Lovers of the written word – including more than 100 local authors – are gathering in the Bull City this weekend to celebrate literacy and enjoy some good food at the inaugural Read Local Book Festival.
Writers, publishers, booksellers, libraries, designers, artists, critics, bloggers and readers have been in downtown Durham since Friday for a series of events designed to bring together what festival organizers call the area’s “literacy ecosystem.” The festival culminates Sunday with events in and around Durham Central Park Pavilion that include a book fair, spoken word performances, writing panels, a writing contest and food trucks.
“We just thought this would be a perfect thing we could combine with a mini food-truck rodeo and encourage people to shop and eat and keep money in the local economy and meet local authors,” said Joanne Abel, one of the festival’s planners and the Durham County Library’s humanities and adult programming coordinator.
The festival has been more than a year in the making.
One of the main draws is the chance to meet award-winning and best-selling writers from the Triangle. Some of the well-known local authors at the festival include Katherine Ashe, Monica Byrne, Laura Florand, Jaki Shelton Green, Mur Lafferty, James Maxey, Mark Anthony Neal and Jessica Scott.
“There’s authors for every kind of taste,” Abel said.
The festival included a chance Saturday night to dine with some of the authors at downtown Durham restaurants.
Proceeds from the festival, including tickets to Saturday’s “buffet with authors,” will go to the Durham Library Foundation. The foundation funds several initiatives for the library, such as purchasing a new bookmobile and sponsoring author visits.
Before the dinner, the focus Saturday was on children’s writing, including a workshop on writing and publishing children’s literature.
About 50 people, including several aspiring writers, came to the Durham County Main Library to get tips from Alazar Press, a small publisher in Carrboro focused on children’s books. Alazar is known for the books it’s published by Ashley Bryan, an award-winning African-American children’s author and illustrator.
Uju Alexander, a lawyer from Durham, asked Rosemarie Gulla, Alazar’s president, what she looks for in the books submitted by prospective authors like herself. Gulla said they’re looking for “something extraordinary.”
“Something that makes me go, ‘Whoa. I didn’t see that coming,’” Gulla said. “Something extraordinary and that’s ethereal.”
Alexander said she came away inspired to continue with her writing.
Hope Wilder of Durham, a children’s program educator at Duke Gardens, came away motivated after having the chance to make personal contact with Alazar.
“I’ve wanted to write children’s books since I was a kid,” Wilder said. “I’ve got a lot of projects sitting in my drawers at home.”
War of words
While Wilder won’t be able to attend Sunday, other aspiring writers will get a chance to read their work aloud during a lightning open microphone event.
Abel said Sunday’s events will include a mixture of competition and potential humor. Local celebrities will be reading material that’s outside their comfort zone such as history professors reading romance fiction.
The festival ends Sunday night with “Writers in the Ring” at the Motorco Music Hall. For $10 admission, people can cheer and jeer at each sentence posted on a screen as authors will be given 10 minutes to write about a randomly selected topic.
Abel said organizers hope to make the festival an ongoing event that builds on the area’s love of reading.
“It’s really just trying to get everybody who cares about books and literacy in the same place,” she said.