Lost Southern Voices festival returns to focus on overlooked writers


Most readers are familiar with the work of William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams and Flannery O’Connor, but what about George Moses Horton? Caroline Miller? Or John Ridge?

Reviving the overlooked or out-of-print Southern writers of the past is the purpose of a free Atlanta literary festival, Revival: Lost Southern Voices, now entering its second year from March 23-24 at Georgia State University’s Perimeter College.

“Last year, we started on the day after (I-)85 burned, but people still came out,” says Pearl McHaney, the Kenneth M. England Professor of Southern Literature at Georgia State University and co-director and co-founder of Lost Southern Voices. She says organizers were inspired to repeat the festival by the unexpectedly enthusiastic response to the concept during the inaugural event last year. “The audience really encouraged us to do it again. People who read are always eager to know what to read next … The festival is about introducing them to writers that they never had a chance to read or didn’t even know about.”

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For the event, distinguished contemporary writers are asked to present the work of an obscure writer from the past whom they admire and want to honor by bringing the writer to new audiences. Organizers say they are looking forward to a whole new round of revivals this year.

Trudier Harris, a professor of English at the University of Alabama, will present “The Darkest Child” by Delores Phillips, a novel about a young African-American girl growing up in Bakersfield, Ga., in 1958. The book has previously been out of print, but has recently been republished with a new introduction by best-selling Atlanta author Tayari Jones.

Jim Auchmutey, renowned author and former Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter, will speak about the writing of Mrs. S.R. Dull, whose column in the Atlanta Journal and seminal cookbook were among the first written works to raise the task of Southern cooking into an art form. Georgia author John Williams will speak about legendary music manager and producer Bill Lowery; Georgia Poet Laureate Judson Mitcham will read from the work of Macon-born poet Seaborn Jones; and best-selling Atlanta author Lynn Cullen will speak about the rural Southern childhood of African-American novelist Zora Neale Hurston.

McHaney says that at last year’s festival, one of the interesting tasks presenters had before them was defining what exactly constitutes “a lost voice.”

Last year, Mitcham spoke about James Dickey, the world-renowned Georgia author of “Deliverance.” “You might say, ‘James Dickey’s not lost,’ but his poetry is,” says McHaney. “This year, we’re expanding and really thinking about: What does it mean to be a Southern voice and what does it mean to be lost?”

In some cases, the lost writer may have achieved recognition and even accolades, but the presenter still felt that the writer simply hasn’t gotten their due or is, in some way, in danger of being forgotten by the public.

The festival takes place over two days with the contemporary writers speaking in 30-minute blocks to share the work of the writer they’ve selected and to speak about why they believe the “forgotten voice” should be remembered. Speakers are then grouped together into panels with a moderator to further elucidate the work. The writers of the past who will be presented at the festival run the gamut of styles, time periods, genres and regions of the South.

Organizers were also encouraged to expand the festival this year with new events, including some involving music and performance. Acclaimed Atlanta actress Brenda Bynum will present her one-woman show in which she performs as Lillian Smith, which will be followed by a talk-back and discussion, and North Carolina folklorist William Ferris will speak about some of his favorite lesser-known blues musicians.

In the hallway outside the auditorium, a book fair will make available some of the rare or recently republished work by the authors presented at the festival. The event is sponsored in part by a grant from Georgia Humanities, in partnership with the Georgia Department of Economic Development, through funding from the Georgia General Assembly, all of which help keeps the event free and open to the public (organizers say registration is encouraged).

“Literature helps to create empathy,” says McHaney. “When someone puts themselves in these other worlds created through literature, they can learn to act with empathy towards people who are ‘others.’ Bringing musicians and authors of the past and readers all together, that’s a good goal.”

EVENT PREVIEW

Revival: Lost Southern Voices

March 23-24. Free. Georgia State University’s Perimeter College, Dunwoody Campus, 2101 Womack Road, Dunwoody. 770-274-5000, perimeter.gsu.edu/lost-southern-voices-festival.

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