Cover To Cover is the anchor program for GPB’s literary coverage. Cover To Cover features a collection of distinctive Southern voices interviewing Georgia writers, Southern writers, and writers dealing with the South. The GPB Southern Lit Cadre will provide you with a varied, weekly glimpse at fiction, non-fiction, history, poetry, and even the occasional ‘old school’ nod to Flannery O’Connor or William Faulkner.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Indian Clerk

Rarely do I get to interview authors who have no close connection to Georgia or the South. Cover to Cover focuses almost exclusively on authors writing in Georgia (I say “almost,” November’s guest is NOT from Georgia!), and occasionally I might interview an author not from Georgia, but writing about Georgia, for Georgia Gazette (GPB’s weekly newsmagazine, Fridays @ 3PM and Sundays @ 10AM).

Today, though, I got to interview a great author, the kind of non-Georgian author I absolutely have to make an exception for.

David Leavitt has been a favorite of mine since I don’t know when. I believe my first exposure to his work (after a fashion), was the 1991 made for TV British movie The Lost Language of Cranes which was based on the Leavitt novel of the same name.

When Leavitt published Martin Bauman; or, A Sure Thing I got to interview him for Georgia Gazette. I loved the book, which is the coming-of-age story of a young writer in New York in the 1980s who goes to work for a publishing house after graduating college, and searches for that elusive “sure thing” in both his own personal life and his professional life.

I loved Martin Bauman, partly because of the story (I was reminded of Allan Gurganus’s Plays Well with Others), but mainly because of the quality of Leavitt’s prose. He writes prose that is velvet; it is perfect and gives the impression of flowing from the author’s pen with complete ease. Martin Bauman was a pleasure to read, and David Leavitt was a pleasure to interview.

Not long after that, I came across a Leavitt book in the bargain books bin at the local branch of a nationwide bookseller. Arkansas is a collection of three novellas, the first of which, “The Term Paper Artist,” finds Leavitt again taking as his subject matter writers and the world of publishing. It’s a great work which the jacket describes thus:
In “The Term Paper Artist,” a writer named David Leavitt, hiding out at his father’s house in the aftermath of a publishing scandal, experiences literary rejuvenation when he agrees to write term papers for UCLA undergraduates in exchange for sex.
Arkansas did nothing to change my opinion of David Leavitt.

When in mid-August a review copy of Leavitt’s latest novel arrived on my desk I was beside myself with joy. His publicist followed up with an email asking if I was interested in interviewing Leavitt when he came to Atlanta on the book tour. My reply began (verbatim) “OMG yes!”

That interview was today.

His new novel is a tour de force. The Indian Clerk (I say it “clark,” the English way, but Leavitt says “clerk,” the American way…how cute!) is based on the historical story of the renowned English mathematician G.H. Hardy, perhaps the leading mathematician of his day. It’s the last years of the Edwardian era in Britain and World War I is looming.

Hardy is a don at Trinity College, Cambridge, the seat of British mathematics. He is an avowed atheist, a closeted homosexual, and a member of The Apostles, one of Cambridge’s most secret societies.

He receives a letter in the mail one day from Srinivasa Ramanujan, a clerk in the Accounting Department in the port of Madras, India. Ramanujan believes he has made significant contributions to the study of divergent series and wishes to engage Hardy’s help in getting his theorems published.

Hardy too works in this area of pure mathematics. Both he and Ramanujan are ultimately working toward proving the Holy Grail of this branch of the discipline, the Riemann hypothesis which provides a formula for determining the distribution of prime numbers. What makes Ramanujan special is that he is completely unschooled in mathematics beyond a high school level.

As Hardy works to bring the Indian clerk to Cambridge, Leavitt paints a phenomenal picture of a man (Hardy) who is at once both an iconoclast and a member of the Establishment, and a society dealing with huge changes.

The Indian Clerk is a work of incredible finesse, both of language and of research. Leavitt willingly admitted to me during today’s interview that he has never had any particular aptitude for or love of math, and yet he insinuates theorems and formulae into his prose as if he were Hardy himself.

The portrait Leavitt paints of England in the second decade of the 20th century is commendable. He writes of the privilege and eccentricity of the academic life in Cambridge with aplomb and creates vivid fictionalized versions of such historical figures as Lytton Strachey, D.H. Lawrence, Bertrand Russell, and G.E. Moore.

