29th Southern Festival of Books offers excellent events

By Ron Wynn
Nashville Voice

The Southern Festival of Books: A Celebration of the Written Word celebrates its 29th anniversary this weekend, and it has become one of the nation’s finest and most diverse.

A completely free event, it brings to Nashville more than 200 of the region and nation’s finest authors in every genre from biography to fiction, mystery to romance, politics, sports, cuisine, poetry and the arts.

It’s designed to encourage reader interaction and participation. Every author either does a solo reading or participates in a panel discussion. There’s a signing in the book tent by participating authors after each event. Plus, every book discussed or spotlighted is available for sale in areas close to the event. All proceeds support the festival.

There will also be live music entertainment on multiple stages and a variety of food vendors. The 2018 Southern Festival of Books begins Friday at 12 noon. Session times are: Friday 12 noon – 5 p.m. Saturday 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Sunday 12 noon – 5 p.m.

The panels and readings are being held either at the War Memorial Plaza or the Main Public Library downtown on Church Street. A complete schedule is available at Here are a few recommendations:


Deborah G. Plant – “Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”
12 noon, Nashville Public Library (NPL) Auditorium
Plant will lead a discussion on this volume written by the acclaimed author and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston, which wasn’t in print for decades and was only recently recovered. It includes a new foreword by Alice Walker and is the story of Oluale Kossula AKA Cudjo Lewis. He was one of the last survivors of the Clotilda, the last vessel to carry kidnapped Africans into a life of bondage in the United States — 50 years after the slave trade was officially abolished. In 1927, Hurston made the first of several journeys to Africatown, near Mobile, Ala., to interview him. Kossula’s accounts of the cruelty he witnessed, including seeing the decapitated heads of his loved ones burned and traded for cash, as well as his experiences of being sold, are wrenching and riveting.

Richard Blackett, Bill Carey, Jim Jordan – “Going Deeper: New Research into American Slavery”
3 p.m. NPL Conference Room 1A
This is just as described, authoritative new research by each of these authors into the ugly phenomenon of American slavery. Not particularly enjoyable to hear or discuss, but extremely important is obliterating myths and shedding new light on something many in this country would prefer not to remember, nor accept how much impact its legacy still has in contemporary society.


David Blight – “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom”
11 a.m., NPL Banner Room
It’s hard to believe that there’s new and fresh information about the legendary 19th-century abolitionist and social justice advocate Frederick Douglass, but that’s precisely the case with David Blight’s exceptional new biography. He has uncovered new information previously available only. This is not only the first Douglass biography in over 25 years but arguably the most comprehensive and vital.

Nadine Strossen, Emily Siner – “Hate: Why We Should Resist It With Free Speech, Not Censorship (Inalienable Rights)”
2 p.m., NPL Conference Room 1A
This one is sure to be controversial. There are those who feel all speech, even that uttered by the likes of Neo-Nazis and Klan types, should be heard. Others feel letting racists and bigots have open forums not only encourages violence against their targets, but empowers the scum and dregs of society to continue spreading hatred with impunity. Both Nadine Strossen and Emily Siner have long track records of being impassioned supporters of unrestricted 1st Amendment privileges, so it will be quite interesting to see how they respond to the suggestion that there are some in our society who shouldn’t always have free access to forums.

Kiese Laymon, Rae Paris, Rochelle Riley – “”Reverberations of Racism: Memoirs of Personal Freedom, 4:30 p.m. NPL Conference Room
Distinguished writers, authors and/or journalists Kiese Laymon, Rae Paris and Rochelle Riley discuss how racism has affected their personal and professional choices and the ways in which they refuse to let it limit their goals or outlook on life.


Elliott Gorn, Christopher Schmidt – “Beyond The Flashpoint: Examining Events of the Civil Rights Movement”
12 noon, NPL Conference Room 1B
With the 50 year anniversaries of such events as the Voting Rights Act, Fair Housing Act and the death of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., there’s a lot of examination occurring regarding just how much progress this nation has made in the areas of social justice and Civil Rights. These two authors have spent years evaluating and assessing the events of the ’50s and 60s and offer some perspectives on them that will alternately enlighten and depress due to their frankness regarding national attitudes and policy emphasis.

Steve Haruch (editor) – “People Only Die of Love in Movies: Film Writing by Jim Ridley”
12 noon, NPL Special Collections Room
Jim Ridley was one of those who deserve the title “larger than life.” He rose from writer to editor during his 25 year tenure at the Nashville Scene, often turning down the opportunity to go elsewhere due to his love for the city and his family.

As a writer, he won two first-place awards in the Association of Alternative Newsmedia’s art criticism area. During his time as an editor, the Scene won more than 40 awards from that same organization, averaging about five a year. But that is only a small part of the story. Jim Ridley was beloved across the city and region, someone whose friendships transcended every social division, going across race, age, gender, religion and sexual orientation. He helped save the Belcourt from extinction by championing it in the Scene.

Sadly, he died a couple of years ago at 49. His colleague and friend Steve Haruch has compiled a great cross-section of his film writing, showing how devoted he was to cinema and how broad his tastes were, as well as his ability to convey to both knowledgeable and novice readers a love of the art form that was infectious. He’s still missed every day by those fortunate enough to call him a friend, and this book brings back a lot of wonderful memories, as this discussion no doubt also will.

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