IN SUMMER 2005, I sat across a table from a middle-aged white guy, transplanted to Savannah from Atlanta, wearing owlish eyeglasses, a seersucker suit and a bow tie.
He wanted to talk about books. Specifically, about organizing a book festival in Savannah.
“Oh brother,” I thought. “Here we go.”
That hot day, in an air-conditioned downtown office, I met Matt Prickett and his idea at the intersection of skepticism and cautious optimism. On an objective level I was excited about the prospect of a book festival here, and I said so. A one-day, free event featuring dozens of authors reading and signing books in numerous downtown venues—theoretically it sounded great.
But Prickett’s timeline seemed ridiculously short; he wanted to put together a national caliber festival out of nothing, in less than two-and-a-half years. At the time, he had no commitments from anyone—no funders, no authors, no venues, no board. Just a good idea, of which this community has seen many.
My personal suspicion towards seersucker also had me worried that Prickett was envisioning a gathering of strong-selling-yet-mediocre novelists and Confederacy-supporting historians.
So, while my mouth said things like, “It sounds terrific,” all I could hear in my head was, “Good luck with that, bow-tie guy.”
I was wrong to be so doubtful.
This weekend, the second edition of the Savannah Book Festival (SBF) will transform Telfair Square into a temporary literary hub. Not only did Prickett (SBF’s director) pull together a good event in 2008, he and the board spent last year making changes that will make the 2009 festival even better.
A sampling: consolidating all the events to Telfair Square, instead of spreading them around; increasing the number of venues from five to seven; increasing the number of authors; adding a family activities venue of singers, children’s book authors, and spoken word poets; setting up heaters in the tents; and increasing the quality, quantity and variety of food vendors.
But it’s the authors that make or break a book event, not the food vendors. For discussion’s sake I’m removing from the discussion the handful of talented writers slated for Saturday who live in Savannah.
This narrows my options but still leaves me irked at Matt Prickett for scheduling too many good writers. The nerve of him.
Jabari Asim, author of The N-Word and the former editor of the Washington Post Book World, appears first thing Saturday. He’s just released What Obama Means...for our Culture, our Politics, our Future, and was an Inauguration Day guest on The Colbert Report. Appearing at a different venue during the same time slot is Ferrol Sams, author of the classic Run With the Horsemen, one of my all-time favorite fiction writers.
Recovering meth-addict-turned-memoir writer Nic Sheff wrote much of Tweak while living in Savannah a couple of years ago. His return to Savannah to appear at the book festival coincides with Tweak’s release in paperback and its third straight week on the New York Times bestseller list for children’s paperback books (recommended for ages 14 and older.)
If I opt to hear Sheff’s midday talk, I’ll miss out on New York Times bestselling mystery writer J.A. Jance, stellar Southern essayist Julia Reed, and 2000’s Georgia Poet Laureate David Bottoms—all on my “must see” list.
To wrap up the day, I’m torn between trash-talkin’ flight-attendant-columnist Hollis Gillespie, Louisiana-phile Ken Wells (whose novels do for the bayou what Carl Hiassen does for Florida), or the Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry of Natasha Trethewey, whom I interviewed in 2008.
If I were including local writers, I’d definitely drop in on Adam Davies, a SCAD professor whose three novels have garnered him praise by Bret Easton Ellis as this decade’s answer to Bright Lights, Big City author Jay McInerney.
Saturday will be busy for me, and even more so for Matt Prickett. Even if I see him, I doubt we’ll have time to chat. So I’ll say now what I hope to pass on to him this weekend.
Good job, bow-tie guy. csFor 2008's Natasha Trethewey interview, see www.connectsavannah.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A6976. Check out interviews with other SBF writers elsewhere in this issue.