Photo courtesy of Hoover Public Library.
Linda Andrews Southern Voices
Book-loving aficionados can hardly wait for this weekend, which marks the 22nd annual Southern Voices Festival, a winter highlight for many that takes place at Hoover Public Library.
With more than two decades of wowing sellout crowds with their slate of A-list authors and the culture of camaraderie between guests and literary superstars, event planners face an ambitious task of planning a program each year guaranteed to outdo the one before.
“We do set a very high standard for our authors, and it’s a challenge to select the best each year,” said Amanda Bonner Borden, assistant director of Hoover Public Library. “However, each year we discover new voices, new ideas and new styles of writing.”
In some cases, talent makes a second appearance, often after they’ve hit their literary stride.
“I’m especially excited this year to have Ann Patchett as our keynote speaker,” Borden said. “For one thing, Ann was a guest at our very first conference when she was relatively still unknown, as was our conference. Twenty-one years later, she’s a literary icon and our festival has established a pretty good reputation, too. It seems like we’ve come full circle.”
Patchett fans will have ample time to rub elbows with the author during the opening evening of this year’s Southern Voices Festival. On Friday, Feb. 21 at 7 p.m., guests will participate in An Evening with Ann Patchett. The intimate setting, which takes place in the Library Theatre, will feature candid insights from the keynote speaker, along with a brief question-and-answer period, followed by a more relaxed portion, which includes a book signing and reception.
The next day, guests can enjoy an all-day conference, which will take place in the Library Theatre and also throughout the Library Plaza. The conference, which lasts from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., will conclude with book sales and signings that afternoon.
The expansion of the event into the Library Plaza allows for more ticket sales and attendees.
“I think we all thought the theater would be the preferred venue for the conference in 2013, but we discovered that many people preferred the intimacy of the plaza venue,” Borden said.
Due to the success of that formula, the library has renewed the format, though all other aspects of the program format remain the same.
While Borden said it’s impossible to declare one year better than another, given the subjective tastes of all readers, she did express confidence that this year’s lineup will offer something for everyone.
“There is a perfect blend for readers: literary, horror, humor, typical southern, international intrigue, reinvention,” Borden said. “There’s no way each attendee won’t find at least one author to deeply connect with.”
Ann Patchett is a celebrated author, devoted reader and champion of literary culture. She has written nine books including The Patron Saint of Liars, State of Wonder and the Orange Prize and PEN/Faulkner Award winner Bel Canto.
In 2011, when the last of her hometown of Nashville’s bookstores closed, Patchett declared, “I have no interest in living in a city without a bookstore.” In November of that year, she opened Parnassus Books, a new refuge for the written word in the old “Athens of the South.”
Time magazine named Patchett one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2012 for her efforts on behalf of the literary community.
Bill Roorbach is the author of eight books of fiction and nonfiction, including Into Woods, Temple Stream and Big Bend, which won the Flannery O’Connor Prize and O. Henry Prize. His newest novel, Life Among Giants, begins in 1970 when a high school football star’s parents are murdered. What ensues is a plot-twisting narrative mixed with rich characterization.
Roorbach’s short fiction has appeared in Harper’s, The Atlantic and Playboy. A former cake judge on The Food Network and a former professor at Columbia University, Ohio State, Holy Cross and Colby College, he now writes full time from his home in Maine.
John Searles is an editor-at-large for Cosmopolitan, a literary commentator for the Today Show and a novelist. His most recent novel, Help for the Haunted, is the tale of an unusual family, an unspeakable tragedy and a daughter’s discovery of a dark and unexpected mystery.
Born and raised in Monroe, Conn., this son of a truck driver and stay-at-home mom is known for his early championing of books such as The Help, Water for Elephants and The Lovely Bones. His essays have appeared in the New York Times and the Washington Post. Time magazine has named Searles, who now lives in New York, as a “Person to Watch.”
Jeffrey Small is the author of two novels. His debut, the bestselling thriller The Breath of God, was hailed as “visionary fiction” by Library Journal and won the 2012 Nautilus Book Award Gold Medal for fiction. His second novel, The Jericho Deception, received similar acclaim and won the Gold Medal for Best Thriller/Suspense by the IPPY Book Awards.
In addition to his work as a novelist, Small is a popular blogger on the Huffington Post, an acclaimed speaker on religion and spirituality and holds degrees from Yale, Harvard and Oxford Universities.
Steve Yarbrough has been called “wickedly observant, funny, cynical and evocative” by John Grisham. He is the author of nine books including Safe From the Neighbors, The End of California and Prisoners of War, which was a finalist for the 2005 PEN/Faulkner Award. His latest novel, The Realm of Last Chances, makes a departure from his usual Deep South setting, creating a story of a reinvented marriage in a small Northeastern town.
Claire Cook penned her first novel in her minivan at age 45. At 50, she walked the red carpet at the Hollywood premiere of the film adaptation of her second novel, Must Love Dogs, starring Diane Lane and John Cusack. She is now the bestselling and critically acclaimed author of 10 novels, including Wallflower in Bloom and Time Flies. She is a frequent speaker at literary festivals and her books have been translated into 14 languages.
Cook has been heralded as one of the “sassiest and funniest creators of women’s fiction.” She currently divides her time between Atlanta and Boston and is hard at work turning Must Love Dogs into a five-book series.
Therese Anne Fowler
Therese Anne Fowler grew up in the Midwest, but migrated to North Carolina in 1995 to pursue a B.A. in sociology and cultural anthropology from North Carolina State University. She followed that with an MFA in creative writing, a position teaching creative writing to undergraduates, and the publication of four novels.
Her most recent book, Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, is a poignant tale of one of Alabama’s most famous women. Named to the New York Times bestsellers list and recommended by O Magazine, Publisher’s Weekly and People, Z captures both the animated and insecure side of Zelda Fitzgerald, as well as the grandeur and franticness of the Jazz Age.
Susan Gregg Gilmore
Susan Gregg Gilmore’s 2008 debut novel, Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen, was called a “stand-out coming of age novel” by NPR’s Alan Cheuse and was a Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA) 2009 Book Award Nominee.
Born in Nashville, Gilmore is a long time lover of the written word. She began her writing career as a reporter for her college paper at the University of Virginia and has worked for several newspapers including the Los Angeles Times and The Christian Science Monitor. Since the success of her first novel, she has penned two additional books including The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove and The Funeral Dress.