Southern Festival of Books 2013

One of my favorite fall events, The Southern Festival of Books, has come to another close today. I am sad to admit I was feeling sick for its 25th Annual Celebration, but going to readings and panels at the Legislative Plaza has become a cornerstone of the season a time to see familiar faces, eat out of food trucks, and take pictures of mums. I wouldn’t miss it. It took some thought, but I finally figured it up; this weekend was my fifth year at the festival.


Kate DiCamillo, a children’s writer and novelist, was the first author I met in 2009. I asked Kate if she knew Margaret Atwood.

“Not personally,” she said.

“I think you two have the same hair stylist.”

Kate laughed and said nobody had ever compared her to Margaret before. She cupped her hand around the side of her face and with a playful look lingering in her corner of her eye said, “I’m honored.”

I’ve come to realize I say equally crazy shit to authors all the time.

I remember feeling cold in 2009. I kept wishing I had brought a jacket with me instead of my mother. I didn’t look at the author line-up or plan anything beforehand; I just went. I remember 2009 as the year I dumped books all over this deep-voice author, who I found out later was Silas House (and yes, I bought one of his books after that but was too shy to ask him to sign it and yes, I’ll admit that I first read Silas out of apology, rather than interest), and as the year William Gay was sick and couldn’t attend his session.


William Gay, Photo Credit: Oxford American

I remember thinking William had seemed okay only a few months before. Later that night, I visited the Bluebird Cafe for the first time to hear Marshall Chapman play, and William wasn’t there either. I held The Long Home and Twilight against my chest and started to feel something like worry. I love going back to the plaza now and hearing strangers all around me talk about William, because when I am at the Southern Festival of Books, I can feel him there.

Today, when I drove to Nashville for the festival, I felt like aged whiskey. The parking garage was the familiar shape of a bottle. I knew which panels would have the best taste and burn the longest. I have met so many writers that the years run together. I like imagining the festival when it began in 1989 as being as beautiful and powerful as it is today, and I thank Humanities Tennessee for their dedication, and if nothing else, for putting up with us lot.


  1. D. Eaton · October 17, 2013

    I lived in Nashville for thirteen(?) years and never went to this festival. I want to know more about the supposed crazy shit you say to authors! Did you talk to Palahniuk this year?

    • Sarah Key · October 19, 2013

      Then you’ve missed out, my friend!

      I didn’t have the chance to talk with Palahniuk, but I did attend his reading, which was as bizarre as I imagined it might be. I certainly can’t knock the guy for his entertainment value.

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