The Indian Clerk is a masterful piece of historical fiction (in the sense that it expertly captures a particular past time and a place), and also a thorough study of identity, whether personal, sexual, national or professional.

Once again, interviewing Leavitt was a pleasure. He is completely unassuming and yet not in the least diffident about his work. He teaches in the creative writing program at the University of Florida in Gainesville, and those are some lucky students.

He intimated that he is not currently working on a book; he’s taking a well-earned break. The Indian Clerk is his seventh novel and fourteenth book—he deserves a rest!

David Leavitt is one of this country’s finest novelists. His prose is immaculate, his imagination intriguing, and his storytelling compelling. The Indian Clerk is destined to one of this year’s best books. If it doesn’t achieve the loftiest accolades, I’ll sit down and prove the Riemann hypothesis myself!

[If you have comments or questions about this blog entry, please email me at I look forward to hearing from you.]

Monday, September 17, 2007

ARCs and Julie Cannon

Let me tell you one of the little-known things about the book business: when a new book arrives in the mail at a reviewer’s office, it’s probably not the first time the reviewer has seen the book and he or she may already have read it.
“How can that be?” I hear you ask. “If the book’s only just been published, how can someone have already read it?”
Up to six months before a book is published, publishers often send reviewers and bookstores what are known as Advance Reading Copies, or ARCs. These are essentially early versions of the final bound book; they may have a paper version of the proposed hardcover dust jacket but may also consist of uncorrected page proofs which may undergo further editing before the final printing.
ARCs give reviewers chance to read and review new books before they hit bookstores, thereby building a buzz at publication time. They also give bookstores the opportunity to evaluate forthcoming releases and order appropriately.
ARCs are not for sale, and any reviewer quoting excerpts is warned that all quotes must be checked against the bound book. However, among book collectors, ARCs or preferably signed ARCs, can command high prices (see Jessica Mulley’s article on collecting ARCs). As textual changes can be made by an author right up to the final printing date, there may be significant changes to a book between the ARC and the final bound book. ARCs can, therefore, contain an earlier version of an author’s work, a variation on the final version, and as such are eminently collectible.
I received an ARC in the mail last week and decided I wanted to write about it, but I knew I would also need to explain how I got a copy when the book doesn’t come out until December 18, 2007.
The book in question is the new novel from Watkinsville author Julie Cannon (pictured above). You may be familiar with Julie’s previous novels, Truelove and Homegrown Tomatoes, ‘Mater Biscuit, and Those Pearly Gates. She’s been on Cover to Cover twice in the past, May 2002 (Truelove and Homegrown Tomatoes) and July 2004 (‘Mater Biscuit).
Julie’s new book is The Romance Readers’ Book Club and will be published by Plume in December. The ARC jacket describes it as “a Southern tale of a teenage girl who opens a Pandora’s box of passion and guilt when she receives a cache of old paperback romances.”
"Bored with the sheltered life on the family farm in Rigby, Georgia, fifteen-year-old Tammi Lynn Elco senses things can change when she acquires a stack of forbidden romance novels. Eluding the watchful eye of her Granny Elco, Tammi forms a secret book club with two girlfriends and her eccentric Aunt Minna, reading about weak-in-the-knees passion and sharing their own stories of love and heartache.
When Rigby is seized in an economically damaging drought, local preachers are quick to proclaim sin as the reason for the devastation, forcing Tammi and her fellow book club members to come to terms with the emotions they’re feeling and the strict expectations of the community surrounding them."
The Romance Readers’ Book Club is about growing up and feeling the first stirrings of romance, but it’s also about the power that books have to shape our lives.
At the heart of all of Julie Cannon’s books there are important issues; in Truelove and Homegrown Tomatoes and ‘Mater Biscuit it was coming to terms with the loss of a beloved spouse and learning to love again. Now, in this latest book, the issue is how the written word can impact even the youngest lives.
I’m sure you’ll hear more about The Romance Readers’ Book Club and Julie Cannon in December and January. This entry is the blog equivalent of an ARC: something to whet your appetite and give you a sense of what’s coming up later this year from one of Georgia’s best contemporary romance writers.
To find out more about Julie, visit her website.
Best wishes, Julie!
[If you have comments or questions about the blog entry, please email me at I look forward to hearing from you.]

