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Our guide to the 2015 Arkansas Literary Festival

Panels feature writers from Waters to Wells.

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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:

THURSDAY 4/23

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.

FRIDAY 4/24

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).

SATURDAY 4/25

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.

SUNDAY 4/26

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."

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