This sentiment echoed throughout Hoover Public Library (HPL) this weekend as the library hosted eight authors, one musician and one artist for the Southern Voices Festival: a celebration of writing, music and art.
First run in 1991, Southern Voices connects writers with their readership. Like most literary conferences, writers read excerpts of their works, lead craft lectures, and engage in banter during question and answer sessions.
Such an event offers open discourse on matters, human, using the characters and issues of books as catalysts for conversation. This open forum also offers avid readers and aspiring writers a chance to ask questions and advice of professional writers.
Southern Voices, however, is unique in that a city-funded library is the sole organizer and venue for a conference of such magnitude.
Dr. Elaine Hughes, retired Montevallo literature professor, has been with Southern Voices since its inception. Hughes, then acting as liaison between the Alabama Humanities Foundation and HPL, connected writers with the festival.
“This [type of festival] is necessity of our society,” Hughes said. “We have to have a love of people who value humanities issues.”
In two decades, nearly two hundred authors have appeared at HPL’s event. Past Southern Voices guests include Ann Patchett, Billy Collins and Jill McCorkle. This year, Lisa See (Peony in Love, Shanghai Girls, Dreams of Joy) and Ron Rash (Serena, The Cove) took top billing.
During Saturday’s closing lecture, Ron Rash opened with a bold declaration: “This is the best-run festival I know.”
The logistics of such an event, if executed properly, are invisible — the scheduling, shuttling, feeding and appeasing of hundreds of festival-goers and artists. By running the show well, the show gets to shine.
And festival-goers get to enjoy the show.
Grammy-nominated acoustic guitarist Leo Kottke performed two nights to transfixed audiences, while Cuban-born artist Alexi Torres displayed works that “reconstruct iconic images that represent both classic and modern times from all branches of human development.”
Ron Rash led festival-goers through his tunnels of research. “People love to read novels,” he said, “to learn about real things.”
For the aspiring writers, author Tayori Jones (Leaving Atlanta, Silver Sparrow) gave an inspirational lecture on a writer’s need for persistency and humility. “When you dedicate yourself wholeheartedly to what you love, doors will open.”
Author Wiley Cash, whose debut novel Land More Kind Than Home was selected as a New York Times Notable Book of 2012, announced, “There’s no such thing as the South — just a bunch of little Souths” in a talk that covered snake handling and storytelling.
Cash told Weld, “This is a great conference. Libraries are great because the people here read books. All books. At other venues like bookstores, people are there because they’ve read your book.”
Author Grant Jenkins, whose A Very Simple Crime has been commissioned for a film by Academy Award-nominated director Barbet Schroeder, told the audience, “I’m going to give you something genuine,” launching into a dark and humane tale he titled “Alice Cooper and the salvation of literature.”
Afterward, Jenkins told Weld, “I met Linda [HPL Director] at another conference and ‘passed the test’ to be invited. I’m honored to be here.”
For more information on Hoover Public Library, Southern Voices or any of the festivals’ artists, visit hooverlibrary.org.