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The 2007 Georgia Literary Festival

Regular readers of this blog know that I spent last weekend at the Decatur Book Festival. While writing my blog entries at the festival, I was reminded that another great literary festival is scheduled for the end of this month.

The Georgia Literary Festival describes itself as a “moveable feast,” and since its debut in 1999 has been held in different locations around state “celebrating the state's finest writers at the locations they called home,” as the festival website proclaims.

This year’s festival will be held Friday, September 28 through Sunday, September 30 in Blue Ridge in Fannin County in the North Georgia Mountains.

The honored writer at this year's festival will be the late Appalachian poet and novelist Byron Herbert Reece, born September 14, 1917, near Dahlonega in the North Georgia Mountains. He might have celebrated his 90th birthday this month had he not committed suicide in his office at Young Harris College on June 3, 1958.

Reece (below right) was the author of four collections of poetry and two novels. Although he began to develop a reputation across America, he never really became as well-known as many believe he should have. He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his 1950 collection of poems, Bow Down in Jericho; he earned two Guggenheim awards; and he served as writer-in-residence at UCLA, Emory, and Young Harris College.

His first novel, Better a Dinner of Herbs, was published in 1950, followed in 1955 by his second, The Hawk and the Sun. More information about Reece is available on the Byron Herbert Reece Society website.

The festival will feature well-known Georgia authors such as former state Poet Laureate Bettie Sellers, Philip Lee Williams and Amy Blackmarr talking about Reece and their own work. The festival keynote address will be given Saturday morning by former Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox, who now serves as President of Young Harris College. Her address is titled “Byron Herbert Reece's Intellectual Home: Young Harris College.”

Past Georgia Literary Festivals have been held in Eatonton, Sparta, Madison, Columbus, Elberton and Macon. The festival was the idea of Dr. Glenn Eskew, a history professor at Georgia State University, who lives in Madison. He organized the first festival in Eatonton in 1999. Direction of the annual event passed to the Georgia Center for the Book in late 2003. (In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that I serve on the Advisory Board of the GCB.)

This year’s event will feature author readings and signings, children’s events, a session just for teens featuring poet Dana Wildsmith talking about “Text Messaging as Poetry,” a theater performance, the Byron Herbert Reece literary ramble, a book sale, and much more. (For a full schedule of events, see the festival website.)

The North Georgia Mountains in late September must be one of the most beautiful locations in all of Creation with the leaves on the trees refulgent in their autumnal splendor and the mountain air tinged with freshness and a hint of the winter to come. What better time or place to celebrate the glories of this state’s literary culture?

I will certainly be spending the weekend in Blue Ridge and invite you to do the same. Come share in the annual celebration of Georgia words and wordsmiths.

[If you would like to respond to this, or any other, blog entry, please email me at I look forward to hearing from you.]

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Books That Make Me Angry!

I get a lot of books mailed to me over the course of a year. Each week I fight a rarely successful battle to stop these review copies piling up in odd corners of my office. My shelves are full and so is most of the floor space around the walls. I’m soon going to have to start providing colleagues with maps of my office guiding them through the stacks of books so they can make it to the chairs in front of my desk.

Some days it’s like Christmas for me. I pick up my mail from the mailbox in the Radio office and make my way to my own office with an armful of large stiff brown envelopes containing books sent from large publishing houses in New York City. Sometimes the return addresses are a little closer to home: North Carolina, Louisiana, even Georgia. I open each package with a sense of excitement about what new book might be inside.

Oftentimes I’m underwhelmed at what I find; self-help, self-published, business—books I can do nothing with. Sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised; books that I wouldn’t consider for Cover to Cover but which I would read for my own pleasure.

Some books I receive, however, just make my angry!

I don’t mean angry that they’ve been published in the first place. No, what I mean is I pull them from the envelope and am immediately smitten and get angry because here’s another book I want to read immediately but can’t because there’s a list of others I have to read first. I curse the authors and the publishers for not consulting me before they decided when to publish this great new book. My reading schedule should determine when books are published so that, as I finish one book, another magically appears in the mail and that’s the one I need to read next.

