This year's Arkansas Literary Festival packs nearly 100 authors into three short days, its organizers putting together an encyclopedic event for all tastes and habits of reading. That's a good thing, and a bad thing: Those with a broad range of interests are going to be tearing their hair out trying to decide what sessions to sacrifice.
At 10 a.m. on Saturday, for example: If you love graphic novels and are a fan of Mad Magazine, intrigued by the West Memphis Three case, a would-be member of the Mysterious Benedict Society and you lust for novels about the paranormal, you are going to want to throw Brad Mooy, festival director, into Lake Glimmerglass (as in "The Monsters of Templeton," see entry on "The Magic of Happiness and Grief" below).
Talk about stuffing things in: Competing with all of the above is a session at the Witt Stephens Jr. Nature Center with Dave Madden, author of "The Authentic Animal: Inside the Odd and Obsessive World of Taxidermy."
It only gets worse. Say you're a Renaissance person whose interests include architecture, political sneakiness, Central High, the energy industry and yoga — you'll be bent out of shape for sure come 11:30 a.m. Saturday.
The 1 p.m. that day slot puts uberwits Roy Blount and Ian Frazier up against a trio of authors who write horror and true crime stories set in Arkansas.
Then there are all the other things going on — street music, special children's events, theatrical performances, all requiring a mad dash back and forth across the Main Street Bridge.
Fortunately, the Arkansas Times' annual "Pub or Perish" (see page 22) stands alone, so everybody can show up at Lulav at 7 p.m. for early bedtime stories and poetry. The Friday schedule is better (though you'll still need a coin to flip) and Sunday schedule light, and require only that you sneak out of work or church.
It's a fine thing that the festival, the ninth annual, includes sessions for gardeners, foodies (from Mexican to meatless to cakes), historians, lepidopterists, hikers, crafters and readers of romance novels. But what's the festival to do about the logjam? Certainly not cut back on the authors. Possible: Start earlier, stagger times and move more events to Sunday. More realistically, perhaps: Take a page from the Clinton School for Public Service handbook and put video of the sessions at the festival website, arkansasliteraryfestival.com (where you can find the complete, enormous schedule and bio of all authors and presenters). Because on Saturday at least, there won't be enough hours in the day.
Here, highlights of the festival, which starts Thursday, April 12, and runs through Sunday, April 15.
Author sessions and panels
THURSDAY, APRIL 12
Placed/Displaced (Pulaski Technical College, Wills Lecture Hall, NLR, 11 a.m. reading, 12:30 a.m. discussion). Novelists and poets John Bensko (MFA Creative Writing Program, University of Memphis), Hope Coulter (Hendrix College), Tyrone Jaeger (writer-in-residence, Hendrix College) and Stephanie Vanderslice (University of Central Arkansas) will read and talk about the importance of place in writing.
John T. Edge (Clinton School for Public Service, 6 p.m.) The Southern food sage discusses his forthcoming book, "Truck Food Cookbook." More on following page.
Spoken Word Live (Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, 7 p.m.). Winners of a city-wide poetry competition and other writers will read.
FRIDAY, APRIL 13
An Infinite Gastronomy (Main Library, Darragh Center, noon). "Oaxaca al Gusto" author Diana Southwood Kennedy, an expert on Mexican cuisine regional cuisine and winner of the 2011 James Beard Foundation Award for Cookbook of the Year, speaks about her cookbook (her eighth published) and her environmental work. Capital Hotel Executive Chef Lee Richardson will moderate.
Stephanie McAfee (Main Library, Fribourgh Room, 2:30 p.m.). Session with the Mississippi-born author of "Diary of a Mad Fat Girl," about small-town politics and covert operations in a strip club, a book first self-published and then picked up by Penguin. McAfee will also take part in the Saturday session "Electronic Books, Self-publishing and Industry Trends" with Ace Collins and Darcy Pattison at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in the Main Library, 5th floor. Former Times food writer Kat Robinson will moderate.
Law Ball (Main Library, Darragh Center, 6 p.m.). Little Rock lawyer Jason Browning and Tennessee writer Clay McKinney talk about the Yankees, Browning's litigation for the Major League Baseball Players Association and McKinney's book, "Pinstripe Defection." Sports anchor Mike Jacques moderates.
Author! Author! (Main Library, 5th floor, 7:30 p.m., $25 advance, $40 at the door). Schmooze with the bigshot authors at this festival fundraiser; drinks and hors d'oeuvres served. (Tickets available at CALS branches or online at arkansasliteraryfestival.org.)
