Only two days before last weekend’s Savannah Book Festival (Feb 6-8, 2009) morning temperatures in the city were hitting the low freeze-your-butt-off 20s. Then as if by magical literary decree, just as the weekend arrived they soared into the sublime 70s and provided authors, readers, and bookaholic collectors from all over the United States with brilliantly sunny spring-like weather.
Downtown Savannah’s Telfair Square, which sits neatly on Barnard Street between West York and West State Streets adjacent to the Telfair Museum and Jepson Center for the Arts, overflowed with cheerful lit-geeks out to meet and greet best-selling authors like Beverly Jenkins and J.A. Jance; nobly striving litterateurs like moi; at least one Pulitzer Prize-winning poet in the form of Natasha Trethewey; and outstanding champions of the spoken word in the form of members of A.W.O.L. (All Walks of Life) and The Spitfire Poetry Group.
It was an amazing sight for this native of the city to see Telfair Square filled to overflowing with throngs of people gathered in an unabashed celebration of not only literacy, but literature. One might think of the two words as synonymous but in fact too many events devoted to literacy focus rightly on the aspect of reading itself, but then wrongly ignore the accomplished authors whose works make literary culture what it is. The Book Festival provided a balanced exchange in which readers, authors, publishers, booksellers, food vendors, and festival coordinators all graciously empowered each other.
I couldn’t help wondering what a festival of this magnitude might have had on my own development as a writer if someone had been inclined––as the creative director Madison Parks Prickett had been regarding this year’s event––to present such festivals when I was growing up. At the same time, I enjoyed imagining that somewhere in the crowd were future writers would not have to wonder as I was doing. I also enjoyed reminding myself that although this was only the city’s second annual Book Festival, I had played some small part (along with many others in 1998) in the production of its first Literary Festival. Seeing this year’s festival was like watching seeds well planted sprout, blossom, and bear gorgeous fruit all in one single glorious literary weekend.
NEXT, Part 2: The Joy of Meeting Author Beverly Jenkins