The North Carolina Literary Festival was one of many organizations derailed by the economic crisis of 2008.
Formerly known as the N.C. Festival of the Book, it rotated between libraries at North Carolina State University, Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill starting in 1998, bringing together local and internationally renowned authors for several days of readings, signings, talks and mingling. But after the 2009 festival at UNC, it went dormant—until now.
For four days in early April, the festival returns to N.C. State with more than 100 authors from almost every major genre of fiction, nonfiction and poetry, including such luminaries as Richard Ford, Junot Díaz, Peter Straub, R.L. Stine and a host of North Carolinians including Allan Gurganus, Lee Smith, Jill McCorkle and Elizabeth Spencer.
Waiting out a new venue's construction was another reason for the long drought between festivals, according to program coordinator Jason Jefferies.
The festival will be held at the much-publicized James B. Hunt Jr. Library—which opened in January 2013 at a cost of $115 million, most of it from the state, according to the university's figures—a "library of the future" powered by advanced technology, including robots that procure books from the stacks. This makes it an apt venue for the festival's theme, "The Future of Reading," with programs exploring the new, technology-based ways we read.
Since the festival hasn't been held at N.C. State since 2004, the organizers are coming on strong with the lineup. "It's a murderer's row of talent," says Díaz. "These are just the folks I love: Marie Araña, James McBride, Kelly Starling Lyons, Lev Grossman and a pair of titans, Peter Straub and William Vollman."
Grossman, a widely published journalist whose fantasy novels find favor with the mainstream literary set, wants to engage his audience in a conversation. "When people come to a festival, I like to give them something they can't get on the page," he says. "And I'll read something from The Magician's Land, which won't be out till August, so it's a bit special—a sneak peek. It's always nice to read something when the ink is still fresh."
Díaz, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature for his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, will give a sold-out talk on "how boys are simultaneously omnipresent and invisible in our literature, and about the great challenges of male intimacy."
Díaz respects the tradition of Southern writing exemplified by many of the festival's local talents. "You know as well as I do that from the South has come some of our greatest literature," he says, "where the ideals of the American nation have been most severely compromised and also most beautifully realized. Writers have been forever wrestling with this twin legacy and with the horrors, erasures and glories that lie in between."
The schedule of the festival will be hectic for the authors, many of whom will be in town for one night only. Jefferies credits the festival's crew for keeping everything running smoothly. "They're great at getting authors to and from the airport and hotels," he says, "and downtown Raleigh venues that are donating space for [auxiliary events], like Kings, Tir Na Nog and The Oxford. When some writers found out about this kind of nontraditional programming, they extended their trips."
Jefferies hopes the festival can become an annual event that helps highlight North Carolina as a literary hub. "There are so many fantastic writers here, and we really want to showcase that," he says. "There's a real artistic revitalization going on in the Triangle with such events as SPARKcon and Hopscotch, and we want the North Carolina Literary Festival to be used in the same breath as major book festivals in places like Texas, San Francisco and New York."
The pressure won't be on Jefferies for long, though. "The next [festival is] all in Duke's hands," he says. Here's hoping we won't have to wait five years for that.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Chapter and verse"