Prelude To A Festival

“At the still point, there the dance is.” —T. S. Eliot

I haven’t introduced myself yet. I’m Deonna Kelli Sayed, the Festival Coordinator for Greensboro Bound. You may have seen me around downtown, or at the 2018 TEDx Greensboro, or behind the registration desk at a North Carolina Writers’ Network event.

I’m thrilled to meet you, and I’m glad you’re #GreensboroBound.

The T.S. Eliot quote above is considered to be one of the most beautiful sentences in the English language. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. At least, that’s what the Internet says. The Internet is known to be wrong, on occasion.

The sentiment expressed in the sentence, however, beautifully captures the muffled fury of A Prelude to a Festival: the four months prior to Greensboro Bound where our organizing machines quietly churn to deliver what will become four days of free programming during May 16-19, 2019.

Things may look still to you, but I assure you, things are anything but.

To plan a literary festival is a frenzy, at times. A joy! A clumsy dance! After all, we’re writers. We don’t know much about dancing.

To make a festival happen, it requires a troupe of donors, volunteers, community partners (like UNCG University Libraries), the City of Greensboro, lovers of cheese straws (more on that in a minute), an independent bookstore (Scuppernong Books), authors and readers who are enthusiastic to attend.

To make a festival happen takes blind faith, dumb luck, and nine months of honest work.

In the Beginning…

The very first Greensboro Bound meeting occurred in late 2017 over cheese straws and wine. A group of dedicated folks gathered and issued two very important edicts:

• Greensboro was getting a literary festival, dammit!
• Cheese Straws would henceforth be the official food of said festival.

(Perhaps the reader is unfamiliar with the Southern Cheese Straw. Again, the Internet offers its wisdom.)

A nonprofit, Greensboro Literary Organization (GLO) was formed. In less than nine months, we raised more than $120,000 and gathered together 80 authors, 5000 readers, and a few llamas for the May festival. Just so you know, a llama pooped in the library, much to the delight of the children. Every author received homemade Cheese Straws.

At Greensboro Bound, we take our edicts very seriously.

In the Fall of 2018, we curated a series, Immigration Stories, partially funded by support from the NC Humanities Council.  Another Greensboro Bound series, This Is Your Country On Drugs, featured Beth Macy, who also spoke during the 2018 festival. Greensboro Bound’s Authors Engaging Students program put authors in front of almost 6000 public school students in Guilford County, and we donated 500 books to classrooms and elementary school libraries. 

Listen, we weren’t kidding when we first huddled over cheese straws and declared that we wanted to organize literary stuff.

And now…

#GreensboroBound19 is happening. The official author reveal will drop during the first week in March. What I can share now: Zadie Smith is scheduled to deliver the Saturday night Keynote Address. Her presence at the festival is in partnership with the University of North Carolina Greensboro Libraries. Fred Chappell will perform with puppets, and young readers will enjoy interactive programming with Children and Young Adult authors.

As we enter our sophomore festival year, it’s time to introduce the motley assortment of writers and community-based individuals behind Greensboro Bound.

Author Hospitality and Green Room
• Ashley Sharkey | Greensboro Literary Organization Board
•Dabney Sanders | Greensboro Literary Organization Board | Project Manager at Downtown Greenway (Dabney is the maker of cheese straws, by the way.)

Author Engagement and Adult Programming Committee
• Dr. Gale Greenlee | Scholar on Black and Latinx girlhood and social change in Kids/YA literature
• Steve Mitchell | Author | Bookseller & Co-owner of Scuppernong Books
• Julia Ridley Smith | Author | University of North Carolina – Greensboro

Children and YA Programming Committee
• Cathy Bentsen | Retired Media Specialist with the Guilford County Public Schools
• Steve Colyer | Greensboro Literary Organization Board Member
• Dr. Gale Greenlee | Scholar on Black and Latinx girlhood and social change in Kids/YA literature
• Shannon Purdy Jones | Mom to Penny and Dominique | Bookseller at Scuppernong Books

Fundraising and Donation Relations
• Ashley Sharkey | Greensboro Literary Organization Board Member
• Cheryl Kersky | Experienced Fundraiser
• Dabney Sanders | Greensboro Literary Organization Board | Project Manager at Downtown Greenway
• Ellen Fisher | Children’s Author | Greensboro Bound’s Author Engaging Students Program
• Steve Colyer | Greensboro Literary Organization Board Member

Location Committee
• Glenn Perkins | Curator of Community History | Greensboro History Museum
• Andrew Saulters | Author | Owner & Publisher at Unicorn Press
• Marcia Woodward | Volunteer Extraordinaire for all sorts of Greensboro events

Vendor Liaison
• Wilson Lester | Greensboro Literary Organization Board Member | Executive Director of the Greensboro Community Development Fund

Volunteer Coordinator
• Paula Pierce | Board of Directors of Downtown Greensboro Incorporated

Prelude to Magic

I recall a subtle moment during last year’s festival. It was Saturday night when it felt too late to be called evening, but it wasn’t quite ready to become morning. The air, humid. A drizzle had colored the streets with a metallic sheen. A festival author stood on a Greensboro sidewalk and open her arms wide before she bellowed:

“I declare this city to be something grand!”

She put her arms down, hugged me, then said, “I love Greensboro!”
Her enthusiasm captured what many at Greensboro Bound felt during the festival weekend: the air seemed somehow changed, like the presence of writers had altered the cosmic alignment of downtown.

The volunteers listed above, as well as many others not yet named, will again turn downtown into something otherworldly during that third weekend in May. We hope to organize four days full of literary wonderment and awe. We hope that you, the reader, will be part of the magic.

Here’s to all the cheese straws we could possible eat between now and then.

See you soon.

Here’s some authors and audience members from last year: Carmen Maria Machado, Dan Pink, Nikki Giovanni, Lee Smith, audience members and lunchtime opera.


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