Writers and publishers of America, take note!

I received such a book, “angry” books you might call them, the week before last. I was gearing up to write about the Decatur Book Festival, one of this state’s major book events, and knew I wouldn’t be able to get to this “angry” book for at least a week.

And what book might it be that made me angry? None other than the new novel by Terry Kay.

This is a major event in Georgia letters as Terry Kay is arguably Georgia’s greatest living writer. He has published ten novels (including this new one), a book of essays, and a children’s book; he was a 2006 inductee into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame; he won the 2004 Townsend Prize, Georgia’s highest fiction award; and he is a reader favorite all across this state and beyond.

His new novel is The Book of Marie, and, in a major departure from previous novels, is not published by a New York house but by our own Mercer University Press (which has an impressive fiction list!).

This publishing change is, in some respects, explained by the Author’s Note at the beginning of the book. Kay (pictured right with me in the Cover to Cover studio in October 2006) tells of a novel he wrote many years ago, A Prayer for Dreamers, that sought to examine “the sweep of social change in the American south from post-World War II to the mid-1990s, as reflected in the civil rights movement.”

The book contained three parts, but only the first part was published. It was called The Runaway (William Morrow, 1997). According to Kay, the publisher did not want to put out the complete story.

The Book of Marie is a major reworking of the two parts of A Prayer for Dreamers that were never published. It is not a sequel to The Runaway, but, Kay concedes, might be labeled a “follow-up.”

As I haven’t been able to read it yet, here’s what the jacket says about The Book of Marie:

In spring 1962, a young black girl named Etta Hemsley is killed at a civil rights demonstration on a university campus in Atlanta. The next day, the home of Jovita Curry, a black woman in Overton, Georgia, is burned. Both events are etched into the memory of Cole Bishop, eerily playing out the predictions of a former classmate named Marie Fitzpatrick.
Both Cole and Marie are high school seniors when they first meet in fall 1954. Cole, like his classmates, is a native-born Southerner accepting the traditions of segregation as a way of life. Marie is a recent transplant from Washington, DC, a brilliant and assertive nonconformist with bold predictions about a new world that is about to be ushered in by the force of desegregation. Included in her prophecy is a warning for Cole that will cause him to leave the South to live and teach in Vermont. The odd friendship between the two of them continues after high school in a series of tender and revealing letters.
The story revolves around the fiftieth-year reunion of the Overton High School class of 1955, rekindling for Cole memories of Etta Hemsley’s death and the unsolved mystery of the burning of Jovita Curry’s home. His return for the reunion reunites him with classmates who, over time, have accepted a guarded assimilation of the races. He is also reacquainted with two black men—Moses Elder, the town’s mayor, and Littlejohn Curry, a reclusive artist who carries the scars of the burned house, and in those encounters, he understands clearly the influence of Marie on his life.
The Book of Marie is the story of a generation—whites and blacks—who ignited the war of change. Yet, it is also as much about the power of place— the finding of home—as it is about the history of events.
A new book from Terry Kay is a reason to rejoice, and obviously I was not seriously angry when his new book came across my desk. I can’t wait to get the time to read The Book of Marie. In the meantime, I use this blog to alert you to the fact that this new book is about to hit bookstores across the state, if it hasn’t already done so.

Run, run, as fast as you can to secure your copy so that you won’t be disappointed. And once you’ve read it, let me know what you think at

Mr. Kay is in the house!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

George Singleton Replies!

Last Saturday I posted a blog entry (Decatur Book Festival – Day One Wrap) from the Decatur Book Festival in which I recounted my in vain efforts to get South Carolina author George Singleton (pictured left) to sign a copy of his new novel Work Shirts for Madmen (Harcourt, September 2007).

An ordering snafu on the part of a bookseller meant that copies of Work Shirts, which has just come out (I received my review copy in the mail last week), were not available at one of the festival venues where Mr. Singleton was scheduled to sign, despite having been available earlier in the day at another venue. When I got to the venue, Mr. Singleton had already left and my book remains unsigned.

