What: The Celebration of Southern Literature
When: Thursday-Saturday, April 18-20
Where: Tivoli Theatre
Admission: $100 for all three days, $30 for students; one-day admission is $50; Saturday luncheon is $35.
Former Arts & Education Council also recoins Conference on Southern Literature to better reflect its mission of celebrating Southern writers and readers
In a move designed to bring more focus on celebrating Southern literature, the Arts & Education Council is changing the names of both its organization and its signature event.
The organization is now called the Southern Lit Alliance and the Conference on Southern Literature is being renamed the Celebration of Southern Literature, according to Executive Director Susan Robinson.
"This better reflects our mission, which is celebrating Southern writers and readers through community education and innovative literary arts experiences," she says.
The biennial celebration is scheduled for April 18-20 and will feature about 44 Southern writers who will participate in readings, panel discussions and meet-and-greet opportunities with readers.
Alliance board President Jane Berz says having "conference" in the name gave the event a cerebral or academic tone that kept some people from coming. Some would-be attendees, she says, believed they had to be an author or in the writing business to attend. Neither is true.
"Whether you know or even like the authors, people should come because it is a fun opportunity to meet these writers and to discover new favorites," she says.
The authors themselves enjoy the camaraderie, the chance to meet fans and the opportunity to discover new works.
"Without forgetting that Southern writing is primarily a thing to be read," says author Roy Blount Jr., "I will say that a lot of Southern writers catching up with one another in person is highly entertaining. And although you can never catch up with Southern literature, I always come home with several more books on my list to read."
Along with Blount, a regular and popular attendee of the event, other notable authors coming this year are Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey, playwright Katori Hall ("The Mountaintop," "Remembrance"), Arthur Golden (son of Chattanooga's Ruth Holm-berg and author of "Memoirs of a Geisha"), author/editor and University of Tennessee professor Allen Wier ("Tehano," "Blanco") and Richard Bausch ( "Take Me Back," "Spirits and Other Stories").
In addition, 10 authors who have been honored for their work in 2013 by the Fellowship of Southern Writers, which partners with the Southern Lit Alliance, are also on the program.
The Celebration itself will take place at the Tivoli Theatre, with a separate ticketed pre-celebration featuring discussions on short stories, poetry and character development taking place at the Chattanooga Public Library the morning of April 18.
Later that night, author, poet and musician Marshall Chapman will be joined by singer/songwriter Matraca Berg and authors Jill McCorkle and Lee Smith for a special musical presentation called "The Voices Behind 'Good Ol' Girls'." Smith and McCorkle wrote the story for the "Good Ol' Girls" musical, and Berg and Chapman wrote the music.
"We are very excited about this," Robinson says. "This is something new for us."
The Arts & Education Council was formed in 1952 as the Adult Education Council. It was one of 12 such organizations created around the country through a Ford Foundation grant and is the only one still around.
It held its first Conference on Southern Literature in 1981, then changed its name to Arts & Education Council in 1983.
Over the years, the AEC has produced events and programs such as the Chattanooga Festival of Writers, Culture Fest, TheatreExpress, the Back Row Film Series, Independent Film Series and current affairs television programs "Point of View" and "First View," in addition to the literature conference and the related school literacy outreach program.
It will discontinue the film festivals, according to Robinson, but will host events involving films that are related to Southern literature. She says film studios in the past were willing and able to secure weeklong runs of certain films, but that is no longer the case.
"The film industry is changing, and it's just not possible anymore," she says.