Having dinner with William Faulkner or tea with Margaret Mitchell might be unrealistic, but running into a prominent Southern writer in Chattanooga last weekend was not far-fetched at all. Chattanooga buzzed with writers and literary enthusiasts on April 16 – 18 due to the Celebration of Southern Literature. Held by the Southern Literature Alliance, this event takes place biennially in April. The celebration includes panels and workshops from authors who are “heavyweights of every corner of the literary world,” as Nooga.com reported. The event also includes other fun events such as a makeshift bookstore with books from attending authors and a community-wide writing scavenger hunt.
Nooga.com reported that the main event was at the Tivoli theatre downtown, with other conference activities branching out to other venues such as the new UTC library, the Chattanooga Public Library, Bessie Smith Cultural Center, and so on. Tickets were $50 for access to events at Tivoli during the day, with additional fees for workshops during the pre-celebration, special dinners with various authors, and other festivities.
Noteworthy workshops, according to the event schedule on southernlitalliance.org, included “Writing Humorous Poems & Prose” by Andrew Hudgins and Jill McCorkle, “Incorporating Real People into Fiction” by Allan Gurganus and Robert Morgan, and “Waxing Poetic: Constructing Poetry” by Kate Daniels and Rodney Jones, all of which happened during the pre-celebration on the 16th. A prominent workshop by Pulitzer Prize winner Marsha Norman (‘night, Mother) was canceled due to Ms. Norman’s health.
Panels included “Books to Film: Their Role in the Southern Experience” moderated by Chattanooga Film Festival Director Chris Dortch, “Women of the Southern Wild: Enduring Female Characters in Southern Literature & Drama” moderated by Jayne Ann Phillips, and other equally riveting topics. Readings from Fellowship of Southern Writers and Fellowship Award Winners also enlivened the schedule.
Rhett Reeves, program director of the Southern Lit Alliance, said to Nooga.com, “A lot of what we’re doing this year is removing the stage. In the past, it’s been just the Tivoli programming—watching writers read and listen to them talk on interesting subjects—but with other events, we allow people to mingle and have cocktails with them. The point is for you to build a relationship with a writer you admire." The committee is doing this by scheduling “a number of mixers and social events,” Nooga.com reported.
An ongoing citywide scavenger hunt was launched at the conference. Tiny notebooks were dispersed throughout the city, and writers in Chattanooga could locate the journals through Twitter and Instagram with the #StoryDropCHA hashtag. If a participant found a notebook, the idea is for them to add a single page to the story. “We’re hoping that one of our writers will start the first page of the journal,” said Reeves. “Hopefully, it will turn into a community-wide writing project.”
Bill Skowronnek, who is leading the idea of StoryDropCHA locally after the Story Drop Atlanta in 2014, said that Chattanooga is a great place for the scavenger hunt to work. “Chattanooga, in my mind, is a city that is progressive and embraces this unique kind of art and unique way of the city of expressing itself,” said Skowronnek in Nooga.com. “We’ll probably start with two or three notebooks at different coffee shops, restaurants, etc.”
Whether or not you missed the conference, on your next coffee shop study session, a couple notebooks might still be around for you to add to the story.