Imagine my pleasant surprise when, on Sunday, I received an email from George Singleton who had read my blog entry from the previous day and wanted to explain what had happened. Here’s what he wrote:

Hey St. John--
I saw your comments on the blog, and I wanted to explain. My book Work Shirts for Madmen is, indeed, out. It has been for a good week. I signed 100 copies earlier in the day after the [Roy] Blount/Singleton reading. But the [bookseller] at that
Fellowship Hall…said to me, "Your book's not been published yet."
I said, "I just signed a slew of copies at noon. It's out."
[The bookseller] said, with a certain look of disdain, "Well we couldn't get it."
As it ended up, different booksellers worked different venues. […]
I hung out there for a while at the church signing old books, and trying to explain to people why my new novel wasn't there. And my blood pressure rose steadily.
So I'm sorry I missed you. […]
I'll be at the Georgia Center for the Book on Oct 2 at 7 o'clock. I'll be more than happy to sign your book. […]
All right. Again, I'm sorry we didn't cross paths.

All best--

Now, isn’t that a great email? Thank you, George, for taking the time to write and let me know what happened and how you felt. I understand your frustration.

This is so often my experience with authors, they have a genuine regard for their readers and will do all they can to satisfy them. I will certainly take George up on his offer to sign my copy of Work Shirts at the event at the Decatur Library on October 2. George is, IMHO, one of the best fiction writers in the South today.

NPR’s Morning Edition said of him “George Singleton writes about the rural South without sentimentality or stereotype but with plenty of sharp-witted humor…. A raconteur of trends, counter-trends, obsessions and odd characters.” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution called him the “unchallenged king” of the comic novel.

Singleton was raised in South Carolina and lives there still, with ceramicist Glenda Guion, eleven dogs and one cat, in Pickens County. He graduated with a degree in philosophy from Furman University and went on to receive his MFA from UNC Greensboro. He now teaches writing at the South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities.

More than one hundred of his stories and articles have been published nationally in magazines and anthologies. He has written four collections of short stories: These People Are Us; The Half-Mammals of Dixie; Why Dogs Chase Cars; and Drowning in Gruel.

His first novel, titled quite simple Novel, came out in 2005. Work Shirts for Madmen is his second novel.

Here’s what the jacket says of Work Shirts:

Renegade artist Harp Spillman is lower than a bow-legged fire ant. Because of an unhealthy relationship with the bottle, he’s ruined his reputation as one of the South’s preeminent commissioned metal sculptors. And his desperate turn to ice sculpting might’ve led to a posse of angry politicians on his trail. With the help of his sane and practical potter wife, Raylou, Harp understands that it’s time to return to the mig welder. Yes, it’s time to prove that he can complete a series of twelve-foot-high metal angels—welded completely out of hex nuts—for the city of Birmingham.
Is it pure chance that the Elbow Boys, their arms voluntarily fused so they can’t drink, show up in order to help Harp out in a variety of ways? And why did his neighbor smuggle anteaters into desolate Ember Glow?
Is it true that there’s no free will?
The Harcourt PR materials that came with my review copy describe Work Shirts as “a memorable mix of the bizarre and the hilarious…the shotgun marriage of David Sedaris and the hit show “My Name is Earl.””

Lovers of Southern fiction, and lovers of great writing will fall in love with George Singleton as they read any of his books.

If you missed George at the Decatur Book Festival, or you missed a copy of Work Shirts, you should now be able to get your hands on the book online or at your local bookstore.

Thank you George for your email and your book!

[If you have comments or questions about any of the Cover to Cover blog entries, please email me at I look forward to hearing from you.]

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Charles Frazier at the DBF

The Saturday night keynote at this year's Decatur Book Festival featured Cold Mountain author Charles Frazier talking with former Atlanta Journal Constitution book editor Teresa Weaver about his new novel Thirteen Moons.

With the publication of Cold Mountain in 1997, Frazier, who lives in the North Carolina mountains outside Asheville, became almost an overnight sensation. Now, nine years later, having won the National Book Award and seen his first novel turned into a star-studded movie, he has published his second novel.

Asked why so much time had passed between Cold Mountain and Thirteen Moons, Frazier explained that the publicity tours for CM had lasted more than two years. After that, he took a much needed year-long break before moving on to his next project.

Frazier freely admits that he doesn’t work particularly quickly. But he also didn't want his sophomore novel to be the “red headed stepchild” to Cold Mountain.

