Vanderbilt authors, works highlighted at 2023 Southern Festival of Books

by Ann Marie Deer Owens

2023 Southern Festival of Books posterVanderbilt University will be well represented at the 2023 Southern Festival of Books: A Celebration of the Written Word, where a significant number of faculty and authors with ties to the university will discuss their works Oct. 18–22. The 35th annual festival, which is free and open to the public, has moved to a new home at Bicentennial Mall State Park, the Tennessee State Museum, the Tennessee State Library and Archives and other locations around the city.

The Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities at Vanderbilt will offer a track based on the center’s theme this year, “The Place of Memory.”

“As one of the oldest literary festivals in the country, the Southern Festival of Books is itself an occasion that brings memory, history and region together,” said Elizabeth Meadows, associate director of the Warren Center. “The panels in The Place of Memory track feature authors whose work addresses the complex entanglements of memory, place and power in historical fiction, memoir, poetry and narrative nonfiction. We’re excited that the Warren Center and Vanderbilt faculty will be part of this year’s emerging festival conversations.”

In addition, seven Vanderbilt University Press authors are participating in festival discussions. VU Press and the Vanderbilt Fine Arts Gallery will co-host a booth where visitors will be able to browse discounted VU Press books and learn about the latest offerings from the press and the gallery.

The Vanderbilt-related talks include the following:

