By Frances Figart
Each year in early September, the advent of fall lends a brisk excitement to the mountain air of Yancey County. For those who love all things book, there is another big reason to get excited. It’s the time when the Carolina Mountains Literary Festival (CMLF) comes to downtown Burnsville.
At this year’s 12th annual CMLF, Thursday through Saturday, September 7–9, more than 30 authors and performers will give free readings and presentations at venues around Burnsville’s town square. This year’s theme: Old Ways, New Ways: Change and Tradition.
“Our mission is to bring together authors with avid readers, novice writers and fans. We do this in small, intimate settings,” says Kathy Weisfeld, festival chair. “Having authors and readers together in close quarters, as our festival does, makes it possible for authors to hear stories of how their work influenced people and also gives attendees the opportunity to ask the authors questions. It’s not just signing a book, it’s making a human connection.”
The Festival begins on Thursday night with a free concert celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the NC Arts Council, Songcatching: An Evening of Sharing Music Old and New with fiddler Bruce Greene, Shelby Stephenson and Friends. Again on Saturday afternoon, Greene will play and talk about traditional, regional tunes.
All sessions are free during the day on both Friday and Saturday. Attendees can hear authors of fiction, memoir, nonfiction, poetry and young adult books read from their works and talk about what inspires them. Among the nearly 50 sessions, writing workshops will be available in Memoir, Fiction, Poetry and Young Adult genres at a ticket price of $30 each. An Altered Bookmaking workshop will cost $45 and includes materials.
Friday night’s locally sourced, catered banquet will cost $35 and is BYOB. Speaker Ronni Lundy, the author of Victuals: An Appalachian Journey, with Recipes, is a founding member of the Southern Foodways Alliance and recipient of that organization’s Lifetime Achievement Award for her work as a writer covering food and music. Victuals is the winner of the 2017 James Beard Award for Best American Cookbook as well as Book of the Year awards.
The Keynote session on Saturday night will feature author James Reston, Jr., who will be releasing his latest book, A Rift in the Earth: Art, Memory and the Fight for A Vietnam War Memorial, the week of the festival. Reston’s experience as David Frost’s advisor for the historic 1977 Watergate interviews led him to write The Conviction of Richard Nixon: The Untold Story of the Frost/Nixon Interviews. This book inspired the hit play by Peter Morgan, later adapted into the Hollywood film, Frost/Nixon, directed by Ron Howard. Tickets to the Keynote session are $20.
“I love the diversity of attendees and authors,” Weisfeld says. “It is exciting to hear established authors and to be introduced to first-time authors.”
Jaye Robin Brown (known as JRo) has written two young adult novels and is excited to be a featured author because she used to live in this region. “I know how fabulous both the festival and the organizers are,” she says. “It’s a real gem of an opportunity.”
Her first book, No Place To Fall, was released in 2014 and is set in the WNC mountains. “It’s the story of a girl who is trying to figure a way out of her dysfunctional family and when she finds the NC School of the Arts, she thinks she’s found her ticket,” says JRo. “I wrote it as a love song to this region and the many students I worked with in Mitchell County.”
Her second novel, Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit, came out in August of 2016. “It’s the story of a preacher’s daughter who just happens to be gay, and what she’s asked to do when they move from big-city Atlanta to small-town north Georgia,” JRo explains.
“It’s a look at faith and being a queer teen and how, and if, the two can blend. I feel like it’s definitely a ‘new ways, old ways’ sort of book.”
Another featured author, Bridgette Lacy will present her combination cookbook and storybook, Sunday Dinner, inspired by her culinary-minded grandfather. She describes it as not just a collection of 51 recipes, but a call to action, encouraging us to return to our tradition of bonding over a meal.
“Food tastes better when it’s shared,” Lacy says, “and Sunday dinner was the place where you learned your family’s history. You heard stories of romance, challenges and triumphs. It was a time for storytelling. Problems disappeared during those cherished hours.”
Sunday Dinner fits in with the theme of this year’s CMLF, Lacy says, because the meal is evolving. “I talk about the Sunday dinners of my youth shared with my extended family in the past and how I now often share the meal with a family of friends. That need to break bread still exists. Sunday dinner is a reassurance that the people you love are there for you.”
Weisfeld points out that researchers at Yale University recently determined that people who read books regularly may add nearly two years to their lives. “So come to the Carolina Mountains Literary Festival,” she says, “to discover which books you want to read and boost your longevity.”
Registration is only required for the ticketed events: Friday night’s banquet, the three-hour writing workshops, the Altered Bookmaking workshop and the Saturday night James Reston, Jr. Keynote. Register for events, read author bios and see the full schedule at cmlitfest.org.
As the outreach author for this year’s festival, Frances Figart, The Laurel’s departing editor, will present her book, Seasons of Letting Go: Most of what I know about truly living I learned by helping someone die, at three of the region’s Senior Centers.
Avery Senior Center
Thursday, September 7, at 11 a.m.
Mitchell Senior Center
Friday, September 8, at 10 a.m. 828.688.3019
Yancey Senior Center
Tuesday, September 12, at 10 a.m.