He began writing Thirteen Moons in the third person. It’s the story of Will Cooper, an orphan adopted and raised by a Cherokee elder in the North Carolina mountains in the years before the Civil War and the Trail of Tears. But as he progressed with the story, he realized that in order to make the novel move along better he needed to write it in the voice of Will.

He was asked whether he considers Thirteen Moons a love story. His reply: Partly. But its also about Will’s ability to balance the competing desires in his life and his responsibilities to the Cherokee people who raised him and are now threatened with removal. Will has to find that elusive balance between the self and one’s community.

In talking about the movie version of CM, he explained that Renee Zellweger was interested in the movie rights before the book was even published. Apparently she had seen one of the Advanced Reader’s Editions of the book, rough versions sent out to media and booksellers ahead of publication for informational and P.R. purposes.

Frazier also revealed the the movie rights for Thirteen Moons have already been snapped up.

Frazier was joined on stage by Myrtle Driver Johnson who has published a Cherokee translation of part of Thirteen Moons. This is the first time in over 175 years that an English text has been rendered into Cherokee.

Johnson, who grew up talking Cherokee and didn’t learn English until she was 6, talked about the difficulties of doing such a translation. So many English objects etc. have to be described by several words as no specific Cherokee words exist for them.

The Cherokee language is on the resurgence in North Carolina. Johnson spoke of a total immersion day care programs that have started where young children are left in an exclusively Cherokee linguistic environment during the day so they can grow up speaking their ancestral language.

Proceeds from the sale of Johnson’s Thirteen Moons translation go to support organizations promoting Cherokee language efforts.

Charles Frazier is a man of craft. He’d rather write a good book than churn out several books to capitalize on earlier success. Thirteen Moons is a worthy successor to Cold Mountain. I’m sure his next novel will appropriately complete the triumvirate.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Decatur Book Festival -- Day One Wrap

As the first day of this year's DBF draws to a close, here's my update on how things are going so far. I talked to someone here today who asked me why I was spending so much time blogging about this festival. They actually wondered whether I was on the DBF payroll! (Answer: no, absolutely not).

In its two years of life, the DBF has established itself as this state's largest book festival. There are other book festivals across the state, but this one is the largest and, IMHO, is fast becoming the most influential. The draw for nationally-recognized authors is very strong, based largely on the fact that the large New York publishing houses see the festival's impact and potential.

It's interesting to note that this festival is NOT an Atlanta festival. There have been several attempts over the years to establish an Atlanta Book Festival but none has born much fruit. So, the honor now goes to the town next door.

I took in several events this afternoon, including the Youth Poetry Slam finals that took place on the Target Children's Stage. I also went to get my copy of the new George Singleton novel signed. That was not a successful enterprise.

I arrived at the venue where Mr. Singleton and several others were due to sign copies of their books. On walking in, holding my copy of Work Shirts for Madmen (Harcourt, 2007), one of the women behind the Barnes & Noble table where the authors' works were on sale nudged her colleague and said "There's a copy of Work Shirts for Madmen."

Apparently, the book, which is available a little later this month, had not been successfully ordered for the venue and so was not there to be bought by folks or signed by Mr. Singleton. The result was that, as his book wasn't there, the author didn't want to stay around to sign only copies of his previous works and so left.

Bottom line, I missed George Singleton. Maybe if I'd been there at the beginning of the signing he might have stuck around longer as I had a copy of the elusive book. Oh well!

Tomorrow promises to be another day of many, many things to do and see. If the weather is as good as it has been today, it'll be wonderful. On my agenda for tomorrow: going to the Edmund White reading at noon; introducing the Rev. John Dorhauer and Sheldon Culver who will be speaking about their book Steeplejacking: How the Christian Right is Highjacking Mainstream Religion at 5PM; and attending the presentation of this year's Lillian Smith Award at the Decatur Library (presented by the Georgia Center for the Book on whose advisory board I serve).

Come on down tomorrow if you have the chance. Things begin at noon and go on until the Shawn Mullins concert on the Square at 7PM.

Hope to see you!

Decatur Book Festival Begins With a Bang

It's a gorgeous day here in downtown Decatur and the 2nd Annual Decatur Book Festival is off to a blazing start. Festival organizers seem very pleased with the crowds that are already here enjoying the sun, the festival marketplace, the booksellers, and the family atmosphere.

