Festival ‘Borders and Belonging’ Sessions Announced

Southern Festival of Books:

Poster art for the 2019 Festival by Nashville artist Rachel Briggs.

A Celebration of the Written Word   

“Borders and Belonging”     

Borders — real and imagined — are reminders that we all have notions of belonging in particular places and particular times. Fences and gates surround our properties and neighborhoods; walls mark our territories. Whether they are meant to keep us inside and encourage feelings of safety or enforce captivity, or whether they intend to keep others outside and discourage or prohibit entry to specific spaces, borders often mark the boundaries for which we mean to determine who belongs in and who belongs out.

This year, in partnership with the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities at Vanderbilt University and PEN America, the Southern Festival of Books presents a special track of sessions, “Borders and Belonging,” inspired by the current climate around physical borders and questions about social inclusion and exclusion that have deep historical roots. Comprised of novels, essays, poetry, travelogue, regional and continental history, these sessions promise to challenge our notions of how we define “belonging” and our perceptions of the meanings of “borders,” both currently and throughout our history.

Presented by:







Friday, Oct. 11

1:00-2:00 pm, NPL  Auditorium

My Year of Rest and Relaxation

Ottessa Moshfegh

Ottessa Moshfegh is a fiction writer from New England. Her first book, McGlue, a novella, won the Fence Modern Prize in Prose and the Believer Book Award. She is also the author of the short story collection, Homesick for Another World. Her stories have been published in The Paris Review, The New Yorker, and Granta, and have earned her a Pushcart Prize, an O. Henry Award, the Plimpton Discovery Prize, and a grant from The National Endowment for the Arts. Eileen, her first novel, was shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Man Booker Prize, and won the PEN/Hemingway Award for debut fiction; My Year of Rest and Relaxation, her second novel, was a New York Times bestseller.  My Year of Rest and Relaxation: A Novel


Friday, Oct. 11

3:00-4:00 pm NPL Special Collections Room

A Fortune for Your Disaster

Hanif Abdurriqab

Hanif Abdurraqib is a poet, essayist. and cultural critic from Columbus, Ohio. His first poetry collection, The Crown Ain’t Worth Much, was named a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book Prize and was nominated for a Hurston-Wright Legacy Award. His collection of essays, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, was named a best book of 2017 by Buzzfeed, Esquire, NPR, Oprah Magazine, and Pitchfork, among others. His most recent book, a New York Times bestseller, is Go Ahead in the Rain, a biography of A Tribe Called Quest. A Fortune for Your Disaster


Saturday, Oct. 12

11:30am-12:30 pm, NPL  Auditorium

A Beginner’s Guide to Japan: Observations and Provocations

Pico Iyer in conversation with Emily Siner 

Pico Iyer is the author of eight works of nonfiction and two novels. A writer for Time since 1982, he is a frequent contributor to The New York Times, Harper’s, The New York Review of Books, the Los Angeles Times, the Financial Times, and many other magazines and newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic and Pacific. He splits his time between Nara, Japan, and the United States.  A Beginner’s Guide to Japan: Observations and Provocations


Saturday, October 12

12:00-1:00 pm, NPL  Room 1B

A Good Provider is One Who Leaves: One Family and Migration in the 21st Century

Jason DeParle 

Jason DeParle, an Emerson Fellow at New America, is a reporter for The New York Times and has written extensively about poverty and immigration. His book, American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation’s Drive to End Welfare was a New York Times Notable Book and won the Helen Bernstein Award from the New York City Library. He is a recipient of the George Polk Award and is a two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.  A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves: One Family and Migration in the 21st Century


Saturday, Oct. 12

1:00-2:00 pm NPL Room 1B

Shared History: Americans of Hispanic and African Descent

Carrie Gibson, Christina Proenza-Coles

Carrie Gibson is the author of the acclaimed Empire’s Crossroads: A History of the Caribbean From Columbus to the Present Day. She received a Ph.D. from Cambridge University, focusing on the Spanish Caribbean in the era of the Haitian Revolution, and has worked as a journalist for the Guardian and contributed to other publications, as well as the BBC. She has done research across Mexico, the West Indies, and the United States. She lives in London. El Norte: The Epic and Forgotten Story of Hispanic North America

Christina Proenza-Coles holds a dual doctorate in sociology and history from the New School for Social Research. She has been a lifelong student of American culture and history in Miami, New York, Havana, and Charlottesville as well as an assistant professor of the Atlantic World/African Diaspora at Virginia State University from 2004 to 2011. Her ancestors include Daughters of the American Revolution, Portuguese conversos, Cuban pirates, a Confederate sergeant, and a governor of Alabama.  American Founders: How People of African Descent Established Freedom in the New World


Saturday, Oct. 12

2:00-3:00pm NPL Conference Room 1B 

On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Journey

Paul Theroux

Paul Theroux is the author of many highly acclaimed books. His novels include The Lower River and The Mosquito Coast, and his renowned travel books include Ghost Train to the Eastern Star and Dark Star Safari. He lives in Hawaii and Cape Cod. On the Plane of Snakes: A Mexican Journey


Saturday, Oct. 12

2:00-3:00 pm NPL  Special Collections

Youth Out Loud: YA Novels

Helene Dunbar, Julia Watts

Helene Dunbar is the author of several novels for young adults including These Gentle Wounds, What Remains, and Boomerang. Over the years, she’s worked as a drama critic, journalist, and marketing manager, and has written on topics as diverse as Irish music, court cases, and theater. She lives in Nashville with her husband and daughter. We Are Lost and Found 

