions will be varied in content and will include readings and discussions, and the festival will be full of exhibits, performances, book signings, and book sales. Highlighting a variety of writing styles and categories, the festival will be brimming with artistic and musical performances from multi-talented authors. And as always, the festival activities are free and open to the public, which is particularly important in this economic time.
I know it may be a little too early to announce keynote speakers or participants at this point, but any specifics on when we can expect announcements in that regard?
The NCLF will start posting participating author names on the website at the end of April and will continue to release names up until the festival in September. I am happy to share with you one of our keynotes now, though because we are excited about our new Children’s Area, a special feature of the festival intended for children 12 years of age and younger, and consisting of a Children’s Stage, autograph area, and activity areas. The Children’s Stage is a venue where artists who write and create works geared towards youth will interact with and speak to the festival audience. Approximately 15 speakers will participate over the two weekend days (authors, illustrators, storytellers, pop-up book creators, etc.) Partnering with various local, national and international organizations, the books represented will be diverse and will cover a wide range of topics. After each session the authors/illustrators will be available to sign autographs. There will be several activity areas where children will be given the opportunity to make bookmarks, book bags, or something similar in nature, and participate in other educational activities related to reading, writing and illustrating. This area will also include a venue where children can have their picture taken with character mascots.
With that said, and in collaboration with the Susan Steinfirst Lecture, I am pleased to announce that author and illustrator, Brian Pinkney, will be one of our many keynotes in the Children’s Area. Mr. Pinkney has illustrated two Caldecott Honor books, The Faithful Friend, by Robert D. San Souci, and Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra, by Andrea Davis Pinkney. Mr. Pinkney’s own books include Hush, Little Baby; Cosmo and the Robot; Max Found Two Sticks; JoJo’s Flying Side Kick; and The Adventures of Sparrowboy, winner of the 1997 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award. He has received the Coretta Scott King Award for illustration and three Coretta Scott King Honor Awards.
In advance of the festival, you’ve also been planning a small series of “preview” events. Can you tell us more about the genesis of that idea? And can you provide any specific information on the series for readers who might want to attend?
A new addition to the festival, “Authors on the Road,” is a program designed to bring the NCLF to the entire state of North Carolina and to further highlight our talented North Carolina authors. I spoke with over 200 individuals when I first became Director of the festival to obtain their thoughts about the festival, and literature in general. During those conversations I learned that people all over the state were interested in the festival, although not everyone is able to attend due to distance. With assistance from one of our Premier Sponsors, the NC State Library, Authors on the Road is collaborating with six libraries throughout the state to bring a piece of the festival to various areas within the state: Buncombe County Public Libraries (Ashville), Patrick Beaver Memorial Library (Hickory), Forsyth County Library (Winston-Salem), Cumberland County Public Library and Information Center (Fayetteville), Sheppard Memorial Library (Greenville), and the New Hanover Public Library (Wilmington.) With input from each library, a chosen North Carolina and NCLF author will visit each area to participate in a reading and discussion program two to three weeks prior to the festival. Each library will host one author, and a total of six authors will participate in the program. We are in the process of finalizing details, but the author names, and the dates, times and locations in which they will be speaking will be posted on our website shortly.
Regarding the just-launched website: Even though there’s no programming information at this point, there’s still plenty to admire there already in terms of artwork and design.
I’m delighted that you noticed the artwork because we felt that it would be wonderful and relevant to have a local illustrator create our logo and accompanying designs. We were so pleased when author and illustrator, Daniel Wallace, agreed to lend his artistic talents to the festival. Daniel is the author of four novels (most noted for Big Fish which was turned into a movie) and a children’s book, and his illustrations have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Italian Vanity Fair, and many other magazines and books. He is a perfect example of a multi-talented North Carolina author, and we will continue to reveal additional illustrations as more materials are released.
It’s great news that the festival is definitely taking place this year, but 2009 also promises to be a tough time both for arts organizations and for the book publishing industry. What are the particular challenges that a festival like this faces in this economic climate? Is the present footing (and future footing) more secure than a year ago? And what can fans of the festival do to help out now?
Planning a festival of this size and caliber is definitely a big undertaking and requires significant resources. The NCLF is evidence that our community is highly supportive of reading and writing and the roles in which our libraries play in our community. UNC Chapel Hill, NC State, Duke and NC Central have all continued with their financial investment to the festival — even during this time of budget cuts — and have plans to continue their commitment in the future. Our festival sponsors and individual donors, including many who are new to the NCLF, are also showing their support through financial contributions and assisting with marketing the festival. I believe that our community will continue to make reading and writing a priority by supporting the festival in years to come.
During these difficult financial times, corporations are targeting their corporate giving to specific areas of interest, and it is our responsibility to partner with those organizations that support reading, writing and the arts. So to answer your question regarding what can fans of the festival do to help out now: They can make a financial donation to the festival, they can register to volunteer at the festival, and they can encourage others to attend the festival.
Finally, in that regard, a simple question: Why a book festival at all? What does North Carolina gain from the North Carolina Literary Festival?
The NCLF is of great value to our community for many reasons. First and foremost, the community has been outspoken in their desire to sustain the literary festival, stating its importance in and relevance to our community. The festival affords our community with the opportunity to watch and listen to their favorite authors in person read from their works and discuss their writing history, as well as interact with the authors during the question and answer portion of each session. For book lovers, this is a thrilling and memorable experience. For many, obtaining an autograph from their favorite author is unforgettable. The festival also educates the community with the incorporation of sessions that pertain to diversity, social, national and world issues, history, politics, science and health. The festival reinforces the involvement that the libraries have in our communities, and helps to promote the use of libraries and the research services provided by libraries. Because learning to read is crucial in our earlier years, the festival provides an interesting and interactive learning opportunity for our youth. Teachers are able to share a particular author’s work with their students in the classroom then allow their students to interact with that author at the festival. Two full days of children’s sessions and activities also allows families to enjoy the event and provides an avenue for children to become engaged in reading and writing.
From a writer’s perspective, the festival helps to honor and showcase writing and highlights the value of writing. From a community perspective, the festival is a way to support our local writers and the writing community as a whole. Through the promotion of reading and writing, the festival also encourages literacy, which is a serious issue in our nation. I could list many more reasons why a literary festival is important, but I’ll end with the simple fact that during this current economic time, the festival offers our community members an event that is interesting, engaging, educational and entertaining, and all of it free of charge.