SATURDAY, APRIL 14
Graphic Novels and Comics (Main Library, Darragh Center, 10 a.m.). You won't need coffee for this early session, thanks to Peter Kuper (who has written "Spy vs. Spy" for Mad Magazine since 1997 and has produced an adaptation of Kafka's "The Metamorphosis"), David Rees (author of the Bush-era "Get Your War On" and more recently "How to Sharpen Pencils: A Practical and Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening"; see Q&A page 19), Barbara Slate (creator of Ms. Liz character, "Angel Love" for DC Comics and "Yuppies from Hell" for Marvel as well as "You Can Do a Graphic Novel") and Lila Quintero Weaver (whose "Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White" is about being a Latina in the 1960s South). This session will be hugely popular in the home of "Swallow Me Whole" graphic artist Nate Powell, whose work goes on display April 13 at the Historic Arkansas Museum. The Darragh Center can hold 200 only if they're standing, 100 if they're sitting, so get there early. Rees will also offer a workshop, "Get to the Point," at 2:30 p.m. in the Cox Creative Center. Moderator: Henderson State University professor Randy Duncan.
The Magic of Happiness and Grief (Arkansas Studies Institute, Room 124, 10 a.m.). The happy part will be handled by novelist and short-story writer Lauren Groff ("Arcadia," "The Monsters of Templeton," "Delicate Edible Birds") and the sad part by The Believer magazine-founder and fiction/non-fiction author Heidi Julavits ("The Vanishers"; see Q&A page 20). If anyone can compete against the graphic novel session, these two nationally-known crafters of the mystical ("Templeton" was a New York Times best-seller; the just-released "Vanishers" won praise from Pulitzer-Prize winner Jennifer Egan) can. Hendrix College writer-in-residence Tyrone Jaeger moderates.
Purgatory and Fellowship (Argenta Community Theater, 10 a.m.). "Devil's Knot" author and Times contributing editor Mara Leveritt will talk about her new book on the West Memphis Three and the HBO documentary "Paradise Lost: Purgatory" will be shown. Laman Library director Jeff Baskin will moderate. Also at 1 p.m. Sunday, April 15. Free tickets must be reserved for Saturday's presentation at paradiselost3.eventbrite.com and Sunday's at www.maraleveritt.eventbrite.com.
Trenton Lee Stewart (Main Library, 4th floor, 10 a.m.). Little Rock's own celebrated author of the Mysterious Benedict Society series, about four unusual children who save the world with their special abilities, will talk about his upcoming release, "The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict," a prequel to the series. Stewart was recently interviewed on NPR's "Backseat Book Club"; you can hear the interview at npr.org. Georgette Sims, the children's book buyer for WordsWorth bookstore, will moderate.
Artful Building (Main Library, Darragh Center, 11:30 a.m.). "The Biography of a Building" author Witold Rybczynksi will talk about the construction of the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts, a free-flowing exhibit space housed in an open-framed glass and metal building designed in the mid-1970s and located in East Anglia, Great Britain. Rybczynski will also talk about his meeting with Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art architect Moshe Safdie. Architect Reese Rowland moderates.
Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses (Main Library, Fribourgh Room, 11:30 a.m.). The wry memoir by book critic Claire Dederer, a contributer to the New York Times Book Review, uses yoga to talk about her life as a Seattle woman trying to be ubermom. Barefoot Yoga studio owner and instructor Breezy Osborne moderates.
Oppo (Arkansas Studies Institute, Room 124, 11:30 a.m.). Maybe you saw Alan Huffman and Michael Rejebian on the Daily Show talking to Jon Stewart about their jobs doing opposition research for the Democratic Party. Their book is "We're With Nobody: Two Insiders Reveal the Dark Side of American Politics," and their moderator is Talk Business host Roby Brock.
Prison Librarian (Cox Creative Center, 3rd floor, 11:30 a.m.). Here's a chance to meet writer Avi Steinberg, whose search for a secure job landed him in a Boston prison — as its librarian. Steinberg has been compared to David Sedaris, last year's Lit Festival star, and his funny memoir, "Running the Books," has been optioned for television by the producers of "The Office." Hendrix film studies professor Dorian Stuber will moderate.
Elizabeth and Hazel (Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, 11:30 a.m.). David Margolick, author of "Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock," will talk about his book about the women and the 1957 crisis at Central High. Spirit Trickey, whose mother Minnijean Trickey was, like Elizabeth Eckford, one of nine students to integrate Central, will be moderator.
Richard Martin (Historic Arkansas Museum, Ottenheimer Theatre, 11:30 a.m.). Former Times editor and writer Martin, now living in Boulder, Colo., and the editorial director of Pike Research, has written on technology, the energy industry and foreign affairs. He'll talk about his new book, "Superfuel: Thorium, the Green Energy Source of the Future," and the audience will leave more hopeful about the future. See David Koon's feature on Martin and his new book on page 16.
Blount and (F)raizer Sharp Wit (Main Library, Darragh Center, 1 p.m.): Humorists Roy Blount Jr., the nonpareil observer on Southern life whose new book is "Alphabetter Juice: The Joy of Text," and longtime New Yorker contributor Ian Frazier, author of "Travels in Siberia," team up for what will surely be a singular, super talk by great writers. Skip lunch, get to the Darragh Center early. "Carry the Rock" author Jay Jennings will moderate.
