Our guide to the 2015 Arkansas Literary Festival 

Panels feature writers from Waters to Wells.

TALKING ABOUT RARE RECORD FIENDS: Author Amanda Petrusich image
  • TALKING ABOUT RARE RECORD FIENDS: Author Amanda Petrusich.

With its four days of readings, panel discussions, parties and family friendly activities, the Arkansas Literary Festival has since 2004 reigned as the state's biggest and best literary celebration. This year the festival returns to downtown Little Rock with headliners John Waters, Rick Bragg, Rebecca Wells and Jamaica Kincaid, alongside local luminaries like Kevin Brockmeier, Hope Coulter and many more. A complete list of events and presenters is available at arkansasliteraryfestival.org.

Here are our staff picks for the weekend's highlights:


5:30 p.m. Bryan Collier (Hearne Fine Art). Children's book illustrator Collier ("Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.," "Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington" and many others), whose artwork is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, will sign his new book, "Trombone Shorty," at Hearne Fine Art. Hearne is also exhibiting illustrations and prints by Collier, who will also speak 1 p.m. Saturday, April 25, at the Hillary Rodham Clinton Children's Library.

7 p.m. Rebecca Wells (Ron Robinson Theater). The author of the "Ya-Ya Sisterhood" series will deliver a mix of "story-telling, acting and interpretive reading" based on her New York Times best-selling books.


10 a.m. FOCAL Book Sale (Main Library basement). Sponsored by Friends of the Central Arkansas Libraries (FOCAL), the book sale features $1 hardbacks and 50-cent paperbacks to benefit the Summer Reading Club, Reading Is Fundamental and many other CALS programs. The sale will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday (FOCAL members can get in at 9 a.m.) and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

7 p.m. "Author! Author!" (Main Library, 5th floor). A party to celebrate the festival's presenting authors, with drinks and hors d'oeuvres ($25 advance, $40 day of).


10 a.m. "Indigenous Grace": Allison Hedge Coke, Casandra Lopez (Main Library, Harper Lee Room). Poet Coke grew up "cropping tobacco and working fields, waters, and working in factories." She is the American Book Award-winning author of numerous books, including "Blood Run" and, most recently, "Streaming." She will join with emerging Chicana, Cahuilla, Luiseño, and Tongva writer Lopez. Lopez is the author of "When Bullets Break," which won the Native Writers Chapbook Award.

11:30 a.m. "Thrill Me": Megan Abbott, Benjamin Percy (Main Library's Darragh Center). Abbott and Percy, both highly acclaimed writers of fiction that challenges the perceived boundary between genre and literary work, discuss their new novels.

1 p.m. "Fringe": Amanda Petrusich, Kent Russell (Witt Stephens Jr. Nature Center). Petrusich, a frequent contributor to Pitchfork and Oxford American and the author of "Do Not Sell at Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World's Rarest 78 rpm Records," and Russell, author of the essay collection "I Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son," discuss literary nonfiction and their adventures in eccentric contemporary subcultures with Oxford American assistant editor Caitlin Love.

1 p.m. Issa Rae (Ron Robinson Theater). Writer, actress and creator of the hit YouTube comedy series "Awkward Black Girl" will discuss her New York Times best-seller "The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl." See our interview with Rae here.

2:30 p.m. Maxine Payne (Arkansas Studies Room 110). Perhaps it is because Payne is a photographer herself that she was moved to document the Massengill family, an Independence County family that survived the Depression with their traveling photography studios, selling photos for pennies (extra if hand-tinted). She'll talk about her book, "Making Pictures: Three for a Dime," which returns to print many of the old photographs taken by the Massengills, drawn from photo albums of the Massengills themselves and others collected by Payne.

2:30 p.m. "Short Stories": Thomas Pierce, Richard Lange, Antonio Ruiz-Camacho (Main Library Lee Room). A panel of acclaimed contemporary short-fiction writers, moderated by Oxford American associate editor Maxwell George.

2:30 p.m. Jamaica Kincaid (Mosaic Templars Cultural Center). The beloved and award-winning novelist and longtime New Yorker staff writer will talk about her career and her most recent novel "See Now Then."

ALL KILLER, NO FILLER: Rick Bragg will discuss his Jerry Lee Lewis biography.
  • ALL KILLER, NO FILLER: Rick Bragg will discuss his Jerry Lee Lewis biography.

2:30 p.m. Rick Bragg (Ron Robinson Theater). The always-entertaining Pulitzer Prize-winning nonfiction writer will discuss his new biography of Jerry Lee Lewis, which the Chicago Tribune called "epic Southern storytelling at its most gripping."

4 p.m. "A Half Dozen Poets": Mark L. Beggs, Nickole Brown, Hope Coulter, Jessica Jacobs, Sandy Longhorn, Jo McDougall (Ron Robinson Theater). Six of the best and brightest Arkansas poets discuss their craft. An excerpt from a poem on time by Coulter: "And when you fall behind a car that pokes along,/ you say, "It must be someone old," and when you pass,/ confirm it — some old woman/who surely knows/her days are drawing short/proceeds like a queen on a flowery float/dispensing time like petals left and right,/as if she's got a million/hours to squander."

