On Saturday, March 3, Augusta will take a bold step into the literary arena. Augusta will join the ranks of other major cities in the surrounding area such as Columbia, Savannah and Atlanta. Augusta will play host to the first Augusta Literary Festival at the main branch of the East Central Georgia Regional Library.
This event will feature 50 authors, all vying for your literary attention. The festival will feature book discussions, poetry, theatrical skits and giveaways for the book-buying public. All genres will be represented. There will be a diverse collection of local literary talent under one roof.
OK, now is the time for someone to pinch me and wake me up from this dream. Let me repeat: Augusta will play host to this literary festival.
For people who have inhabited Augusta their whole lives, a few red flags may have already popped in your head:
• Is Augusta big enough for this particular kind of literary festival?
• Is Augusta a literary town?
• How does having this annual festival benefit the city of Augusta?
AUGUSTA IS THE second-largest city and metro area in Georgia. The largest city and metro area, Atlanta; Georgia’s third-largest city, Columbus; and the third-largest metro area, Savannah, all have played host to book festivals. Augusta has a surrounding metro area of about 557,000 people. This puts the CSRA in the top 100 of all metro areas in the United States. With the boom in Columbia County and North Augusta, we can look for this area to continue to grow.
Places such as Baltimore, Savannah and Oxford, Miss., are known as literary towns. They either contain the birthplaces or residencies of famous authors (Edgar Allan Poe, William Faulkner, John Grisham, etc.) or they are the settings of famous books (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil).
Guess what: Augusta
has both of these designations. Augusta is the birthplace of the world-renowned literary giant Frank Yerby, and also the setting of one of the world’s most influential literary classics – Tobacco Road, by Erskine Caldwell.
Frank Yerby is the first African-American to become a millionaire from his writings, as well as the first African-American to get Hollywood to make one of his books into a movie (The Foxes of Harrow). Many of Yerby’s works are intellectually advanced historical novels, which required painstaking research. Hopefully the Augusta Literary Festival will be able to expose more people to Yerby and his pioneering achievements.
The Tobacco Road that most locals know seems a far cry from the setting of Erskine Caldwell’s 1932 novel. Set in the rural CSRA, Tobacco Road showed the horrors of the Great Depression. Caldwell’s novel was further popularized by a successful play on Broadway, which ran for eight years, and a heavily altered comedic movie. (Speaking of plays, the Blue Bistro Theater Company will be performing literarily-inspired skits based on the works of playwright August Wilson.)
Besides those two important connections to literature, Augusta now has a state-of-the-art, three-story library. This library has enough space to accommodate authors and book-buying patrons. Augusta’s library stacks up with about any city of its size.
As mentioned earlier, surrounding areas such as Columbia, Atlanta and Savannah have book festivals. Is the market already saturated? Not quite, because this literary festival will be different.
THE FIRST GLARING
difference is that the Augusta Literary Festival is free for both authors
and patrons. This is not an event designed to fleece the flock. The goal is for the local economy of Augusta to take precedence over organizers raking in big bucks. This is an event designed not only to bring the artistic community of Augusta together but the whole community.
In addition, the Augusta Literary Festival gives local authors a premier event to showcase their talents, as well as provide a central location for the CSRA to see what is going on in the local literary scene. Sure, authors have book-signings all the time, but it’s hard to attend them all. Now you have an event where you can catch 50 authors under one roof, and possibly catch up on the ones whom you did not yet get to support.
Is Augusta ready to become a cool and cultured city? There is only one way to find out – by pushing the envelope and creating events that Augusta is not known for. If the support is there, the next Augusta Literary Festival may be able to snag a big-name author to anchor the event. Please support the arts, local economy, the city of Augusta and, most importantly, the future.
(The writer is an author and a social studies teacher at John M. Tutt Middle School in Augusta.)