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Cooking Up a Literary Festival

by Mark I. West

Cooking Up a Literary Festival

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Picture by photo Wade Bruton, graphics Marcus Kiser

October 3, 2013

Editor’s note: The inuagural Charlotte City Center Literary Festival will take place at UNC Charlotte’s Center City Building (320 E. 9th Street) on Saturday, Oct.12. The children’s program will take place from noon to 3:30 p.m. The adult program will take place from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. All the programming will be free—just bring an appetite for stories and art.
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Not so long ago, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Public Library sponsored a wonderful literary festival called the Novello Festival of Reading. It took place in uptown Charlotte during the month of October, and it involved public readings, book signings, and literature-based activities for children. In 2010, the library faced massive budget cuts, and funding for Novello came to an end.

I helped organize a community version of Novello that year, but there has not been a literary festival in uptown Charlotte since. This past August, I decided to do something about this deficiency in Charlotte’s cultural scene, and so was born the first Center City Literary Festival.

The experience of organizing this festival reminds me of the legend about the creation of mole sauce–a delicious concoction associated with Mexican cuisine. According to this legend, a group of nuns from Puebla, Mexico, learned that the Archbishop was about to visit their convent. They did not have the time nor the money to obtain the ingredients for an appropriate feast, so they just tossed into a pot every type of food that they happened to have on hand—various types of chilies, nuts, bread, and even a touch of chocolate—and the result was mole sauce. Sometimes making creative use of what you already have available to you is the best approach.

Shortly after I decided to explore the possibility of starting a literary festival in Charlotte, I contacted Donell Stines-Jones, the Community Outreach Coordinator for UNC Charlotte’s Center City Building. Since I am the Chair of the English Department at UNC Charlotte, I had already attended a number of events and meetings at this facility, and it seemed like a great place to hold a literary festival. Donell and I met in August, and we began cooking up our own version of event "mole sauce" immediately.

We committed to holding our festival on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013, which was less than two months from the date of our first meeting. Like the nuns from Puebla, Mexico, we started gathering together ingredients that were readily available to us.

The Center Building provided us with our first ingredient. Located at 320 East 9th Street in uptown Charlotte, this facility provides ample space for readings, books signings, and various other activities. It is also intended to function as connecting point between the university and the broader Charlotte community, and that is exactly what we are trying to do with our festival.

Of course, you can’t have a literary festival without authors. Fortunately, there are many highly acclaimed authors with significant ties to UNC Charlotte, and during my nearly 30 years at the university, I have had the privilege of getting to know many of them. This festival provides us with an opportunity to showcase some of these writers. Donell and I decided to divide our festival into an afternoon carnival-like program for children and an evening program for adults, so we began contacting authors associated with UNC Charlotte who write for children as well as authors who write for adults.

The children’s authors who have signed on to participate in this year’s festival include Gail Haley, Janaka Lewis, Andrew Hartley, and Elizabeth Murray. Gail Haley is the only picture book author from North Carolina to win the Caldecott Medal, the most prestigious award given in America to the creators of outstanding picture books. Although not a faculty member at UNC Charlotte, Haley has often given guest lectures at the university, and she has donated many of her papers, manuscripts, and other original work to the Special Collections Department of the university library. Janaka Lewis teaches African American literature in the English Department and is the other of a picture book titled Brown All Over. Andrew Hartley is the Russell Robinson Distinguished Professor of Shakespeare, but he is also the author of a highly successful series of fantasy books for children. The first volume in this series is titled Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact. Elizabeth Murray teaches course related to theatre education, and she also writes plays for children. She is the co-playwright of a bilingual play for children titled The Mother Goose Project.

The evening program for adults will feature Aimee Parkison, Karen Cox and Andrew Hartley. Parkison is a creative writing professor in the English Department, and her most recent book is a collection of short stores titled The Innocent Party. Cox is a history professor, and her most recent book is titled Dreaming of Dixie: How the South Was Created in American Popular Culture. Hartley has the distinction of being the only author who will participate in the festival’s afternoon program and the evening program. During the evening, he will read from Macbeth, a Novel, which he co-authored with David Hewson. In writing this novelization of one of Shakespeare’s most famous play, Hartley drew heavily on his expertise as a leading scholar in Shakespeare studies.

Chocolate is the unexpected ingredient in mole sauce, and art is the unexpected ingredient in our literary festival. Donell is the person who came up with the innovative idea of inviting artists to participate in our festival. She had a long career as a choreographer and performing artist before she became the Community Outreach Coordinator for the Center City Building, and she has many connections in Charlotte’s arts community. Drawing on these connections, Donell paired each author up with an artist. She asked each artist to create an original work of art in response to the author’s written work. These works of art will be revealed when the authors do their readings. The artists who have agreed to participate include Lee Baumgarten, Crista Cammaroto, Catherine Courtlandt, Gerard Hazelton, Monique Luck, and Deb Maine. Just as the chocolate adds a special flavor to mole sauce, these works of art will add a unique flavor to our literary festival.

Everyday Donell and I add ingredients to our literary mole sauce, so I can’t possibly list all of the activities and participants in tis column. What I can say with certainty is where and when we are serving this feast to the public.

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