I have just come from one of the author sessions where I introduced Georgia State University creative writing professor Sheri Joseph. She read from her recently-published novel Stray (MacAdam/Cage, 2007) and then answered questions from the audience of about 30 people.

Speaking with me before the reading began, Sheri told me she'd just come back from the Hawthornden International Retreat for Writers which is held in a castle outside Edinburgh, Scotland. She's currently revising a novel she began 15 years ago and has returned to on and off since then.

In the audience to hear Sheri was Man Martin. Man is this month's Cover to Cover guest. On September 30 he'll join me in the studio to talk and take listener calls about his newly-published debut novel Days of the Endless Corvette (Carroll & Graf, 2007), "a story of true love, the mystery of life NPR website and car repair." (See my review of Days of the Endless Corvette and listen to me read an excerpt for the NPR website.)

Talking to Man after Sheri's reading, I learned that he was one of Sheri's creative writing students at GSU and Days of the Endless Corvette was the product of her novel writing class. It's a small world after all!

Well, the day is only half done and there's much more going on. Georgia poet Chelsea Rathburn (see my blog Three Women Poets from Georgia from earlier this week) is reading this afternoon, and Cold Mountain author Charles Frazier gives his keynote speech this evening on the Agnes Scott College campus.

I'll be back later with another update from this year's Decatur Book Festival. Stay tuned!

The 2nd Annual Decatur Book Festival

This year's Decatur Book Festival begins today (Saturday) on and around the Square in downtown Decatur (strangely enough). There'll be booksellers, food and drink vendors, and, of course, writers--more than 200 of them to be precise.

The first DBF was held Labor Day weekend last year. As with all debuts organizers were apprehensive about how it would all turn out; they knew they'd planned well and were bringing in some top notch authors, but they weren’t sure how the public would respond.

They needn't have worried; the festival was an overwhelming success with an estimated 50,000 people attending over the two days. Not bad at all for a start-up effort!

The festival's executive director is Daren Wang and his bona fides couldn't be more impressive.

Daren graduated from Cornell University with a degree in literature. He worked as a cultural producer for WABE-FM, the public radio station serving metro Atlanta, and was then hired as host and producer of The Spoken Word, a nationally-distributed pubradio program that featured authors reading and taking questions at bookstores and other venues all over the Southeast. Daren is also a Decatur resident.

You may remember The Spoken Word from the GPB schedule. We used to air it Sunday evenings at 8 on the weekends when there wasn't a Cover to Cover broadcast. The program ceased production last year, by which time Daren was already working for the newly-conceived DBF.

This year’s sophomore effort promises to be as exciting, if not more so, than last year. The Atlanta Journal Constitution is once again the primary sponsor bringing with it all the P.R. you can shake a stick at. Crowds this year (weather permitting, as always) are predicted to exceed 75,000. That’s great news for Decatur, great news for the festival organizers, and great news for the authors who’ll be there to read.

As the DBF website states:

“The Atlanta area—the economic and cultural center of the Southeast—has long needed and greatly deserves a successful, viable book festival. And no part of Atlanta offers a better cross-section of book lovers and experienced festival organizers than Decatur.”

The festival’s two keynote addresses, Friday and Saturday evenings, are being given by author/singer-songwriter/politician Kinky Friedman and Cold Mountain author Charles Frazier respectively. Other exceptional writers scheduled to appear include: Decatur-native Roy Blount, Jr.; recent Pulitzer Prize winner, and Emory poetry professor, Natasha Trethewey; and former Cover to Cover guests Melissa Fay Greene, Renee Dodd, Tina McElroy Ansa, Karin Gillespie, Julie Cannon, Jaclyn Weldon White, Patti Callahan Henry, Joshilyn Jackson and Rosemary Daniell.

All the fun begins 10AM Saturday morning and continues through Sunday evening. Take a look at the complete schedule on the festival website.

I will be posting updates throughout Saturday and Sunday from Decatur, so stay tuned. It promises to be a wonderful Labor Day weekend for booklovers across the state!

[Email me with comments or questions about this blog entry at I look forward to hearing from you.]