Monday, February 24, 2014

Southern Voices - the Festival that Never Disappoints

The Southern Voices Festival 2014 happened this past weekend at the Hoover Public Library, Hoover, Alabama, and as usual, it was a fantastic display of not only various author's talents, but of what the Hoover Library provides its patrons. 
I want to take a moment to thank ALL of the staff of Hoover, who tirelessly pitch in and make sure it all runs smoothly.  It's a huge crew for this Festival and every one of them are warm, welcoming and constantly smiling.  I love that I see so many of the same faces each year.  In the modern world, it's wonderful to see people embracing a workplace and staying there.   I do want to give a special little shout out here to the 3 ladies that are always "on" for this event and make sure it's perfect each year - they work hard at it, but you can see the love and dedication.  Thank you Linda, Amanda and Carrie!

It was Year 22 of the Festival and it in no way appears “tired” or “worn”.  All the attendees were filled with enthusiasm, eagerly waiting for the authors to come on stage.  While waiting, they were free to wander the entire library and to not only look at the wonderful photography that Jerry Siegel has on exhibit there, but to browse the books. I nearly got myself a library card while I was there. 

As usual, the line-up was eclectic, interesting and social.  By this I mean the authors all had very interesting books in varying genres, spoke with the audience on many different subjects with nary a book reading among them, and at the same time all were warm and welcoming to anyone that came up to them.  You never had the sense they were only there to sell their copies.  It was an incredibly friendly and open event. One of the ideals of Southern Voices that I so enjoy is that they encourage the author not to speak about their books, but to speak about themselves and how they got to the place in life where they were inspired to write those books.  Those tend to be very interesting stories.

The author portion of Southern Voices began Friday night, in the beautiful Library Theatre, with the extremely poised and accomplished Ann Patchett.  She first spoke at the Festival in 1993 and is one of the few authors who have been invited back for a second time.  She speaks in a sharply witty style that cuts to the heart of the matter and keeps you enthralled the entire time.  Never does your mind wander off.  She spoke of altruism, going from her early days of working on magazines for rent money under assumed names, to becoming what she is today and her newest great adventure – Parnassus – her independent book store in Nashville.  She also reminded us that these independent stores, regardless of what they’re selling, are very important to us.  We are what keeps them all running successfully.     

Her talk was followed by a book signing upstairs in the Plaza area surrounded by scrumptious hors d'oeuvres and refreshments.    Once again, it was hard to remember you were in a library.

Saturday was a well-organized rotation of authors between the Library Theatre and the Plaza area.  Two stages were set, on a schedule that allowed everyone to see all of the authors, allowing for a larger audience than in the past.  They have tried this the last few years when the demand for tickets quickly outgrew the space Hoover has and this allows them to grow in size without moving to another venue and losing so much of the charm of the event. It works wonderfully.

I stayed at the Plaza area this time and while I thought I would enjoy the Theatre more, I soon found that the smaller area allowed a much closer view of the authors and it felt more intimate.  I may be sold on that from now on. 

The morning started with Claire Cook, who told many a fascinating tale of Hollywood movie making.  She may be one of the few authors that watched her book develop into a movie (Must Love Dogs) with good spirits and enjoyment the entire time.  She also talked about becoming a writer – sticking with it even when it seems an impossible goal.  Her final words – stay real.  Your readers will enjoy it all the more when the author stays true to themselves. 

Next up were Therese Anne Fowler and Steve Yarbrough.  Therese spoke of moving to the South, being perhaps considered an “interloper” by adopting several Southern ways and segued into her deep fascination of the story of Zelda Fitzgerald, which led to her “appropriating” Zelda's story to share it in a new light with readers.  Her goal was to bring Zelda to shine more positively to the world, and not be supported version in that she was just the burden that F. Scott carried on his shoulders.
Steve spoke of being a reverse interloper, as a native of Mississippi moving North.  He spoke of California, his feelings of loss of home there, and finding it again in a small town in Massachusetts.  He discussed how this reflects in his writing, no longer basing his books solely in the Mississippi Delta but now branching out to other locations... except California.  He then was joined on stage by his daughter, where they honored us with a few beautifully presented songs.

The next duo tore at the heartstrings.  Both Susan Gregg Gilmore and Bill Roorbach shared how their lives, and the events surrounding them at certain times, impacted their novels – both in positive and negative ways.  Some novels remind them of times they prefer to forget, and others are there when they are climbing out of those shadows and embracing life once again. After both made us tear up a bit, they then turned into a comedy team and had us in stitches laughing at the stories of how they handle the delicate world of becoming an author and also having enough food on the table at night.  They have a strong rapport together on stage and think it would be lovely should they do book tours together.

Jeffrey Small followed them with a very interesting and convoluted explanation of how neuroscience and religion joined in his latest novel to create a giant mystery that is part real science, part faith.  The amount of research that goes into his books exhausts me just thinking about it.  His crackling strong interest in his subject matter leads me to believe you would not only have an interesting book to read, you would further your education doing so.

The final author of the day was the hysterically funny and self-depreciating John Searles.  He was fully prepared, complete with powerpoint slides showing his first homemade book, his notes to self on napkins in restaurants and a particularly hurtful rejection note accidentally left in a manuscript sent back to him.  He went on to share his experiences at Cosmopolitan magazine, which really should be a book in itself.   

In conclusion, The Hoover Library offers so much to its patrons.  It’s the most giving and fully resourced library I have come across – and I have been in a LOT of libraries.  If you happen to find yourself in the Birmingham area, take a few minutes, stop in, have a bite to eat or a drink in their coffee bar (I cannot believe they allow food and drink around all these books!) and see what the other cities are missing. 

I’m already waiting for next year.

Links to the author’s pages can be found by clicking on their names below:

Pictures of the Event can be found by following this link.

** All photographs in this story are courtesy of the Hoover Public Library (originals in the link above).  Thanks Lance!**