  • Joel Ebert and Erik Schelzig, co-authors of Welcome to Capitol Hill: Fifty Years of Scandal in Tennessee Politics (Vanderbilt University Press, August 2023), on Oct. 21 at 10 a.m. Ebert, assistant director of production at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics, and Schelzig, editor of the Tennessee Journal, explore the last five decades of Tennessee’s history of corruption.
  • Novelists Cheryl A. Head, Sadeqa Johnson and Etaf Rum on Oct. 21 at 10 a.m. The authors share a writing interest in questions that include “What does it mean to be a woman and a mother?” and “How do our unsolved pasts affect our present?” Sophie Bjork-James, assistant professor of anthropology, will serve as moderator.
  • Rob Curran, co-author of Journey Without End: Migration From the Global South Through the Americas (Vanderbilt University Press, November 2022), on Oct. 21 at 11:30 a.m. Curran will talk with fellow journalist Saket Soni about failed immigration policies and the stories of people directly affected by them, along with signs of hope for the future.
  • Frye Gaillard, BA’68, co-editor of A Word on Words: The Best of John Seigenthaler’s Interviews (Vanderbilt University Press, March 2023), on Oct. 21 at noon. For more than 40 years, legendary journalist John Seigenthaler interviewed authors on the public television program A Word on Words. Gaillard will reflect on the show’s iconic interactions through the years.
  • Mark Jarman, Centennial Professor of English Emeritus, on Oct. 21 at 1 p.m. Jarman will discuss his new poetry collection, Zeno’s Eternity (Paul Dry Books, January 2023). It’s inspired by the work of Greek philosopher and mathematician Zeno of Elena and paradoxes related to time and motion. Jarman’s poetry offers new ways to consider the passage of time.
  • Authors Tan Twan Eng, Jamila Minnicks and Julia Watts on Oct. 21 at 1 p.m. They have written historical novels that transport readers to different times and places, such as Appalachia when it was culturally and geographically isolated. Sheba Karim, writer-in-residence in English, will serve as moderator.
  • Drew Gilpin Faust, president emerita of Harvard University, in conversation with acclaimed author Ann Patchett on Oct. 21 at 2:30 p.m. Faust’s new memoir, Necessary Trouble: Growing Up Midcentury (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, August 2023), tells the story of how she became active in 1960s movements and forged a path of her own, becoming a historian of conflicts that helped shape the world.
  • Lisa Dordal, MDiv’05, MFA’11, writer-in-residence in English, on Oct. 21 at 3:30 p.m. In her new book, Next Time You Come Home (Black Lawrence Press, September 2023), Dordal distills letters she received from her mother into short, meditative entries. Her writing reflects upon motherhood, marriage, the beauty of the natural world, same-sex relationships and more.
  • Anders Carlson-Wee, MFA’17, and Edgar Kunz, MFA’15, on Oct. 21 at 4:30 p.m. Their discussion theme is exploring friendship and loneliness in a late capitalist world. Carlson-Wee is the author of Disease of Kings (W.W. Norton, October 2023), which is about the tender yet volatile friendship between two young scammers living off the fat of society. Kunz has written Fixer, which considers the strangeness of labor—temp jobs, squatters, the robot revolution and morethrough poetry.
  • Poets Kevin Cantwell, Denton Loving and Linda Parsons on Oct. 22 at 10 a.m. The panelists explore physical and psychological landscapes and familial relationships in their works. Didi Jackson, assistant professor of English, will serve as moderator.
  • Lorrie Moore, Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of English, on Oct. 22 at 10:30 a.m. Moore will discuss her new novel, I Am Homeless If This Is Not My Home (Knopf, June 2023). It’s described as a ghost story set in the 19th and 21st centuries, an elegiac consideration of grief, devotion, and the vanishing and persistence of all things—seen and unseen.
  • Jefferson Cowie, James G. Stahlman Professor of History, on Oct. 22 at noon. He will focus on Freedom’s Dominion: A Saga of White Resistance to Federal Power (Basic Books, November 2022), for which he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize. In describing Cowie’s work, the Pulitzer Board wrote, “A riveting history of the long-running clash between white people and federal authority, this book radically shifts our understanding of what freedom means in America.”
  • Major Jackson, professor of English and holder of the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Chair in the Humanities, on Oct. 22 at 1 p.m. He will discuss Razzle Dazzle (W.W. Norton, September 2023), which traces the evolution of Jackson’s transformative imagination and fierce music through five volumes of poetry. In addition to directing Vanderbilt’s Creative Writing program, Jackson serves as poetry editor for The Harvard Review and host of the poetry podcast The Slowdown.
  • Jerome Moore, producer and host at Nashville Public Television, on Oct. 22 at 1 p.m. He is the author of Deep Dish Conversations: Voices of Social Change in Nashville (Vanderbilt University Press, 2023), which began as an online interview series in which Nashville leaders and community members sit down over pizza to talk about the past, present and future of the city and what it means to live here.
  • Jeff Fasano, photographer and author of Americana Portrait Sessions (Vanderbilt University Press, April 2023), on Oct. 22 at 2 p.m. He wrote the first photography book to take a comprehensive view of contemporary Americana music. Fasano will discuss his book’s nearly 200 intimate portraits of Americana artists.
  • Authors Yasmine Ali, Rachel Louise Martin and Emily Strasser on Oct. 22 at 2 p.m. They will discuss gripping true stories that make Tennessee history come alive, including the secret community that helped build the atomic bomb. Dana Nelson, professor of English who holds the Nancy Perot Chair, will serve as moderator.
  • Brian Fairbanks, author of Wizards: David Duke, America’s Wildest Election, and the Rise of the Far Right (Vanderbilt University Press, October 2022), on Oct. 22 at 2:30 p.m. Fairbanks, an investigative journalist, looks at the final showdown between David Duke and Edwin Edwards in the 1991 Louisiana governor’s race and how the race led to a major shift in national politics, with the rise of the radical right and white supremacist groups.
  • Stacy Kranitz, an American photographer who works in the documentary tradition and lives in the Appalachian Mountains of East Tennessee, on Oct. 22 at 3 p.m. Carmine Grimaldi, assistant professor of cinema and media arts, will serve as moderator.

In addition, VU Press, on behalf of the Association of University Presses, will present writer Margaret Renkl with the 2023 AUPresses Stand UP Award on Oct. 21 at 1:30 p.m. Renkl, who has been a visiting writer in the Vanderbilt MFA program, is being recognized for her deep appreciation of university presses and their books, particularly as expressed in her New York Times essay “University Presses Are Keeping American Literature Alive.” The award presentation kicks off the festival session for Renkl’s new book, The Comfort of Crows: A Backyard Year.