Ghosts, Crimes and Psychotic Hillbilllies (Arkansas Studies Institute, Room 124, 1 p.m.). Historian Brooks Blevins, Ozarks-born crime writer Jake Hinkson and local Southern gothic storyteller John Horner Jacobs test your courage with their tales of murder, the devil and worse. Business consultant and freelance writer Amy Bradley-Hole moderates.
Short stories (Main Library, 1st floor, 2:30 p.m.). Dare to go to this session with "Stay Awake" author Dan Chaon (pronounced "shawn"), whose short stories are about hauntings and ghosts, and Miroslav Penkov, author of "East of the West," tales of strange occurrences in his home country of Bulgaria. KUAR producer Ann Nicholson moderates.
Grassroots Basketball (Main Library, 1st floor, 2:30 p.m.). Sports Illustrated senior writer and Pulitizer Prize winner George Dohrmann talks about the commoditization of the hoop dreams of promising young basketball players competing in elite Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) games, which he explores in his book "Play Their Hearts Out." ArkansasSports360.com's Jim Harris moderates.
Ferocious Grace (Arkansas Studies Institute, Room 124, 2:30 p.m.). Stanford University's Wallace Stegner Fellow Justin Torres ("We the Animals") and poet Greg Brownderville ("Gust") bring family tales from New York and the Arkansas Delta together in this session moderated by actor, screenwriter and Arkansas Times columnist Graham Gordy.
Dearest Letty: The World War II Love Letters of Sgt. Leland Duvall (Historic Arkansas Museum, 2:30 p.m.). Times opinion writer Ernie Dumas and Leland Duvall were longtime friends and colleagues at the Arkansas Gazette before its closing in 1991. When Duvall's witty, spare and unsentimental letters about war and love to the woman he would marry turned up four years after the writer's death, Dumas was given permission by the family to compile them into a book. Arkansas Humanities Council director Paul Austin will moderate.
The Doors (Main Library, Darragh Center, 4 p.m.). If Robert Christgau is the Dean of American Rock Critics — smart, yeah, but also terse and a bit arrogant — then Greil Marcus is the mega-cerebral chair of the metaphysics department, pondering the big questions and making the connections between grimy r'n'r and lofty philosophical concepts. Marcus, author of "Mystery Train," "Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century" and "Dead Elvis," will discuss his newest book, "The Doors: A Lifetime of Listening to Five Mean Years." Oxford American editor Marc Smirnoff will moderate.
Family History Detective (Main Library, 1st floor, 4 p.m.). Everyone is getting on the genealogy train these days, trying to discover the characters among their progenitors. Desmond Walls Allen, author of "Family History Detective: A Step-by-Step Guide to Investigating Your Family Tree," says all aboard; you might end up in Utah. Walls' genealogy creds include a stint as guest expert in the first PBS "Ancestor" series and a 25-year career teaching seminars on the subject.
Queer for You (Cox Creative Center, 3rd floor, 4 p.m.). Poets Bryan Borland ("My Life as Adam"), Nickole Brown ("Sister") and Ed Madden ("Prodigal Variations") will talk about building readership for work that addresses LGBTQ life. Borland, from Alexander, is editor of Assaracus, a quarterly journal of gay poetry; Nickole Brown, at one time an editorial assistant to Hunter S. Thompson, teaches at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock; and Ed Madden, an Arkansas native, is associate professor of English at the University of South Carolina.
Magazine (Oxford American, 5:30 p.m.). The editors of three of the most well-regarded — and read — literary magazines gather to give a behind-the-scenes peek into the process of assembling their publications. With Marc Smirnoff of the Oxford American, Heidi Julavits of The Believer and Marco Roth of n+1. Of added interest, n+1 has been critical of The Believer and McSweeney's, the company that publishes The Believer, so mannered sparks may fly. Perhaps more compelling, the Oxford American will be serving free cocktails during the panel and afterwards at a reception that lasts until 7:30 p.m.
Pub or Perish (Lulav: A Modern Eatery, 7 p.m.). David Koon, the Arkansas Times' own Mark Twain, once again wraps up Saturday night's festivities by handing the mike to local greats, who'll read before an audience prone to tears and laughter thanks to ongoing lubrication from the bar. (Poets and writers who want to read should contact Koon at email@example.com at 9 a.m. on the dot Friday, April 13, to be assigned a time.) See more on Pub or Perish on page 22.
SUNDAY, APRIL 15
White House Desserts (Argenta Community Theater, 4 p.m., $20). The sweet moment finally arrives: Roland Mesnier, retired pastry chef for the White House, where he worked 26 years, returns to the festival to dish about baking for the leaders of the free world and his most recent book, "A Sweet World of White House Desserts: From Blown Sugar Baskets to Gingerbread Houses, a Pastry Chef Remembers." (Tickets available at arkansasliteraryfestival.org.)