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Yes, bibliophiles and bookworms, it’s that time of year again: time for the fourth annual Arkansas Literary Festival. This year, the festival runs from Friday, April 20, to Sunday, April 22, in Little Rock’s River Market District. Bigger than ever, with even more to see and hear — including over 30 speeches and presentations by authors and journalists — this year’s festival promises something for young and old alike.
Highlights for 2007 include acclaimed poet Nikki Giovanni; talk-and-tasting events with White House pastry chef Roland Mesnier; a presentation by Frank Warren, founder and curator of online art project postsecret.com; and cultural and political pundit Christopher Hitchens on why God ain’t all that grand.
Giovanni, who teaches at Virginia Tech, the scene of the tragic shootings Monday, was still scheduled to appear as of Tuesday. The poet, renowned for her insight into American culture, is to give a reading and book signing at 5:30 p.m. Friday at the M.L. Harris Auditorium at Philander Smith College.
Mesnier, the White House pastry chef since the Carter administration, will give a (sold-out) cooking demonstration and pastry tasting at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in the River Market’s Clark Room. Festival organizers added a second session at 5 p.m. after the $5 tickets for the first session sold out. As of this writing, those fast on the dial can call 663-4321 to reserve tickets.
Frank Warren, the creator and curator of postsecret.com, now the third-most-popular blog on the Web, will give a presentation on the nature of secrecy and present excerpts from his book “The Secret Lives of Men and Women: A PostSecret Book” at 10 a.m. Saturday in the Darragh Center of the Main Library.
British-born critic and journalist Christopher Hitchens is sure to titillate audiences with a reading from his controversial forthcoming book, “God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” at 1:15 p.m. Sunday in the Darragh Center.
Festival director Katie McManners said that beyond having great authors on hand, the most special thing about the Arkansas Literary Festival is that it’s the only event that she knows of that directly benefits adult literacy programs, through a partnership with the Arkansas Literacy Foundation. She said the festival gets to keep 90 percent of the money from book sales, thanks to an arrangement to buy the books at cost through That Bookstore in Blytheville, and that all the authors on hand agree to waive their speaking fees. This year’s festival will add three new venues for readings and signings: Pyramid Gallery, the Clark Room at the River Market and the 600-seat M.L. Harris Auditorium at Philander Smith College.
A new feature this year is podcasts. With only a limited amount of time in the weekend, and several of the reading and signing sessions forced to overlap, it’s impossible to see everything — “a great problem to have,” McManners said. The Butler Center for Arkansas Studies will videotape all the readings held in the Darragh Center and transfer the video to podcast files that will be released on the festival website, www.arkansasliteraryfestival.org.
McManners said that while working on arrangements for the festival and the logistics of getting authors to Little Rock, she ends up getting attached to all the writers who come to the ALF. She said that going to readings is a great way to get beyond the page.
“You get to know [the authors] as people, and I think it’s easy to forget that the people who write books are normal folks who have lives and personalities. That’s what’s so fun about seeing them in person.”