Special to Atmore News
Organizers of the 2020 Monroeville Literary Festival know they were fortunate to present the annual spring event less than two weeks before the coronavirus pandemic descended on the U.S. And although the country is still under protocols meant to reduce exposure, their message to enthusiasts throughout the Southeast is clear.
Whether virtual, in-person or a combination of the two, the show will go on in 2021.
“We feel it’s important to make sure the festival continues to happen, no matter which format it occurs in,” said Alisha Linam, Director of the Monroeville Literary Festival and Coastal Alabama Community College’s Alabama Center for Literary Arts. “This is a 24-year-old event and we must continue.”
Until 2019, the event was known as the Alabama Writers Symposium. And in its first year as the Monroeville Literary Festival, attendance increased by 40 percent, thanks in part to rebranding efforts and the presentation of a host of well-known authors, Linam said. That included Sean Dietrich — known by the nom de plume Sean of the South — who closed the festival with a performance of his signature humorous, and poignant, songs.
Dietrich’s concert was the result of a programming evolution meant to transform an academic conference into a community festival, according to Linam.
“We’re hoping to show that we’re inviting authors whose books you may pick up at Barnes and Noble, or in the airport, or on your way down to the beach,” she said. “Writers may also be songwriters, or even podcast writers. We’re trying to reflect the literary interests of all people of this area.”
The lineup for 2021 already looks to be on-par with those of previous years, albeit with more bookings to come as schedules are ironed out due to concerns over Covid-19. The headliners confirmed for the next festival are New York Times bestselling novelist Joshilyn Jackson and Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalists Chip Brantley and Andrew Beck Grace.
Jackson has penned nine novels, the most recent of which, Never Have I Ever, was recently released in paperback. Brantley and Grace are the creators of the popular NPR true-crime podcast “White Lies,” which delves into the Civil Rights-era unsolved murder of Rev. James Reeb in Selma.
In keeping with the Monroeville Literary Festival’s educational mission, it has partnered with faculty at J.F. Shields High School in nearby Beatrice. An English teacher at the school is incorporating instruction in journalism into her lesson plan, which includes introducing the students to the “White Lies” podcast. They will then write about their impressions of, and reflections on, the podcast. Hopefully, if the 2021 festival is held in-person, the approximately 20 students will be in attendance to meet the creators of the podcast to learn more about the craft.
“Arts programming has been canceled in many schools during the pandemic. We are so keen to make sure that something happens in the spring so that students have some sort of cultural engagement,” Linam said. “We feel this experience of Covid-19 and the quarantine is going to resonate for years, and we want to make sure they feel encouraged to write about, engage with and know that literature is there for them as they cope with the long term effects of this pandemic.”
Each year the Monroeville Literary Festival bestows three major awards to some of Alabama’s most notable writers and scholars: the Harper Lee Award for Alabama’s Distinguished Writer; the Eugene Current-Garcia Award for Alabama’s Distinguished Literary Scholar; and the Truman Capote Prize for Distinguished Work in the Short Story or Literary Non-Fiction. Linam said the award committees should be releasing the names of the 2021 recipients before year’s end, which will hopefully accompany more information about the format and programming of next year’s festival.
“I’m just praying that somehow, some way we’re able to have a physical conference,” she said. “Because that’s what our audience knows and loves.”
The 2021 Monroeville Literary Festival is set for March 4-6, 2021. For details, visit monroevilleliteraryfestival.com.