The Savannah Book Festival this past weekend—officially stretching from Brad Thor’s Wednesday night event to Sunday’s closing ceremony with Stephen King—was another success for the festival’s directors, the rest of the 115 volunteers who make the (now) five-day fest a reality, and the 38 authors in town to promote their work—including a number of authors with just-released or forthcoming books, including Dawn Baker, Tom Clavin, Patricia Cohen, Amy Hatvany, Jeffrey Deaver, Laura Harrington, Craig Johnson, Stewart O’Nan, Michael Oher, Taylor Polites and, of course, Stephen King (who has two novels set to drop in 2012).
The Tip Sheet was there, just one of the 11,000 people who turned out for this year’s events (76% over 2011's attendance). The three-day run-up to the festival’s full Saturday of free and open-to-the-pubic events included a 200-person, $65-a-head Wednesday-night dinner with Thor, a fascinating and far-reaching $10 Thursday night lecture by Steve Jobs biographer Walter Isaacson, and an uproarious free keynote from beloved Southern scribe Pat Conroy.
A Full Day
Saturday, the festival got into full swing with 38 author events in 6 venues, all located around a single tree-lined square. First thing Saturday morning, naturalist Janisse Ray, author of 2011’s Drifting Into Darien, delivered a captivating address on her childhood love of Southern writers and her initiation into their world following the publication of her 1999 bestseller Ecology of a Cracker Childhood. (One day, Barry Hannah rode up her driveway in his motorcycle to have a chat; before long, she found herself chasing an epileptic dog around his house.) She also spoke about the lifelong seed-saving project she documents in The Seed Underground: An Outlandish Revolution to Save Food, to be released in June by Chelsea Green.
Michael Oher, offensive tackle for the Baltimore Ravens, author of I Beat The Odds, and subject of Michael Lewis’s hit-book-turned-hit-movie The Blind Side, drew a standing-room-only crowd at Trinity United Methodist Church, while outside in the Telfair Square Tent cowboy hat-sporting Wyoming mystery writer Craig Johnson entertained some 300 fans with tales from the drafting of his first novel The Cold Dish. (Johnson’s consultant on the project, Sherriff Larry, made a guess about the identity of the killer following every new chapter Johnson handed him.)
Pat Conroy returned to the stage Saturday with novelist John Warley, his old Citadel buddy and author of The Moralist, out last November from Enoch’s Top Shelf. Afterward, the two signed books side-by-side, just like they did in October 2010 for Warley’s political thriller Bethesda’s Child. Meanwhile, another beloved local, Savannah lawyer Sonny Seiler, featured in John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and owner of the line of bulldogs that serve as the University of Georgia mascot, appeared with Kent Hannon of UGA’s Terry College of Business to talk about Damn Good Dogs!: The Real Story of Uga, the University of Georgia’s Bulldog Mascots.
The festival’s lone poet, Mark Jarman, mesmerized a small but dedicated crowd with readings from his latest volume, Bone Fires: New and Selected Poems, and pushed back against the notion that poetry was a largely ignored medium in today’s literary landscape. “The internet has made poetry very accessible,” he said, noting that the computer screen is an ideal vessel for the short lyric poem, and that poet Billy Collins “sells books in the hundreds of thousands.”
Brad Thor drew another big crowd at lunchtime on Saturday, and cut a charming figure at the signing table where his high-caliber smile was on full display. He also appeared early Friday morning on Good Morning Savannah, where he spoke about his process, his latest novel Full Black (just released in paperback by Pocket Books), plans for a movie featuring recurring character Scot Harvath, and his upcoming novel Black List, due in August from Atria. He told PW on Monday morning that Savannah’s was “hands down, the best book festival I have ever been to. If you want to see all the potential of what a book festival can be, you have to come to Savannah.”
That enthusiasm was echoed by New York Times reporter Patricia Cohen, author of the recently-released In Our Prime: The Invention of Middle Age (Scribner), who was making her first book festival appearance ever: “It’s my first trip to Savannah too, and it’s just been fantastic. It’s like a mini vacation. “
The Big Time
Sunday’s closing ceremony welcomed Stephen King to the Trustee’s Theater at SCAD, the 1,100-seat venue that also hosted Isaacson’s Thursday night lecture. Seats filled quickly, and several die-hard fans who weren’t able to secure one of the $10 tickets milled around outside in the desperate hope that someone would give up their spot. According to his agent, Savannah’s is the only book festival King will attend this year, lured by the call of his old friend Jack Romanos, who headed up King’s publisher Simon & Schuster before retiring to the South and joining the board of the Savannah Book Festival. Introducing King, Romanos declared that Savannah has officially “reached the big time” with this “true publishing superstar.”
And the superstar did not disappoint, pacing the stage for some 40 minutes with an extended monologue on writing and reading, with plenty of spot-on laugh lines (he charmed and spooked the crowd with an opening bit about the probability of leaving your car unlocked, and the chance that someone might crawl in there and hide), behind-the-scenes stories of his early success (an uncomfortable autograph request while in “the room where even Superman has to sit down”), his opinions on the movie version of The Shining (“Stanley Kubrick was like the coldest guy in the universe”), and, of course, the process of writing his latest bestseller, 11/22/63 (Scribner). He also treated the crowd with a preview a forthcoming novel—not his next novel, The Wind Through the Keyhole, but the one after that—which he revealed to be a long-time-in-coming sequel to 1977’s The Shining: “I always wondered what happened to that kid,” he said.