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EVENT: Arkansas Literary Festival

Published  April 11, 2012

The Arkansas Literary Festival, April 12-15

Smirnoffs Picks and Staff Recommendations

Part of the experience of attending a first-rate literary festival is agonizing over competing events, over not being able to see and hear every terrific author.

Example: Who to choose at 11:30 a.m. this Saturday, April 14, at the Arkansas Literary Festival: Witold Rybczynski, the erudite and unpredictable author of provocative books on architecture, or David Margolick, the Vanity Fair contributor whose stunning report on two women of Little Rock is now a book?

Or Alan Huffman and Michael Rejebian (also at 11:30), who will talk about their work in politics as “opposition researchers” (the book they wrote together is called We’re With Nobody). “Opposition research” is defined as “legal [investigations] into the biographical, legal or criminal, medical, educational, financial, public and private administrative and/or voting records of the opposing candidate….” I am fascinated by this field. Tim Griffin, current U.S. Representative for Arkansas’s 2nd congressional district (and somebody I used to hang with, occasionally, in Oxford, Miss.), used to do “oppo,” as, apparently, it’s called, for a king-maker named Karl Rove. A creative imagination can imagine that oppo (a.k.a. dirt?) has, since day one and unto this day, silently but consistently “influenced” the politics of this country….

Yet again at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday: Claire Dederer. Ms. Dederer has written for disparate publications (The Nation and Vogue) and now has a bestseller called Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses. Even lunkheads like me who equate exercise with barbells should observe the pre-game antics of the great Albert Pujols. Despite the bulk and muscle, he can stretch and twist like a snake. In what field isn’t suppleness an aid?

And this is why I dote on the Arkansas Literary Festival: It harnesses books to bring us together. You can, without much capital, explore a whirlwind of subjects—yoga, mud-slinging, race, architecture—and on and on and on.

BONUS: Most Arkansas Lit. Fest. sessions take place within walking distance of one another, in downtown Little Rock, a companionable area for eating, imbibing, and shopping. (I’m addicted to the River Market Books & Gifts, which is a used bookstore in the Cox Center, which is next to the Main Library and the nearby Clinton Museum Store, as it’s officially called, which sells Bill Clinton baubles and Bill Clinton bobbleheads.)

AND: This Saturday is predicted to be both sunny (81 degrees) and stormy (occasional thunder). Reading within the confines of a snug, friendly space, with the weather ticking (or pounding!) against the building, is, I’ll remind you, extra-pleasing.

The OA at the Festival:

As part of the Arkansas Literary Festival, The Oxford American publisher/champion Warwick Sabin moderates a panel this very day at noon, one featuring UALR language greats Frank Thurmond and George H. Jensen, who will discuss their recent and respective memoirs, Before I Sleep and Some of the Words Are Theirs.

The authors’ perspective promise to be unique: Mr. Jensen, a specialist in composition theory, has studied and written about the ways in which personalities affect individual writing processes and storytelling. One of his many books, as an example, details—and offers a rhetorical analysis of—stories and anecdotes told in Alcoholics Anonymous groups.

Mr. Thurmond, a Little Rock native, has studied and taught English literature and creative writing all over the world—from Thessaloniki to Oxford—and has also worked in screenwriting and film adaptation, co-producing A Magical Myster Tour, based on Brooke Halpin’s novel of the same name.

Greil Marcus, who was slated to do a 4:00 p.m. session on Saturday (with OA editor Marc Smirnoff moderating) had to cancel due to a family emergency. (Our best wishes to you, Greil!) We will let you all know when Greil can reschedule an Arkansas visit.

And, last but not least, join us at the new Oxford American headquarters (1300 South Main Street) for a lively discussion of magazine writing! In addition to free drinks, this panel features: Heidi Julavits (co-founder of The Believer), Marco Roth (co-founder of n + 1), and OA-founder and editor Marc Smirnoff. The editors will discuss their editorial visions and offer their perspectives on good (and bad) writing and the process of turning brilliant ideas into captivating prose. Doors open at 5 p.m. on Saturday—click here for more information.

