This past weekend, more than 30,000 authors and readers descended upon downtown Nashville in Legislative Plaza for the 25th annual Southern Festival of Books. With 212 sessions, three performance stages, and 325 authors speaking, the festival was a non-stop celebration of story. From the kickoff Friday at noon, to Rick Riordan’s panel drawing over 1,000 attendees late Sunday afternoon, readers came out in droves to listen to panels and attend signings. To celebrate the 25th anniversary, nine of the original authors from the first festival in 1989 - Cathie Pelletier (The One-Way Bridge), Lee Smith (Guests on Earth), Roy Blount Jr. (Alphabet Juice), Paul Clements (A Past Remembered), Alana White (The Sign of the Weeping Virgin), Bobbie Ann Mason (The Girl in the Blue Beret), John Egerton (Southern Food), Jill McCorkle (Life After Life), and Allan Gurganus (Local Souls) – gathered on the steps of Legislative Plaza.
Panels featured over the three-day festival included: In Conversation with Jon Meacham and Alison Stewart, Gals Gone Wild: Zelda Fitzgerald and Other Scandalous Women of the 20s with Therese Anne Fowler and Suzanne Rindell, The Year of Billy Miller with Kevin Henkes, and The Pulpwood Queen Presents with Kim Boykin, Michael Morris, Kathy Patrick, and Julie Catrell -- who noted she loved everything about the festival. “There is no event quite like Southern Festival of Books,” said best-selling author Julie Cantrell (Into the Free). “I’m amazed by the incredible authors they manage to bring into Nashville each year, and it’s a joy for me to attend -- both as a reader and as a writer. This year was particularly special for me because I was honored to serve on a panel with the fabulous tiara-wearing Pulpwood Queen Kathy Patrick. Add to that the opportunity to share that panel with Michael Morris and Kim Boykin, and I feel like I’ve dreamed the whole thing.”
Gorgeous weather and a slew of headliner panels – from John Lewis to Al Gore to Chuck Palahniuk – were just part of what set the tone for a joyous SoFest. Serenity Gerbman, director of literature and language programs at Humanities Tennessee, told PW, “The small staff at Humanities Tennessee worked incredibly hard all year to make the 25th annual Festival the best yet, and it was. All weekend long we heard again and again about author readings, discussions, and conversations between readers and writers that deepened the appreciation of books of all types. The Festival involves numerous community organizational partners and more than 400 volunteers. We are thankful to all who gave of their time, energy, and dollars to make the weekend such a resounding success.” Successful the 25th Southern Festival was, with the “highest ever sales totals in merchandise and books by quite wide margins.”
Perhaps Kristin O’Donnell Tubb, middle grade author and regional advisor of SCBWI, said it best. “The Southern Festival of Books showcases the power that story has to unite us. Hundreds of kids screaming for Rick Riordan like he's a rock star. A line around the block to meet Bill Bryson. An 80-something wearing a t-shirt that says, ‘I like big books and I cannot lie.’ They're all there, this huge mix of readers, all so different, but there for the same reason. It's wonderful to spend a weekend united by words.”