A True Celebration of the Written Word
Posted On: September 21, 2021
It is twenty years since I became director of the Southern Festival of Books: A Celebration of the Written Word. These kinds of anniversaries seep into your subconscious, whether you want to feel they are significant or not. In the fall of 2001, we held a Festival in person at which the doors of War Memorial Auditorium were thrown wide open, and the throngs of people crowding in and out between sessions provided a reassuring constancy during a frightening time. Whatever else was happening, we could gather, and that helped. What a strange reality we face now, when the throngs are the danger, and the gathering not yet safe for everyone.
As we planned an in-person Festival this year, I found myself fixating upon the giant mums and the aged park benches and exact color stripes of tents on the Plaza. Those physical markers represent in my mind the community and the goodwill that is created anew each year. “We want it to feel like the Festival,” I said to people, knowing that they would know what I meant. To dismantle all of that, in a methodical series of calls and emails, was not an easy decision, and we are deeply grateful to the many friends and partners who helped us to make it.
We will gather together again in person, with every expectation that this will happen one year from now. When we do, some of the devoted patrons, volunteers, and authors who are bound up in the Festival’s story will not be with us. We cannot pretend that we haven’t been changed, whatever our role and however large or, fortunately, small our losses. Those of us who are readers filter our experiences through the lens of stories, real and fiction, that enrich our lives. We have all found solace in books. And we find solace, and will continue to do so, in community.
As I write this near the eve of our first events, I am relieved that it does feel like the Festival. There are names on the list dear to us for long friendship, and names new to us and joining us from England, Ireland, and across the United States. How we have lived through these times, and how we will look back upon them (And this day will come!) embody many of the humanities disciplines that comprise our work. As we always have, we will listen and learn. We will ask questions. We will explore challenging ideas and the experiences of others. And we will laugh. We hope that you will join us via our website, sofestofbooks.org, or by downloading the Southern Festival of Books app. It will be what it always is, a true celebration of the written word.
Serenity Gerbman , Festival Director