Award-winning novelists, poets and musicians will gather in Raleigh starting Thursday, Feb. 21, for the North Carolina Book Festival.
The four-day festival makes its way back to Raleigh after a five-year hiatus. Originally called the North Carolina Literary Festival, the event was supposed to alternate locations every two years between Duke, UNC and N.C. State universities but there were logistical complications that kept that from happening. In 2014, Jason Jefferies, co-director of this year’s festival, recommended that the event be made a centralized annual event, in one specific location — Raleigh. This year that this plan became a reality with N.C. State University Libraries, N.C. Humanities Council and Quail Ridge Books sponsoring it.
Jefferies and co-director Chris Tonelli both work at Raleigh bookstores (Jefferies is the marketing manager at Quail Ridge Books and Tonelli is a co-owner at So & So Books). Tonelli also is the Director of External Relations at NCSU Libraries. A year ago, after one of their weekly basketball games with other librarians, they decided to start planning the festival.
“This is the first time it’s primarily off-campus and more downtown with multiple venues,” Tonelli said.
From Thursday to Sunday, 30 different events will occur, some simultaneously, at Crank Arm Brewing, James B. Hunt Jr. Library, HQ Raleigh, CAM Raleigh, Kings, Neptune’s Parlour, Quail Ridge Books and So & So Books.
“We have a lot of volunteers who will be stationed at each venue and we have different emcees at each venue, so Chris and I will probably just be doing laps,” Jefferies said. Four events are sold out, including a keynote with William T. Vollmann author of “Carbon Ideologies,” a book about climate change.
The festival has varied event styles between round-table discussions, conversations between authors and readings, because Tonelli and Jefferies were focused on allowing authors to go beyond what they would normally do on a book tour.
“When you see authors tour around the country in bookstores, they are usually all the same,” Jefferies said. “They’re going to read the same passage, all of the questions will be similar. We really want to encourage all of the authors that come to the festival to make it festive and to think outside of the box.”
Numerous events are free and open to the public, without tickets or registration. See the full schedule at https://ncbookfestival.com/schedule/. Here are some highlights:
The festival kicks off with musician/producer Chris Stamey, possibly best known for co-founding the dB’s, singing and reading from his memoir “A Spy in the House of Loud: New York Songs and Stories.” The performance starts at 7 p.m Thursday at Crank Arm Brewing, 319 W. Davie St.
Saturday, Feb. 23, is the main day, with multiple events at six locations throughout the day. There will be kids and teen events at Quail Ridge Books from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Neptune’s Parlour is featuring “Poetry Under the Sea” with 10 poets, including Tyree Daye, who is one of five finalists for the Kingsley and Kate Tufts Poetry Award. The readings are from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. at Neptune’s, at 14 W. Martin St.
CAM Raleigh, 409 W Martin St., has nine events throughout the day, starting at 11 a.m. with a conversation between North Carolina Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green and Piedmont Laureate David Menconi. Menconi also is a reporter with The News & Observer. A panel at 2:15 p.m. features Samia Serageldin, Lee Smith, Belle Boggs and Daniel Wallace talking about motherhood. Then, at 5:15 p.m. June Eric-Udorie, Elle Magazine’s female activist of the year, presents, “Can’t we all be feminists?”
Kings, the club above Neptune’s on Martin Street, will hold six different events throughout the day. Wilton Barnhardt, Jill McCorkle, Belle Boggs, John Kessel, Joe Millar and Eduado C. Corral — all faculty members in N.C. State’s Master of Fine Arts program — will come together at noon for a segment called MFABFF where they read each other’s pieces. Brockton McKinney from North Carolina Comic Con will be there at 2 p.m. and cult favorite Scott McClanahan, whose latest novel is “The Sarah Book,” is coming from West Virginia for a conversation at 5 p.m.
In addition, all day on Saturday there is the Book Fair at HQ Raleigh, with participating authors selling and signing books. HQ is around the corner from CAM, at 310 S. Harrington St.
On Sunday, the festival ends with “Sunday Sendoff” featuring Hanif Abdurraqib, author of the New York Times Best Seller ”Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest.” The event at 2 p.m. at Kings is sold out, but waitlist spots are available.