Every year, the Southern Festival of Books attracts more than 200 authors to Nashville — as well as thousands of readers — and for a few days a few blocks near the state capital are overrun by people who read, write, and/or like to hear what writers have to say. Food trucks line the streets. Booths featuring publishers, literary journals, bookstores, and universities line the plaza; the regal, marble lobby of our magnificent downtown library fills with people crammed shoulder-to-shoulder, talking books, books, books.
The lineup of this year’s festival, held Oct. 11-13, included writers both familiar and exciting, like Al Gore, Jr., Ayana Mathis, Bill Bryson, John Lewis, Bobbie Ann Mason, Denise Kiernan, and Chuck Palahniuk. Plus hundreds of others. But in what might be seen as a manifestation of some spirit of Southern hospitality, less popular but equally hard-working writers get invited to talk, too. One might even argue that the festival seems to say, sure, come for the luminaries — but stay for that lesser-known novelist/graphic artist/science writer/poet.
This year, SciLancers came, too. We were honored to present the Science Writers’ Handbook at the festival. Sarah Webb [bio] drove up from Chattanooga, and she and I gave a short presentation (see below) and answered questions about the book, writing for a living, and science writing in particular. Our talk attracted about 20 interested people. We were thrilled – especially considering that our session, at noon on Saturday, occurred at the same time as Al Gore’s talk. We polled the audience, and while many professed curiosity or an interest in science — we had at least one Vanderbilt scientist in the crowd — just as many were interested in hearing more about how to write for a living.
As a science writer, I often end up talking craft almost exclusively with other science writers. This festival gave Sarah and me a chance to show how the book can appeal to a broad audience of writers. We highlighted Hillary‘s chapter on rejection, my chapter on loneliness, Sarah’s chapter on the diversity of science writing, and others. Kendall’s thoughts on starting a tribe and Michelle’s ruminations on envy both came up. I’ve posted our presentation below, just in case you were among the hundreds of people who, for whatever reason, chose Al Gore over us.
I know I’m running the risk of sounding like a flack for the festival, but it really is a city-wide treasure. And for those of you who write books, it is a great place to reach a wide audience. Many authors use the festival as part of a promotional tour. Next year’s festival is scheduled for Oct. 10-12, and submissions open on Jan. 1. See you in Nashville!
Logo courtesy Southern Festival of Books; pictures from the festival courtesy Sarah Webb