After nearly 20 years in operation, South Carolina’s largest literary event has been cancelled. The Humanities Council of South Carolina announced last week that it would discontinue its annual South Carolina Book Festival in order to fund smaller, statewide events.
Randy Akers, the council’s executive director, said the format change will allow the organization to have a wider reach with its literary initiatives.
“What we’re doing is taking a kind of new and fresh look at our mission, which is to provide cultural and educational activities for all South Carolinians,” he said. Noting that the council has "concentrated so much on this one, particular event," Akers said the goal now is to "try to get literary activity and programming in other parts of the state and support that as it takes place."
The book festival, which debuted in 1997, has always been held in the state's capital city, Columbia. Akers said that some residents outside the city complained that it was difficult to make the trip to the festival each year. With this, among other things, in mind, the council plans to establish a grant program that will support literary events spread throughout the state.
“We think that we’ll have a chance to continue to help readers and writers to connect, just in different ways,” Akers explained.
Of course there are those who feel the South Carolina Book Fest worked, just as it was. Jill Hendrix, owner of Fiction Addiction in Greenville, said the Columbia's central location actually made it the perfect place for the festival. “It’s not more than a two, two-and-a-half hour drive from anywhere in the state,” Hendrix noted.
Betsy Teter, executive director at the Hub City Writers Project, said she was “bummed” by the council’s decision. But she wasn’t entirely surprised, as she’s heard rumors that attendance has been down at the festival. And Hendrix, who is also the president of the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, noted that she felt the promotion of the festival could have been improved. "There wasn’t a lot of publicity outside Columbia,” she said.
According to Akers, the festival typically drew 5,000 to 6,000 attendees. Over 6,000 attended in 2014, he noted, while closer to 5,000 attended the 2015 festival, which was held May 16-17.
Teter, who is apprehensive about what will come to replace the festival, said she will take the council "at their word that they want to dispense the money.” She went on: “I’m disappointed, but very grateful for what the council has done over the last two decades. We had a lot of fun. We sold a lot of books. It’s been good.”
The decision to close the festival has also Teter and her staff in “thinking mode;" she hasn’t ruled out the possibility of starting a festival in Spartanburg, where Hub City is located.
“South Carolina does not need to get left without a book festival. Authors are looking for places to market their books and meet their audience,” she said. “This has put Hub City into some quick thinking about possibilities. We have to run the numbers first. There’s a lot of pieces to the puzzle. It’s not a decision to make without a lot of due diligence. But it would be a heck of a lot of fun.”