Best not miss this, folks.



Here are a few other Arkansas Literary Festival highlights from my own biased perspective. Even more, I suggest clicking here to see the whole Ark. Lit. Fest. sked.

  • Roy Blount, Jr. He is a very funny guy, yes. But he is also one of the great American prose stylists. Over and over, he delivers clean, sharp sentences. Pairing him with another earthy and excellent and funny writer—Ian Frazier!—is a choice move, as is having the intelligent Jay Jennings moderating this panel. Panel discussion: Blount & (F)razier Sharp Wit—Main Library 1st Floor, Darragh Center, 100 Rock Street, Saturday, April 14, 1:00 p.m.

That voice! Roy Blount, Jr. talks about the virtues of books with actual pages.

Here's a preview of what Ian Frazier might say about his new book Travels in Siberia.

  • Heidi Julavits. She shouldn’t be allowed to be this good and this young. Her fiction is subtle and beautiful. She is also a first-rate magazine editor. Bonus #1: She talks like a 1930s gangster. I call her “Bonnie.” Bonus #2: Paired with Lauren Groff, another too-brilliant, too-young fiction writer! Bonus #3: Moderator is young Tyrone Jaeger of Hendrix, another young writing talent. Panel discussion: The Magic of Happiness & GriefArkansas Studies Institute, Room 124, 401 President Clinton Avenue, Saturday, April 14, 10:00 a.m.
  • Kevin Brockmeier. I recommend hearing Brockmeier in public at least once a year. There are surprises in that man’s cabinet of literary curiosities that must be heard or seen to be believed. Panel discussion: Tiny Books—Arkansas Studies Institute, Room 124, 401 President Clinton Avenue, Saturday, April 14, 4:00 p.m.
  • John T. Edge. Prolific, charming, funny, thoughtful. Big heart. Knows more about Southern food than anybody on planet Earth. Beautiful (and talented) wife and kid. Women warm up to him instantly. Attire is snazzy. The worst thing I can say about him is that he has a laugh like a mule. You can hear it from two blocks away. Author session—William J. Clinton Presidential Center, Choctaw Station, 1200 President Clinton Avenue, Thursday, April 12, 6:00 p.m.



Besides my own recommendations, I’ve culled some OA staff suggestions (and damn the repetitions). Those listed are among the authors we are keen on experiencing at this weekend’s Arkansas Literary Festival, BUT there are still MANY other great people on the schedule who are not listed here! I have to emphasize that. One of the joys of a literary festival, in fact, is haphazardly being introduced to a writer you’ve never encountered before. Give in to the flow…:

  • John T. Edge: Because he might at any moment jump on top of something like a Billy goat AND he eats everything.
  • Roy Blount, Jr.: I know he’s funny. Why not have a guaranteed laugh?
  • Kevin Brockmeier: Because you can count on being mesmerized 
  • I’m excited to check out Mark McGurl’s talk on his book The Program Era, which, in its analysis of American fiction and the rise of the MFA program, might offer a sort of “wide lens” analysis of all the other panels and authors (Kevin Brockmeier, Heidi Julavits, Lauren Groff, et al) at the Lit Fest.
  • Witold Rybczynski’s “Artful Building” panel on his book The Biography of a Building and Crystal Bridges: a great combination. 
  • Mark McGurl’s refereeing the conversation about creative-writing programs—and the polarized ideologies that surround them—which is important. Because he’s not out to take sides among those who praise and those who condemn, he can tell us who’s best defending or undermining creative-writing programs (and why, and why it matters, or doesn’t).
  • Heidi Julavits: This woman writes as meaningfully and engagingly about teenage girls—listen, they are rather mysterious—as she does about why people should read (hard). I think she’s a genius and want to live in her brain. The closest I’ll come to that is attending her panel.

