Thursday marks the start of this year’s Arkansas Literary Festival. Though this is the festival’s 16th year, festival coordinator Brad Mooy says the years of experience does not necessarily make the planning process any easier.
"Right at the top of my head as far as what’s been easier this year...nothing comes to mind." Mooy said. What’s been more difficult, according to Mooy, is implementing new features for the festival.
"We have a new bookseller WordsWorth Books. We’ve color coded the program with tracks to make it easier for people to digest. We did two pop-up book stores pre-festival," Mooy said. "One huge new thing that we’re doing is called the 'Maker’s Alley' on Saturday where we have at least at last count 11 makers from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m."
Other Arkansas businesses and organizations are getting involved as well, including a collaboration between the festival and some local restaurants called the "Lit Feast."
"Running from the 18 of April through the 28, we’re working in conjunction with five area restaurants and each of those restaurants will cook from [the books of] one of the four authors," Mooy said. Mooy says some of the new features of the festival would be appealing to anyone who attends, not just those who are frequent readers.
"Hopefully we’ll reach even more people. Say you have a reluctant reader who is scared of a prize-winning book or doesn’t want to read a Pulitzer Prize winning novel, or a cookbook or memoir. Then you know they can just walk around the alley and meet the makers or they can participate in the children’s costume contest," Mooy said. "They’re so many points of entry for folks of all levels." Additionally, the festival will host musicians.
"That’s another thing that Brad and his team do a really good job [with] trying to incorporate as a part of making the festival more approachable, like what he was saying, where anybody can feel like they can come to the festival even if you’re not a person who reads daily, there’s something for you to enjoy," Tameka Lee, communications director with the Central Arkansas Library System said. While everyone can enjoy the festival, Mooy says the audience the festival hopes to reach most is readers.
"For all the readers, who are our main audience, we have more than 60 authors coming from all over the country as well as some that spend at least half of their years in other countries. So we have a lot of variety for folks who actually do like to read," Mooy said. When asked about the importance of a festival like this in Little Rock, Lee says it’s special that CALS plays such a large part in it.
"A lot of book festivals and literary events like this are actually put on by non-profits and groups of volunteers that are separate from an entity like CALS. So I think that’s one of the things that’s really important is the fact that the library is involved with this," Lee said. Lee also talked about the cultural boost Little Rock receives from the festival.
"It’s one of those things that helps to make our city, our central Arkansas area, that much more cosmopolitan. I’ve been a part of different activities where there’s been so much emphasis on the culture of Little Rock and of course that culture includes art, movies, poetry and the literary festival is really like that perfect combination of all of those things," Lee said. In addition to the work CALS puts into the festival, it also relies on help from other organizations and over 80 volunteers.
"The festival would never be what it is without all of the people that have come together from sponsors, to the volunteers, to the festival committee chairs," Mooy said. "There are people who work tirelessly to get this done beyond our staff."
When asked for recommendations concerning the festival’s multiple panels, Mooy gave some sample answers depending on a reader’s possible interests.
For the non-fiction fan, Mooy steers those attendees towards the "fact track."
"One of the real highlights would be Elizabeth Eckford, one of the Little Rock Nine will be there with her memoir. Cherisse Jones-Branch and Erin Wood are on a panel about Arkansas women then and now," Mooy said. Those with children have a variety of activities to choose from.
"We have a whole day slated at the Children’s Library working in conjunction with the Junior League of Little Rock. So somebody could actually take their kid there at 9 a.m. and stay until 2:30 p.m. and see something different every hour or half hour,: Mooy said. Some of those activities include storytimes with authors, a drum circle, and a live rendition of The Emperor’s New Clothes. Children’s activities will also be available at the Main Library.
Mystery lovers also have a few panels to choose from.
"One true crime is Remembering Ella, that’s set in Arkansas and [Nita Gould has] done a lot of research and then she’s also related to the main victim so that’s kind of interesting," Mooy said. "And then I would steer you toward the two thrillers. We have Rick Campbell coming with a military thriller called Treason and then we have the two creators of the television show Smallville and they have a brand new thriller called Double Exposure,” Mooy said.
Mooy and Lee also talked about some hidden gems they personally think attendees would like.
"Something that I guess has the potential to get lost because we do have so many things is the fact that we do the "Classic in Context" every year. So that's something where we examine a book and something that's been put on film and actually people choose what they would like to see next year as the choice,” Lee said. This year, the film is Gabo and the book is One Hundred Years of Solitude. Mooy has recommendations for those interested in topics of war and peace.
"Two folks who were on the list for the National Book Award are going to be here on Thursday night. Elliot Ackerman with Dark at the Crossing and Charmaine Craig with Miss Burma and that’s going to be a bang-up panel," Mooy said. As far as peace goes, Mooy has a recommendation for that too.
"The next morning bright and early at 10 a.m. we have a session called "Peace and Prose" that features three local folks in addition to one of the festival authors that is really about mindfulness and that should be a very interesting session as well," Mooy said.
More information can be found at the CALS Literary Festival website. Paper guides to the festival can be found all at branches of the Central Arkansas Library.