National Book Festival Coming to Town

From Friday, May 18, to Sunday, May 20, Greensboro will host a national book event called Greensboro Bound: A Literary Festival. The three-day festival will be the culminating event of the year-long initiative, Greensboro Bound, which has included discussions and book signings by local and national authors. The organizers of the festival intend to make it an annual event.

The festival will include speeches, workshops, panel discussions, book signings and family-friendly activities located across downtown Greensboro. The Greensboro Cultural Arts Center will be the central hub, but events will also take place at Triad Stage, the International Civil Rights Center & Museum, the Central Library, the Greensboro History Museum and Scuppernong Books.

“One of the wonderful things about literary festivals,” said Steve Colyer, board secretary of the Greensboro Literary Organization, “are that there are lots of presentations to choose from and you find new things to learn and new people to read. I walk into panels to see one author and come out with an appreciation for three.”

The Greensboro Literary Organization is the nonprofit planning committee for Greensboro Bound. So far, they have raised all but $25,000 needed for the festival to break even, with the largest financial contributors being the Edward M. Armfield Sr. Foundation, the News & Record, the Michel Family Foundation, Guilford College Bryan Series, UNCG Libraries and UNCG, NC A& University, Schell Bray PLLC, and a commitment from the Tannenbaum Sternberger Foundation.

Novelists Daniel Wallace, Lee Smith and Kevin Powers, poets Nikki Giovanni, Fred Chappell, Kaveh Akbar and Gabrielle Calvocoressi, as well as short story writer Carmen Maria Machado, nonfiction writer John T. Edge and spoken word artist Josephus Thompson are among the over 60 writers appearing at the
festival.

Giovanni, the recipient of seven NAACP Image Awards and a Grammy nomination, is arguably the most recognizable literary figure attending the festival. Margot Lee Shetterly, author of “Hidden Figures,” and author Wiley Cash, a native of North Carolina, have already visited Scuppernong Books in Downtown Greensboro as part of the Greensboro Bound programming.

Many Southern and local writers will also be featured and more authors will be announced in the weeks leading up to the festival. Diversity and inclusiveness are goals for the festival organizers. With regard to the number of African-American, Muslim, and LGBTQ writers scheduled to appear, Colyer said, “We are living our commitment to inclusivity and diversity.”

Colyer, who previously worked with the nation’s largest book festival in Miami, added that inclusivity and acceptance of diversity are a big deal for Greensboro Bound. He said that programming was informed by the desire to provide a platform for all of Guilford County’s communities to tell their story and “to get authors in front of students, students in front of authors, and books into the hands of students.”

To that end, Greensboro Bound reached out to Guilford County Schools to create events where the authors can also speak at local schools. So far, approximately 15 authors have agreed to speak at 30 schools as a part of these events. Festival organizers estimate that 10,500 students will benefit from this program.

After the lasting success of similar local book festivals, like the annual Bookmarks Festival in Winston-Salem, the creators of Greensboro Bound are expecting 7,500 to 10,000 people to attend. Ginger Hendricks and Jamie Rogers Southern, who help organize Bookmarks, have assisted Greensboro in preparing for a crowd this size.

At one point, Greensboro College was in talks to host the festival, but downtown
Greensboro was ultimately chosen as the location because of some logistical and accessibility issues and, Colyer said, because “volunteers viewed the event as a potentially key contributor to the renaissance of downtown GSO that is underway.” However, Colyer still hopes that Greensboro College can participate in the next season of year-round programming that Greensboro Bound is planning.

Although Greensboro College will not host the festival, Greensboro College English professor Dr. WayneJohns has a major role in helping to plan the festival. Johns serves on the board of the festival, serves as Greensboro College’s liaison to the festival, has helped apply for grants and has personally contacted about one-third of the authors scheduled to appear.

Johns says he is happy about the number of authors who have agreed to come and the diversity that the festival will bring to Greensboro. He said he wants to bring in authors who will help bring attention to, and spark discussion about, important issues that have been in the news over the past year. For example, the festival will host a Muslim writers panel, as well a panel (sponsored by Casa Azul) on undocumented poets.

Greensboro Bound is “an all-volunteer effort,” said Colyer. “No one is getting paid … it blows me away…. This is the most grass-roots, all-volunteer, native viral event I have ever seen.” Brian Lampkin, festival organizer and co-owner of Scuppernong Books, said the people who volunteer for the festival will have an excellent experience, adding that “it’s a great way to meet writers.”

Volunteer training sessions will be held at Scuppernong Books on April 25, April 29 and May 5. Volunteer applications, information on how to donate to the festival and a schedule of events are all available at greensborobound.com.

By Timothy Crowell

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