Here's a strange and alluring video based on Heidi Julavits's novel The Vanishers.

  • I want to experience Dave Madden because the mark of a great writer, as we’ve said around the office, is someone who can write interestingly about a chair. If the next level of that is writing masterfully about taxidermy, then yours truly will be wide-eyed in the first row, effecting the disposition of a sponge. 
  • And I’m going to Avi Steinberg’s author session because he wrote a book about being a prison librarian, and I wonder if reading and writing does actually help the country’s most disenfranchised group of people. (And, secretly, maybe I want to be a prison librarian!)
  • I don’t know Mary Monroe, but before this lit fest ends, I hope to see how she writes about spirituality without being preachy. 
  • Kevin Brockmeier speaks with the same eloquence and beauty with which he writes, and I prefer my stories the way I do my pets: live.
  • Dan Chaon, because his writing is creepy!
  • Richard Martin, author of Superfuel: Thorium, The Green Energy Source For the Future. Thorium is this amazing and abundant energy source that has been mostly ignored in the United States. What in the world is going on with thorium? I want to know!

  • David Rees’s workshop “Get to the Point,” based on his book How to Sharpen Pencils: A Practical and Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening. David Rees is very entertaining. I hope he makes us write hand-written notes to strangers.
  • Brooks Blevins: I picked up “Ghost of the Ozarks,” Blevins soon-to-be-released non-fiction book, and it’s fascinating. The research this man conducts is admirable.
  • Jake Hinkson: An intriguing film critic and crime/mystery writer, I’m curious to hear what Hinkson has to say on Film Noir and other topics.
  • Bryan Borland is the editor for a queer poetry magazine. Nickole Brown is a UALR professor as well as a poet and fiction writer. Ed Madden is an up-and-coming poet (as well as a LGBTQ activist).
  • Mary Angelino, J. Camp Brown, and Cindy King are three young, Arkansas-based poets. Brown’s got a particularly cool poem called “Diddleybow.”
  • Heidi Julavits! Who doesn’t want to meet Heidi Julavits? Anyone who loves The OA is probably also a fan of The Believer.
  • Hannah Dela Cruz Abrams: I’ve read bits of Abrams’s writing online, and so far I’m intrigued. She is about to publish a memoir about growing up in the South Pacific, which I would love to read. She is young and talented and Southern (she lives in Wilmington).
  • Kevin BrockmeierHaving read so much of his stuff in The OA, I feel like I know him already.
  • David Rees: North Carolina and comics are two of my favorite things, so of course I have to meet David Rees. His sense of humor is sharp

A little preview on what you might see at David Rees's pencil-sharpening workshop.

  • Barbara Slate: As if the woman who wrote over a hundred Archie Comics hadn’t given me enough in life already, she’s also doing a panel with David Rees, Peter Kuper, and Lila Quintero Weaver on Saturday.
  • Justin Torres & Greg Brownderville: I loved Torres’s novella and Greg Brownderville is a talented (and charming) poet.

Theres music, too! Montgomery Trucking is a country/folk outfit fronted by Bonnie Montgomery, a native Arkansan and a classically-trained opera singer by day and a honky-tonk queen by night. Do not miss this operatic-folk experience at The Arkansas Literary Festival! The group will be performing on Saturday at noon (Musician's Corner: Corner of 5th and Main, NLR). Other performances by Mark Curry, Mark Simpson, and The Salty Dogs will occur at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., and 1 p.m. respectively. 



The festival has something for sports fans, too. On Friday, April 13, Arkansans Jason Browning and Clay McKinney will discuss Pinstripe Defection, their new book detailing the discovery of nefarious baseball scouting practices and the dirty legal battle that followed. The panel starts at 6 p.m. on the first floor of the Main Library, with a reception at Big Whiskey’s at 7 p.m.


Tagged with: ark-lit-fest
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