5 p.m. Simon Majumdar (Oxford American Annex). The Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau is sponsoring Food Network personality and nationally known food writer Majumdar's appearance in support of his new book "Fed, White and Blue." It records his journey to learn just what it means to become American through traditional food preparation, from picking fresh vegetables to brewing beer. Expect a unique perspective on what it means to be an American, delivered with Majumdar's signature wit. In addition to the literary festival event, Majumdar will be judging a pie contest 4 p.m. Sunday, April 26, at The Root.

8 p.m. John Waters (Ron Robinson Theater). The legendary director and cult tastemaker will perform his one-man show, "This Filthy World." See our interview with Waters here.


1:30 p.m. Karen Joy Fowler, Megan Mayhew Bergman (Ron Robinson Theater). Oxford American managing editor Eliza Borne moderates a conversation between Karen Joy Fowler, author of "The Jane Austen Book Club," and Megan Mayhew Bergman, author of the new story collection "Almost Famous Women."


Speaking of Arkansas Literary Festival

  • A Q&A with Brian Walter, director of 'Stay More: The World of Donald Harington'

    April 25, 2014
    Donald Harington, the late Arkansas novelist labeled an "Ozark Surrealist" by the New York Times, was born in Little Rock in 1935 and would go on to teach art history at the University of Arkansas for 22 years. When he died in 2009, he left behind a series of deeply idiosyncratic novels set in a fictional Arkansas town called Stay More, which, as William Grimes noted in his obituary for the Times, "drew the inevitable comparisons to William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County." Grimes also quotes from an interview with the poet Fred Chappell: "Don Harington is not an underappreciated novelist. He is an undiscovered continent." /more/
  • The Arkansas Literary Festival begins

    April 24, 2014
    Today at noon, the Arkansas Literary Festival started things off with a talk by longtime L.A. Times rock critic Robert Hilburn at the Oxford American Annex, moderated by Oxford American associate editor Maxwell George. HIlburn is the author, most recently, of "Johnny Cash: A Life," and so was there to tell Cash stories: playing Folsom Prison (a concert Hilburn actually attended, though as a freelancer not, he stressed, a prisoner), stealing horn riffs from Bob Moore, having an affair with his wife's sister, recording a novelty song called "The Chicken in Black" /more/
  • Nate Powell's 'March' nominated for 2014 Eisner Awards

    April 15, 2014
    The Eisner Awards, given out an award ceremony on the last night of Comic-Con and often called the Oscars of the comic industry, announced their 2014 nominees this afternoon, and "March: Book One," the collaboration between North Little Rock native Nate Powell, Congressman John Lewis and co-writer Andrew Aydin, earned nods in three categories: Best Publication for Teens, Best Reality-Based Work and Best Penciller / Inker. /more/
  • Weekend Longreads from the Arkansas Literary Festival lineup

    April 11, 2014
    The Arkansas Literary Festival will be in town April 24-26, and as an early primer I thought we could revisit some stories from a few of the lineup's highlights. /more/
  • Get your Arkansas Literary Festival tickets now

    April 7, 2014
    The Arkansas Literary Festival, held this year from April 24-27, has released this year's schedule, which includes appearances by Mary Roach, Mona Simpson, Kevin Brockmeier, John Lewis, David Finkel, Victor LaValle and presentations on lucid dreaming, paleontology and Arkansas legends from Johnny Cash to Donald Harington and Brooks Robinson. /more/
  • Arkansas Literary Festival 2014 lineup announced

    January 29, 2014
    Today, the Arkansas Literary Festival announced the slate of authors who'll attend the 11th annual event, scheduled for April 24-27 /more/
  • Richard Ford on growing up in Little Rock's Marion Hotel

    April 18, 2013
    Richard Ford is a long way from Little Rock these days. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his 1996 novel "Independence Day," the Mississippi-born Ford has taken his seat at the table of great American authors, and it looks like he'll be staying awhile. /more/
  • Richard Ford, Karen Russell, CD Wright and more to Arkansas Literary Festival

    January 24, 2013
    The Arkansas Literary Festival unveiled its 2013 author lineup today. /more/
  • Arkansas Literary Festival slate piles on

    April 11, 2012
    This year's Arkansas Literary Festival packs nearly 100 authors into three short days, its organizers putting together an encyclopedic event for all tastes and habits of reading. That's a good thing, and a bad thing: Those with a broad range of interests are going to be tearing their hair out trying to decide what sessions to sacrifice. /more/
  • Little Rock author on NPR

    March 27, 2012
    Award-winning Little Rock children's author Trenton Lee Stewart will speak at the 2012 Arkansas Literary Festival. /more/
  • More »


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