Author of teen fiction Alan Gratz reading at Main Street Books.
Those who have thought about writing, wondered how to hook their children on reading, or are just interested in learning about writers and stories of all shapes and sizes should go to the Carolina Mountains Literary Festival.
Inspiration for this regional event began at a 2005 book signing in Little Switzerland, N.C., for North Carolina writers John Ehle, Isabelle Zuber, Fred Chappell, and Charles Price. Price mentioned his dream for a literary festival in the mountains and a plan formed to make it so.
“Mainly, the festival started because we wanted to keep on having fun,” said Britt Kaufman, a Burnsville poet who has been involved since the beginning.
The first Carolina Mountains Literary Festival kicked off in 2006. Organizers aimed for a richly diverse audience. Kaufman explains that the festival is not affiliated with an academic institution and is deliberately non-academic.
“The goal is to target readers as well as writers,” Kaufman said. She hopes it will help attendees put together an interesting reading list.
The two-day event appeals to a wide range of ages and has had good success at drawing families with children as well as students. Events and readings cover a wide range of topics. Past festivals have featured more than 30 authors and have attracted more than 300 attendees. Visitors may attend any event for free with the exception of workshops and the Saturday banquet. Those require pre-registration.
In local venues throughout Burnsville, N.C., from coffee shops to stationery stores, visitors can listen to readings and interact with writers, or choose from events held in the open air such as a journal-making workshop offered by artists from the Penland School of Crafts. The schedule of events is available at the Town Center.
Young adult novelist Alan Gratz has participated in a number of literary festivals, and one of the things that makes the Carolina Mountains Literary Festival unique for him is the access attendees have to the authors.
“The venues are intimate and attending a session feels like you’re having a conversation with an author, not just sitting in an audience and listening,” he said.
The theme for the 2010 festival is “Coming Home.” The theme was inspired by Tony Earley’s books, Jim the Boy and its sequel The Blue Star, about a boy who grew up in the North Carolina mountains. Earley will be the banquet speaker on Saturday night. He teaches at Vanderbilt University. Jim the Boy is this year’s selection for western North Carolina’s Together We Read program, which encourages school and community groups to read and discuss the same book.
The 2010 festival will emphasize the rich melding of diverse cultures in the modern Appalachian region. Earley will be joined by Friday’s keynote speaker Paul Cuadros, a Peruvian author who has written a book about the impact of soccer on small town America. He is working on another about Latinos in the South. Other authors include Katherine Ledford, an Appalachian Studies scholar at Appalachian State University; Annette Clapsaddle, a poet and writer born in Cherokee; Joseph Bathanti, a poet and novelist who teaches at Appalachian State; Asheville poet Laura Hope-Gill; Asheville novelist Tommy Hays; and North Carolina’s new Poet Laureate Cathy Smith Bowers.
To sign up for writers’ workshops and/or the Saturday banquet, fill out an application at the festival website www.cmlitfest.org.
For all other events, visit Burnsville’s Town Center on Sept. 10 and 11, pick up a schedule, and enjoy.
Literature in review
Requiem by Fire by Wayne Caldwell. New York: Random House, 2010.
Wayne Caldwell has written a second novel filled with authentic voices. His first book, Cataloochee, found critical acclaim as it fictionalized the real-life struggles of families in the Cataloochee community that is now the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Requiem by Fire picks up with that same community, only this time Caldwell tells the story of how Haywood County farm families were displaced to make room for the park. During the 1920s, residents who had farmed the land there as their ancestors had for generations suddenly had to decide either to sell to the government or accept a lease arrangement, which allowed them to remain on their property but with strict stipulations on farming and hunting.
Requiem follows several families as they struggle to make hard decisions and adapt to radical changes, changes imposed upon them by events beyond their control. Caldwell captures the dignity and depth of people with skill and power.
Burning Bright by Ron Rash. New York: Harper Collins, 2010.
Ron Rash, who teaches creative writing at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, also grew up immersed in Appalachian culture. Burning Bright is a collection of short stories set in the mountains, but in a variety of eras.
“Lincolnites,” which Smoky Mountain Living had the honor of publishing in 2008, is the harrowing tale of a woman who must defend herself and her child while her soldier husband fights for the Union Army. Two stories deal with the contemporary horrors of methamphetamine addictions that tear individuals and families apart. “Dead Confederates” is the hilarious account of an overweight, obnoxious man who decides to find a whole new way of exploiting his passion for Confederate memorabilia. The stories are by turns haunting, tender, and full of unexpected turns.
All have Rash’s unerring ear for capturing people with distinct expressions, which are only found in the Appalachian region they inhabit. Wherever he takes you, Rash knows and loves the place he comes from and its distinctive people. He invites you to know and love them too.
Real NASCAR: White Lightning, Red Clay, and Big Bill France by Daniel Pierce. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2010.
Daniel Pierce is a professor of history at UNC Asheville. He’s been a racing fan since he was introduced to it by his former college roommate in the 1990s.
Pierce’s Real NASCAR traces the origins of stock car racing in the South, its connections with the moonshine industry which thrived from Prohibition into the 1950s, and its development from impromptu races on backcountry roads to its arrival as a nationally recognized, popular sport. Souped-up cars were made to run faster and faster so that traffickers of moonshine could outrun federal agents. Then those races became contests of controlled speed.
Pierce tells the story of Big Bill France, who popularized the sport beyond small town tracks and helped attract serious business investors, such as the big car manufacturers. Stories of stock car racing and moonshining come to life through oral histories. Pierce also explores the cultural roots of racing enthusiasts, many of them men who moved from the independence of their own farms to the stifling atmosphere of the region’s mills and factories. Although undeniably a proper book of history, Real NASCAR contains an energy and respect for its subject that reveals the historian’s personal enthusiasm. Even if you have never been a NASCAR fan, you will find much to keep you reading in this intriguing history of the sport.
— By Susan Lefler