The festival, now in its fourth year, is a unique opportunity for writers and readers to meet face to face and talk about their craft. Speakers at this year’s festival include Affrilachian author Crystal Wilkinson and Sarah Gorham, president of Sarabande Books. Sessions are free to attend, but lunch is $16 and requires advance reservations. Register online or by calling 502-852-8976.
UofL Today caught up with Women’s Center director Mary Karen Powers, one of the event’s organizers, to talk about the festival.
Q. What is the Kentucky Women’s Book Festival?
A. The Kentucky Women’s Book Festival is an event that brings together writers and readers interested in writings by Kentucky women authors. Its purpose is to broaden awareness of established authors; to introduce fledgling writers; and to showcase diversity in the literary community. The core of the planning committee is composed of librarians, educators, business women and volunteers working to shape the festival so that it can become an annual local event which enhances Kentucky’s growing reputation as a cultural center — especially a center for writers. The festival is free and open to the public as an expression of the university’s outreach around literacy.
Q. How did the idea for the festival come about?
A. The festival was established in 2005. Carridder Jones, a playwright who had worked in human resources at UofL for many years before her retirement, showed up at the Women’s Center one day and said, ‘I’m a Kentucky woman writer, I’ve been writing for years. I’ve had some things published. There are a lot of people at UofL who write and there are a lot of women in the community who write. I think it would be interesting to bring that group of people together, especially the ones who are not necessarily well-known or well-published yet. They could meet other writers and we could learn from one another. We could share our work.’ And so, the Women’s Center agreed to help Rita literally gather that group. That’s what this festival does.
Over the years, the festival has developed a model which we think is successful. The core of the model is a series of writer workshops. In those, women can engage with other women writers. The workshops are often led by more well-known authors. We have a luncheon keynote address by a Kentucky woman author with a national or well-developed regional reputation. We also have an opening and a closing plenary session. One features a woman author with a solid regional reputation; and the other plenary has been presented by a woman in publishing. So there is a mix of fledgling and more established authors.
The festival also includes readers. When we began planning for the first event, I said, and it’s true, ‘My favorite possession as kid was a library card. I loved to read, but I don’t write. Is there any way the festival could broaden to include both women who are writing …. and those of us who are reading their writing.’ So it really is the more broad group we aimed to reach as we continued to plan the festival.
Q. Why is it important to bring women writers and readers together?
A. Well, for one, we’re the audience that reads these authors. And what we’ve found as we’ve done the festival is that there is a fairly large community of women who really do read…. and welcome the opportunity to talk to a writer whose work they’ve enjoyed reading. It’s interesting. We’ve kind of tapped into the book club market, too….groups of women who read and meet periodically to discuss books. They show up at the festival and they love meeting the writers. And the writers like to meet them.
Q. What’s on tap for this year’s festival?
A. The keynote speaker is Crystal Wilkinson. She’s an Affrilachian writer, poet and short story writer. She’s really capturing the rural traditions of African Americans in Appalachia, and is a member of the Affrilachian Poets — a new group which formed in Lexington in 1991.
The voice most often associated with it is a male voice — Frank X Walker. But Crystal Wilkinson is a wonderful writer. Her first volume, the short story collection “Blackberries, Blackberries,” was published in 2000. She’s been at the festival before and spent a semester as a visitng professor at UofL as a result of that appearance. The opening plenary will be delivered by Sheila Joyce Pyle, co-owner of the Rudyard Kipling. The closing plenary session will be given by Sarah Gorham, who is the founder and owner of Sarabande Books. Since the festival is about writing, one of the things we look at is publishing…. particularly publishing in Kentucky. It encourages authors to not give up and to keep on pursuing their dreams. It’s really interesting. We’ve had someone in publishing deliver the closing plenary at every festival.
Q. Where will the Kentucky Women’s Book Festival go in the future?
A. I think we would like it to become an annual event in the UofL community and the civic community. One of things we’ve understood since the festival started is that it reflects the current mayor’s emphasis on literacy and it reflects the University of Louisville’s outreach to the community around literacy. The event is free. It’s open to the public. We had 240 last year at the individual sessions — that’s a fair chunk of people. Almost all of them were women from around the community or women from the Commonwealth. Very few of them were UofL folks coming to hear UofL folks talk. It made us really happy because we were looking to interface the university and the community of women writers in the Commonwealth…and we think we were successful!