William Faulkner casts a wide shadow over the canon of classic Southern literature, but few recall his contemporary, T.S. Stribling, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1933 for his novel “The Store,” about the South’s Reconstruction era following the Civil War.
The Lost Southern Voices Festival, held April 12-13 at the Georgia Center for the Book in Decatur and the Clarkston campus of Georgia State University’s Perimeter College, strives to change that.
The festival’s origin was sparked by a conversation at the AJC Decatur Book Festival between Georgia State University faculty members Pearl McHaney, a Eudora Welty scholar and professor of Southern literature, and Andy Rogers, assistant professor of English at Perimeter College.
The professors talked about “how voices on the margins are not heard as much,” recalled McHaney, and “how history records a set of facts, but fiction and poetry record the stories of the people caught in between those historic moments.”
“We have so many fantastic writers now, but what about those others?” they wondered. “So we began to think about how to revive and bring new audiences to works that weren’t in the current canon or current circulation.”
McHaney and Rogers invited local and regional authors and scholars who shared their interest in reviving forgotten writers and works to join the dialogue, and together they launched the festival three years ago. The event comprises short lectures, Q&A discussions, book sales and a catered lunch on Saturday (April 13). Although festivals past have featured musical or theatrical performances, this year’s festival devotes a panel to visual arts instead.
“The goal is to be celebratory instead of academic,” said co-director Jennifer Colatosti, assistant English professor at Georgia State University’s Perimeter College. “We want to bring awareness of Southern literature and all of its hidden treasures not only to other writers, teachers and scholars, but to people who just love to read.”
Looking at this year’s program, there are several names, such as Zora Neale Hurston and Mark Twain, that may stretch the definition of “forgotten voices.” But Colatosti explains that the festival’s goal is also to highlight lesser-known works by well-known authors.
“We want to shed light on authors who have books that are out of print, or they were widely read and now they’re not. Or they have one or two works that are well known, but there are other works that aren’t as well known that we think we should pay attention to,” she said. “The goal is to show how much more there is to Southern literature than people realize.”
Speaking on behalf of Hurston will be her biographer Valerie Boyd, writer in residence and associate professor of journalism at the University of Georgia. Boyd’s lecture will be on Hurston’s book “Barracoon,” about former slave Cudjo Lewis, which was written in the late 1920s but wasn’t published until 2018. It will be part of a panel on Friday (April 12) called “Voices From Slavery to Escape to Incarceration” moderated by McHaney.
“This is a really exciting panel,” said McHaney. “Valerie is absolutely terrific. It’s a chance for her to bring all of her love and knowledge of Hurston to the story of ‘Barracoon,’ of Cudjo Lewis, and be able to talk to us about not just that story, but about it not being published.”
Also on the panel is “The Vain Conversation” novelist Anthony Grooms, who speaks on Terry Whitmore, author of the memoir “Memphis-Nam-Sweden: The Story of a Black Deserter,” and DaMaris Hill, who will speak about her book, “A Bound Woman Is a Dangerous Thing.”
As for Twain, he crops up on a panel on Saturday (April 13) called “Voices From Best-Selling Authors of an Earlier Time” moderated by Colatosti. Twain scholar Susan K. Harris will discuss his 1896 novel “Joan of Arc.” She’ll be joined by Courtney George, former director of the Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians at Columbus State University, who will speak about McCullers’ novel “The Member of the Wedding,” and Hank Klibanoff, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Race Beat,” who speaks on Stribling, about whom Klibanoff said via text, wrote “courageously about race.”
Other presenters and moderators include novelists Jessica Handler, Caleb Johnson and Mickey Dubrow. Other “lost voices” include poet Kenneth Irby; Appalachian fiction writer Mary Noailles Murfree, who wrote under the pen name Charles Egbert Craddock; and Albert Murray, who wrote essays, criticism and novels, among many others. The lack of familiarity around their names illustrates the point of the festival.
“There’s so much more on the landscape in Southern literature than many of us realized, myself included,” said Colatosti. “The festival teaches me as much as it does the attendees.”
April 12-13. Free; registration required. $15 lunch on Saturday (April 13); advance purchase required. 12:30-6 p.m. Friday (April 12), Georgia Center for the Book auditorium, DeKalb County Public Library, 215 Sycamore St., Decatur. 404-370-3070, ext. 2285. 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Saturday (April 13), Jim Cherry Learning Resource Center auditorium, CL building, Georgia State University, Clarkston campus, 555 N. Indian Creek Drive, Clarkston. 678-891-3200, perimeter.gsu.edu/lost-southern-voices-festival/.
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