Julia Watts has written thirteen novels for adults and young adults, most of which explore the lives of LGBT people in rural and small town Appalachia. Her novel Finding H.F. won the 2002 Lambda Literary Award in the Children’s/Young Adult category. A novel for adults, The Kind of Girl I Am, was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award in the Women’s Fiction category, and her 2013 young adult novel Secret City was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award and a winner of a Golden Crown Literary Award.  Quiver: A Novel


Saturday, Oct. 12

3:00-4:00 pm NPL  Room 1B

How We Fight for Our Lives: A Memoir 

Saeed Jones

Saeed Jones is the author of Prelude to Bruise, winner of the 2015 PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry and the 2015 Stonewall Book Award/Barbara Gittings Literature Award. The poetry collection was also a finalist for the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award, as well as awards from Lambda Literary and the Publishing Triangle in 2015. Jones is a co-host of BuzzFeed’s morning show, AM to DM, and previously served as BuzzFeed’s LGBT editor and Culture editor. Jones was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and grew up in Lewisville, Texas. He earned a BA at Western Kentucky University and an MFA at Rutgers University-Newark. He lives in New York City and tweets @TheFerocity.  How We Fight for Our Lives: A Memoir


Sunday, Oct. 13

12:00-1:00 pm, NPL Room 1A

My Country Tis of Me: Two Memoirs

Kendra Allen, Jennine Capó Crucet

Kendra Allen was born and raised in Dallas, Texas, and is currently an MFA candidate at the University of Alabama. Her work has been published in Brevity, December Magazine, and the Rumpus. When You Learn the Alphabet 

Jennine Capó Crucet is the author of two previous books and is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times. Her novel, Make Your Home Among Strangers, was a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice book, the winner of the 2016 International Latino Book Award, and was cited as the best book of the year by NBC Latino, the Guardian, and the Miami Herald; it has been adopted as an all-campus read at over twenty-five American universities. Her short stories have been honored with the Iowa Short Fiction Award, an O. Henry Prize, and other awards. Raised in Miami, Florida, she is an associate professor in the Department of English and the Institute for Ethnic Studies at the University of Nebraska. My Time Among the Whites: Notes from an Unfinished Education


Sunday, October 13

12:00-1:00 pm NPL Commons Room

Know Thyself: Finding Identity Through Memoir and Poetry 

Thuy Rocco, Esteban Rodriguez

Thuy Rocco is a storyteller, activist, martial artist, cuisinier, life-long learner, and teacher. She practices martial arts and loves teaching the young and old how to kick and punch (including her husband and son). The Last Surviving Child: A Memoir

Esteban Rodriguez received his MFA from the University of Texas-Pan American. His poetry has appeared in various publications, including The Gettysburg Review, New England Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Water~Stone Review, Washington Square Review, and Puerto del Sol. A native of the Rio Grande Valley, he currently lives with his family and teaches in Austin, Texas.  Dusk and Dust: Poems


Sunday, October 13

2:00-3:00 pm NPL Conference Room 3

Coming of Age at the End of An Empire: Novels for Young Readers

Kasper Kramer, Katia Raina

Kasper Kramer is an author and English professor in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She has a master’s degree in creative writing and once upon a time lived in Japan, where she taught at an international school. When she’s not curled up with a book, Kramer loves researching lost fairy tales, playing video games, and fostering kittens. The Story that Cannot Be Told: A Novel

Katia Raina emigrated from Russia at the age of almost sixteen. A former journalist and currently a middle school English teacher in Washington, D.C., she has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives with her family just outside of D.C., and still believes in magic. Castle of Concrete: A Novel


Sunday, October 13

3:30-4:30 pm, NPL  Teen Center

Migration Narratives: New Fiction and Nashville Stories

Melissa Rivero, Keitlyn Alcantara, Berenice Oliva, Zulfat Suara

Melissa Rivero was born in Lima, Peru, and raised in Brooklyn. Undocumented for most of her childhood, Rivero became a US citizen in her early twenties. Her writing has taken her to the VONA/Voices Workshops, Bread Loaf, and the Norman Mailer Writers Colony. In 2015, Melissa was an Emerging Writers Fellow at the Center for Fiction. She is a graduate of NYU and Brooklyn Law School, and currently works on the legal team of a startup. She still lives in Brooklyn, with her husband, two sons, and their rescue dog. The Affairs of the Falcóns: A Novel

Keitlyn Alcantara is an Anthropology Doctoral Candidate at Vanderbilt University.  As an anthropological bioarchaeologist, she studies the ways ancient bodies were shaped by social, political and economic structures. Her current project focuses on how food traditions can be sites of community care and resistance. While her research focuses on an ancient Mexican population that resisted the Aztec Empire, she has used what she learned about ancient community foodways to form the public scholarship program Saz n Nashville (www.sazonnashville.com)a series of cooking workships with middle school-aged Latinx immigrant communities in Nashville.  

Berenice Oliva is a student at Trevecca Nazerene University, studying social work. She has served as an intern in the office of Congressman Jim Cooper, and is an Oasis Board of Directors Youth Representative. 

Sulfat Zuara is the first Muslim elected to the Metro Nashville City Council. Suara is a Certified Public Accountant and works as the Assistant Controller at Meharry Medical College. She emigrated from Nigeria in 1993 and moved to Nashville in 1998 after her husband was accepted to a fellowship program at Vanderbilt.