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.
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.
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.
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…:
Here's a strange and alluring video based on Heidi Julavits's novel The Vanishers.
A little preview on what you might see at David Rees's pencil-sharpening workshop.
There’s 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.