Read the Backstory on the 2018 Arkansas Literary Festival
April 16-22, 2018
By Becca Bona
From exploring the bowie knife to chatting with a baker that lives in Vermont, Brad Mooy details the expansive topics woven into the 2018 Arkansas Literary Festival. The premier event is not just for the student or avid reader – it’s for anyone who has a passion for creativity.
Nearly a Decade of Fest
Teaching adults how to read, write, or improve their English is a goal of the Adult Learning Alliance (ALA). The nonprofit provides structure and support to the literacy councils serving adults in over 50 Arkansas counties.
In 2004, the ALA started the Arkansas Literary Festival, which is now in its fourteenth year. In 2008, the scope of the festival outgrew the ALA’s capabilities, and was transferred to the Central Arkansas Library System.
“That’s when I was brought on as the festival coordinator,” says Mooy from a desk in his office on the fifth floor of the Main Library in downtown Little Rock. “I’ve been here involved with the fest ever since.”
In a few short days, his view into the River Market will be bustling with festival events, as this year’s line-up includes programming from Thursday April 26, to Sunday, April 29.
Looking back over the past decade, Mooy can see a definite growth around the festival in many aspects. “It’s grown in the number of presenters we have, in audience size, and it’s grown in reach,” he says.
Over the years, new outreach and programs have been tacked onto the festival, including the ‘Writer’s in the School’s Initiative.’ The festival provides programming that allows visiting authors to meet with students in schools in Central Arkansas.
“A lot of people don’t know about that program, but I think it’s very significant because often the students involved – ranging in age from school children to college students – have never met a published author. I think that that is very valuable,” Mooy explains.
The festival has also been able to partner with the Junior League of Little Rock to continue to provide engaging programming for the younger reader. The festival approached the Junior League about partnering together to extend the league’s Little Readers Rock program. Little Readers Rock (LRR) is focused on promoting high levels of literacy for young children up to the third grade by improving reading skills. As this goal mirrors the festival’s when it comes to the young reader, working together made sense, says Mooy.
“The partnership is only in its second year,” he explains, “Last year working with them was fantastic, so we’re hoping to build on that foundation moving forward.”
Putting on the Fest
Most of the work to get the festival off the ground goes on behind the scenes. Finding interesting reads, willing authors, good moderators, numerous sponsors, and space for the event to take place, is no easy feat.
“Sometimes people ask me if directing the festival is a full-time job,” Mooy smiles, “I always laugh, because yes, it is.”
Programming for a festival can start even before the previous one ends. It’s always a big moment for Mooy and his team to let a festival unleash itself out into the world. As far as finding authors, there is a process involving a committee and rounds of voting, which mostly takes place via email.
As far as recruiting goes, it can be very difficult, as the authors who visit the festival aren’t paid, rather, their lodging and travel is compensated. Keeping that in mind, it’s amazing that the festival remains largely free, save for a few special events.
This is largely possible thanks to the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and their support of the festival. In fact, the NEH helps the festival accomplish things that wouldn’t otherwise be possible, like bringing in Sebastian Junger, the international acclaimed best-selling author of “War”; “The Perfect Storm”; “A Death in Belmont”; and “Fire”.
“The funding is really coming through a project that I oversee with Dr. Alex Vernon at Hendrix College, called Fiction and Fact: A War Dialogue,” says Mooy. The program provides an opportunity for veterans to reflect on war and homecoming experiences through facilitated discussions based on different humanities sources: books, art, film, museum exhibits, oral histories, and blogs.
As far as the manpower behind the festival, the entire show runs mostly on volunteers.
“We have hundreds of volunteers that go above and beyond. The talent committee is all volunteers and an amazing group of folks. Then we have festival guides that pick people up at the airport and take them to their hotel or transport them from their hotel to where they need to go. We have folks who are venue managers, we have folks who are book signing assistants, we have cashiers, we have runners, sometimes we even have characters – people that get into costume for the festival.”
There is a volunteer coordinator – Chris Beaumont – who is responsible for overseeing the volunteer managers, cashiers, book-signing assistsants, and a few others.
As far as turnout goes, Mooy himself never gets to delve into the festival while it is ongoing, as he is responsible for working strings behind the scenes.
Nevertheless, he has noticed an uptick.
“I think some of that is just due to longevity – this is the 15th anniversary of the fest. It’s very cool – it’s a terrific asset to Central Arkansas from my perspective. To be able to introduce high quality authors who regularly present, is truly amazing.”
2018 Festival Highlights
At the heart of the festival, the mission is to encourage the growth of a more literate populous. However, as Mooy says, “Within that scope I would also like to say to everybody – it’s a fun event, too.”
While there are over fifty scheduled programs taking place under the 2018 Arkansas Literary Festival umbrella, there are a few noteworthy ones that fall under education, real estate, and law.
An education-focused event will feature two authors Michelle Kuo and Kory Stamper. The I Heart Literature And Language program will take place on Saturday, April 28, in the Ron Robinson Theatre at 10 a.m.
“Kuo is a Paris, France-based teacher, however, she did teach in the Delta. She found out her favorite student was in prison, so she came back and taught him to read. It’s really quite a touching book – “Reading with Patrick”. We’ve coupled it with a book called “Word by Word” by Kory Stamper. She works at Merriam-Webster and the book details how a word gets in the dictionary.”
A land ownership program – Provocative Territories – will take place on Saturday, April 26 at Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center at 11:30 a.m. Doug Mack, author of “The Not Quite States Of America,” along with Ken Ilguans “This Land Is Our Land: How We Lost the Right to Roam and How to Take It Back” will be present.
“Both reads are very thought provoking,” says Mooy. ““The Not Quite States of America” touches on everywhere from Guam to Puerto Rico. Ilgunas actually lived in a van for two years and walked the Keystone Pipeline and paddled 1000 miles across Ontario in a birch bark canoe. He makes a provocative proposal of taking back private property for the people, so that everyone can roam through the entirety of the US; that should be a very intriguing section.”
For those legally inclined, look for Pulitzer Prize winning author Gilbert King, known for “Devil In The Grove” to discuss his new book, “Beneath a Ruthless Sun.”
“As the subtitle says, it’s a true story of violence, race, and justice lost and found,” adds Mooy.
Catch the Sun Kings, on Saturday, April 26, at 4 p.m. in the Ron Robinson Theatre, in which King will be coupled with author Bryan Mealer, known for “The Kings of Big Spring: Good, Oil, and One Family’s Search for the American Dream”.
For a full line-up of events visit https://www.arkansasliteraryfestival.org/schedule/index.html.
Take Mooy’s advice, and even if you think the programming might not be for you, give that one interesting-sounding one a chance.
“I always encourage people to at least come to two sessions, one that you know you want to see, and take a chance on one that you might only think sounds interesting. […] You never know what you might be in for. I think that’s important if people have the time to do that.”
From Thursday, April 26 to Sunday, April 29, downtown Little Rock becomes the backdrop for visiting authors to speak on a wide array of topics. The event has an appeal to a large audience, and isn’t solely for academics or the avid reader. From the bowie knife to baking to beer in Arkansas and beyond, there is a little something for everyone. Get a behind the scenes view of what it takes to put the festival on each year, and scan the highlights to find the event that works for you. (Art by Mick Wiggins, Courtesy of the Arkansas Literary Festival)