Kashif and Mary Anne standing

Volunteer Spotlight: Southern Festival of Books


The Southern Festival of Books is a celebration of the written word. For some, it’s also a homecoming. A return to a community unified by a shared passion for ideas and books, curiosity and conversation.

Two years ago, Kashif Graham and Mary Anne Caton volunteered at the Festival. Although they are both librarians at Vanderbilt University, they had never met before working the University’s outreach booth. For Mary Anne, the Festival had been on her ‘to do’ list since moving to Nashville three years earlier. But Kashif had only been living and working in Nashville one month. He thought this would be a great opportunity to jump in and learn about his new city.

“When I saw Mary Anne’s cool blue streak, I knew we’d be good,” Kashif said after expressing some nervousness about sitting in a booth for hours with someone he didn’t know. “Later in the day, a colleague mentioned that she was off to host a session,” he said. “We looked at each other and knew that’s what we wanted to do next year.”

The next year these newfound friends made the author reveal party at Parnassus Books a fun night out, and both signed up to be session hosts, introducing authors and moderating panel discussions at the Festival.

“Now, the Festival is a tradition,” Mary Anne added.

The Festival sparked this friendship, and with it an informal arts-cohort of friends that explore all the city has to offer.

“Everything arts and literary, you’ll find us there,” Kashif said. They don’t just enjoy the performances, lectures, or readings they attend. They make time to talk about the work from their own perspectives, to understand and challenge each other’s ideas.

Recently, they saw the documentary The Last Black Man in San Francisco. Afterwards, according to Kashif, “We had our unpacking … talking about gentrification, Mary Anne’s experience living in San Francisco. We talked about race and culture.”

“I learn a lot from talking with Kashif because we have different life experiences,” Mary Anne shared. “He has influenced how I read in addition to what I read.”

“We help each other to stay balanced,” Kashif echoed. “And if she uses a word I don’t know, we don’t have that shame thing. We trade words and we ask meanings.” Books by the 2019 Festival authors may be among those read by their new book club on campus. Mary Anne and Kashif agreed that they get each other reading outside of their comfort zone.

Looking ahead to this year’s Festival, Mary Anne said, “It’s such a treasure in Nashville. Where else are you going to find hundreds of fabulous authors over three days, for free, where you can also volunteer and meet those authors.”

For more information about the 2019 Southern Festival of Books, including volunteer registration


For Vanderbilt University’s library calendar of events


Mary Anne Caton manages programs and grants for Vanderbilt University Library, where she is also the Wikipedian-in-Residence.   A native San Franciscan, she holds an M.A. in American Material Culture from the Winterthur Program at the University of Delaware and a B.A. with honors in History from UCLA.  Prior to moving to Nashville in 2014, Mary Anne worked in New York City as Director at the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum and Gallery Manager at the American Folk Art Museum.  Mary Anne enjoys public history, farmers markets, and exploring Tennessee and neighboring states.

Kashif Andrew Graham is Outreach Librarian for Religion & Theology at Vanderbilt Divinity Library. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in English Honors Literature and Spanish Language and Literature from the City University of New York (CUNY Lehman, Bronx). He moved to Tennessee in 2014 to pursue a Master of Arts in Church Ministry from the Pentecostal Theological Seminary in Cleveland, Tennessee. While there, he worked at Lee University’s William G. Squires Library as Public Services Supervisor. In 2017, Kashif moved to Nashville where he worked at Vanderbilt Central Library as Collections Maintenance Coordinator. He also holds a Master of Arts in Information Sciences from the University of Tennessee Knoxville. As a queer person of faith, Kashif is navigating life in the South. Great bookshops, delectable food, and serendipitous antiquing are all a plus.