This past weekend Humanities Tennessee hosted the 31st annual Southern Festival of Books in Nashville. The festival featured around 50 booths of independent booksellers, book stores, writing workshops, writing societies, and more. In addition to the booths, there were sessions upon sessions throughout the three days that featured authors from across the spectrum of writing.
I spent almost my entire day on Saturday at the festival, and it was heaven to me.
I started with a session called “Coffee with Authors” which featured Alexi Zentner, author of Copperhead; Anissa Gray, author of The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls; Karen Thompson Walker, author of The Dreamers; and Taylor Jenkins Read, author of Daisy Jones & The Six. Each author read a page or two from their books, and hearing their words in their voices was a truly unique experience for me. Hearing from the authors about each other their writing experiences also gave me a sense of peace. For example, Taylor Jenkins Reid’s book features a lot of drugs, and she admitted on stage that she’s never done a drug in her life, so how was she supposed to write about them? How was she supposed to write about them like a 70s rock queen that does drugs nightly? The answer — research. Especially research that doesn’t require talking to people, like reading books! The only answer I would have to that problem as well. Alexi Zentner said what every writer says when you ask them if they love their job — writing is hard, but you have a story to tell, so you tell it. And then Anissa Gray shared that she had an entirely different story in mind when writing her book, but the story that was published was the story that needed to be heard. Everything I heard from that panel reminded me of why I love writing and reading so much, and I was so thankful in those moments that I live in a city where I get to see famous authors talk about their successes and failures to an audience of readers.
Between panels, I wandered through the booths and stumbled upon some true gems. At Kubik Fine Books, Ltd I found two books I would have loved to add to my collection, but alas, I showed some restraint. I found a 1911 beautifully illustrated edition of Peter Pan & Wendy and an early edition of Alice in Wonderland to complete my collection. Maybe one day I’ll have enough expendable income to add to my used book collection, but today is not that day. I did end up picking up two books from Parnassus signed by the authors I saw at the earlier panel, The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker and Daisy Jones & The Six by Talor Jenkins Reid.
In the afternoon, I attended a panel about memoirs with Mary Laura Philpott, author of I Miss You When I Blink, and Dani Shapiro, author of Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love. I’d seen Mary Laura at a live podcast show for Bad on Paper and have been following her on social media ever since. The whole premise of her book is that she is a recovering perfectionist, which is why I know I have to read it (I, too, am a recovering perfectionist). Dani’s book is about her experience taking a DNA test and finding out the father she grew up knowing was not her biological father. The books are vastly different in content, but each author had to write very honestly about themselves, which can sometimes be the toughest part.
Some friends joined me towards the end of the day, and we spent some time browsing through books, talking to vendors, and sharing our own favorite things about reading. Then, I went home for a long-deserved nap.
I have a lot of favorite things about Nashville, but the day I spent at the Southern Festival of Books is one I am going to hold near and dear to my heart for a while. It reminded me of how amazing this community of writers and readers is and inspired me to keep throwing myself into the things that I love, no matter the cost.