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.


Women’s Work: The Magnificent Six

(from left to right): Susan Kirby-Smith, Tita Ramirez, Naima Coster, Deonna Kelli Sayed, Krista Bremer, and Ashley R. Lumpkin, panelists for our first-ever Greensboro Bound Literary Festival event last night, Women’s Work: Writers on Truth, Beauty, and Creativity.

By Lynne McNeil

It was an evening filled with insights into the creative writing process and, for panelist Ashley Lumpkin, performance and creative writing; experiences that came from a varied and accomplished group of women. They shared their struggles balancing family expectations, the role gender plays in how they carve out time, and even the considerations that come into their decisions on how to present their work. I left with a lot to think about as I consider my own writing and where I will go next. I want to highlight a few of the conversations that are rattling around in my head.

Krista Bremer brought up a quote very roughly paraphrased from author Rebecca Solnit’s work, “Women writers are often either stumbling around in the woods or staying too close to the highway.” Bremer talked about how being lost can be the hardest and the softest place to be, a paradoxical place to arrive.

Ashley Lumpkin agreed that writing is both a soft and a hard place. She believes that after you tell your story, readers and listeners will hold place for you. Naima Coster talked of how when she writes, “I never lose myself. Writing is where I play out my relationship with myself.” Deonna Kelli Sayed added, “Imperfection is a state of being.” Tita Ramirez picked up on the metaphor of the woods and the highway when she said, “having that gas in the car when it is going right keeps you going.” Susan Kirby-Smith contributed that “Intentions matter. The work has its own momentum.”

This is the fuel that keeps us going in our writing, whether we find ourselves lost in our thinking, finding our way to our true selves, or sticking to a well-marked highway hoping our fuel lasts.

Naima Coster spoke of points of access in her writing. She described the ways that publishers find writings about women of color connected to Ivy League Colleges more palatable than those of the everywoman of color’s life.

Who are we writing for, who is our audience? To me this is a question marginalized writers face in a way I imagine is more complex than writers in the dominant culture may consider, or they may just assume a position of privilege and dismiss it before it surfaces.

It comes back to Lumpkin’s thought that there will be a space made for her story. Bremer feels strongly that“the ability to write is a call to service, of speaking truth to tyranny.” Ramirez reflected, “I present honestly what I think we are and let the texts speak for themselves.”

Another question the panel discussed was how women writers, especially those with families, find the time to write. It pretty much came down to what Bremer said, “Grab what time you can to write in, whatever space works for you. Forgive yourself if you do not have consistency. There isn’t any one way to do it.” This echoes Sayed’s need to accept “imperfection” as part of writing.

Kirby-Smith leaves home to do creative writing, as I often do if I am pursuing academic writing, not because I have young children at home, rather because I am so easily distracted. Lumpkin finds after teaching, she simply reads more and relies on jotting down words as best she can.

I haven’t talked about how most of the writers read a sample of their work and how Lumpkin performed an amazing poem she wrote called “Bloody Sunday.” I left off the way the panelist seemed to genuinely like and support each other. I omitted the Q&A session where one man asked the panelists, “when you sit down to write, do you sit down as a woman or do you sit down as not a man?”

A shout-out to Deonna Kelli Sayed for organizing, promoting, and facilitating this event, and to Scuppernong Books for hosting the inaugural event of the Greensboro Bound Literary Festival. What an auspicious start!