Southern Festival of Books

Southern Festival of Books

When my wife Yvonne and I were in Spain last year, we learned about the Camino de Santiago, or Way of St. James, one of the great pilgrimages of Christianity. I’ve never been on such a pilgrimage, but two weeks ago I made a trip to downtown Nashville that is as close as I’m likely to get: my annual visit to the Southern Festival of Books. 

My first visit was in 1989, just two months after Yvonne and I had moved to Nashville, when the first Southern Festival was held. Except for one time when I was out of town, I’ve been back every year since. 

This time, the traditional location at Legislative Plaza was under construction, so the festival was moved a few blocks north to the parklike Bicentennial Mall, where booths and food trucks were spread out under the trees, and sessions could be held at the Tennessee State Museum and the Tennessee State Library & Archives, handsome new structures that flank the mall.

When I arrived this year, I looked out over the scene. There were authors, editors, publishers, librarians, bookstore workers, and lots and lots of readers. A warm feeling washed over me. I thought: These are my people.  

As always, I had circled the sessions that interested me, and all of them turned out to be fascinating and thought provoking:

  • Timothy Egan’s A Fever in the Heartland: The Ku Klux Klan’s Plot to Take Over America, and the Woman Who Stopped Them
  • Ann Patchett and Lindsay Lynch with their novels Tom Lake and Do Tell
  • Randy Rayburn and Karren Pell’s Midtown Café 35th Anniversary: Stories, People, Recipes
  • Margaret Renkl’s The Comfort of Crows: A Backyard Year
  • Historian Fergus Bordewich, author of Klan War: Ulysses S. Grant and the Battle to Save Reconstruction
  • Kem Hinton on Tennessee’s Bicentennial Mall, a book of photos and essays about the very place where we sat, which Hinton and his colleagues had designed

In between sessions, I wandered over to the music stage and listened to the blues while I munched on a doner kebab, then sipped a milkshake from the Elliston Place Soda Shop. 

It may not have been the Camino de Santiago, but for me it was heaven.


Blog: Music