It absolutely, positively could not rain. That’s what the Georgia Literary Festival steering committee decided. Not with plans to have over 25 literary-themed vendors on the green space outside the Jaguar Student Activity Center at the Augusta University Summerville campus on Nov. 7. Not with a roster of children’s activities going on in the amphitheater, exposing patrons to the whims of Mother Nature.
Five days before the festival, not only did the forecast call for 100 percent chance of rain, it also added scattered thunderstorms to the mix.
Plans were hastily fashioned to wedge vendors into the nooks and crannies of the activity center. Children’s activities were relegated to another building, and signs were made to lead festival-goers under a breezeway, past a loading dock and into a metal service door to keep them from getting soaked.
The day of the festival arrived, and the skies were overcast but the predicted deluge never came.
Luckily there was another kind of deluge: About a thousand people streamed into the festival venue, chatting up authors, listening to their stories and buying armfuls of their books.
The festival’s first event was Georgia Hall of Fame novelist Terry Kay’s keynote address. Twenty minutes before he was due to speak, a committee member noticed there were no table and chairs set up in the Ballroom to accommodate the next panel, which featured first lady of Georgia Sandra Deal and her co-authors of the book Memories of the Mansion.
Tables and chairs were finally located but the only tablecloth available was undersized and dingy. No time to procure a proper tablecloth, but luckily Deal lived up to her casual, just-folks reputation and didn’t seem to mind one smidge.
The Georgia Literary Festival was over a year in the making; it’s the first time it has ever come to the Garden City, and many Augustans had never experienced a literary festival, making it a challenge to publicize. Also the logistics of holding a free festival featuring over 50 authors from across the state were daunting, but by festival day all the months of planning and fundraising paid off.
Kay delivered his keynote at 9 a.m. – an admittedly uncivilized hour for most on a gloomy Saturday morning – but over 150 people showed up to hear him talk about his publication journey, and how Pat Conroy coaxed him to make the switch from sports writer to novelist. Sixteen novels later, he’s still at it.
Other popular speakers included celebrity chef Nathalie Dupree, who shared Thanksgiving tips. She advised audience members to cook two turkeys – one to slice up early and the other to set out and look pretty.
Standing-room-only panels included “Augusta’s People and Places,” in which Gen. Perry Smith regaled the audience with tales of World War II hero Jimmie Dyess and Don Rhodes and Tom Mack discussed the events and people that have formed Augusta’s past.
Also well attended was New York Times-bestselling author Karen White’s lecture in which she talked about the challenges of writing with a new puppy in the house and her collaboration with two other authors for the January release of her multi-generational novel The Forgotten Room.
Aspiring writers packed the writing workshops that covered publication options, how to get an agent and how to write a young adult novel.
Did you miss the Georgia Literary Festival? No worries. Because of the success of this year’s festival, plans are in the works to make a free literary festival an annual event in Augusta. Our city has been the home of many notable authors such as Erskine Caldwell, Frank Yerby, Berry Fleming and Louise Shivers, and it’s the goal of the organizers for the literary arts to claim its spot in Augusta’s bustling arts scene.