As usual, the Arkansas Literary Festival has packed dozens of compelling authors and panels into its four-day event. If your tastes are at all broad, you'll have tough choices to make. Below, we suggest our favorites. See the full line-up and more biographical information about the featured authors at arkansasliteraryfestival.org. All events are free unless otherwise noted.
Friday, April 19
6:30 p.m. "Grey Me Up, Baby" (Main Library, Darragh Center). Things get started off with a bang with this panel discussion for people who like reading or writing about people who like it rough. Panelist Lori Perkins runs a literary agency that's worked on books like Jenna Jameson's "How to Make Love Like a Porn Star" and "50 Writers on 50 Shades of Grey," which Perkins edited. She's joined by Sylvia Day, a bestselling romance author who was one of the 50 writers featured in Perkins' collection. Bre Von Buxxxom of the Little Rock burlesque troupe the Diamond Dames moderates.
8 p.m. "Author! Author!" (Main Library, 5th floor) Mix and mingle with festival authors. Tickets are $25 in advance at arkansasliteraryfestival.org or at any Central Arkansas Library System branch, or $40 at the door, and include hors d'oeuvres and libations.
Saturday, April 20
10 a.m. "Chasing Woodpeckers" (Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center). Tim Gallagher, editor of Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology's "Living Bird" magazine, was one of the main players who brought Cornell to the Big Woods of Arkansas in 2004 to search for the ivory-billed woodpecker. His latest woodpecker book, "Imperial Dreams: Tracking the Imperial Woodpecker through the Wild Sierra Madre," documents his search for a bird last seen in 1956. Mike Armstrong moderates.
10 a.m. "Superhero Psychology & Law" (Arkansas Studies Institute, Room 124). If you've ever found yourself thinking that the real reason Batman and Spiderman wear masks is because they'd get sued into the poorhouse otherwise, this might just be the panel for you. On hand to discuss the psychology and theoretical legal wrinkles in all that spandex will be Travis Langley, author of "Batman and Psychology," and James Daily, author of "The Law of Superheroes." Joel DiPippa, professor at UALR's William H. Bowen School of Law, moderates.
10 a.m. "Obsessive Reading Disorder" (Main Library, Darragh Center). Wry, working-man's humorist Joe Queenan will be on hand to talk about his memoir "One for the Books," which discusses "the culture of reading," his lifelong obsession with books, his 100- to 200-per-year habit, and why book club arguments should always be so passionate they end in knife fights. With moderator Jay Jennings.
11:30 a.m. "Secede Already" (Main Library, Darragh Center). Chuck Thompson discusses his book "Better Off Without 'Em: A Northern Manifesto on Southern Secession," which deals with what's bound to be a touchy subject in Arkansas. The book's a humorous look at whether the states of the old Confederacy have finally devolved intellectually, rhetorically, politically and socially to the point that the rest of the United States should just grant neo-secessionists the divorce they've been dreaming of since 1860. The book includes a chapter on race-related dysfunction in Little Rock public schools. CALS director Bobby Roberts moderates.
11:30 a.m. "A Poet's Homecoming" (Arkansas Studies Institute, room 124). Arkansas native C.D. Wright, professor of poetry at Brown University and winner of fellowships from the MacArthur and the Guggenheim foundations among other awards, is a narrative poet whose most recent work, "One With Others," is an elegy for "V," a white woman whose support for the march against racism led by Sweet Willie Wine in 1969 led to her ostracization. Arkansas poet Hope Coulter moderates.
11:30 a.m. "Savory & Delicious" (Historic Arkansas Museum, Ottenheimer Theatre). Jessica Harris, the author of 12 cookbooks, including "High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America," will talk about historic foodways of African Americans.
11:30 a.m. "Surreal Society Rebuilding" (Cox Creative Center, 3rd floor). Ben Katchor, the first cartoonist to win the MacArthur "genius grant," talks about his celebrated new book "Hand-Drying in America: And Other Stories." NPR.org raves, "Katchor gently interrogates the everyday — the click of a light switch, say, or the nozzle on a can of shaving cream — and finds unimagined and uncanny depths within ... . Elliptical and mysterious but never abstruse, the picture-poems of 'Hand-Drying in America' celebrate the mundane world around us by revealing it to be anything but." Randy Duncan moderates.
1 p.m. "Historical Poetry" (Mosaic Templars Cultural Center). Kentucky poet Frank X Walker, who coined the term "Affrilachia" to represent the black experience in the Applachians, discusses his new poetry collection, "Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar Evers." It takes on all those affected by the murder of Medgar Evers, including Evers' widow, Myrlie, and his assassin, Byron De La Beckwith. Nikole Brown moderates.
1 p.m. "Masterwork" (Main Library, Darragh Center). If you don't get to this one early, you're going to be standing or turned away. Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Ford is easily the biggest name of the festival. He'll be talking about and perhaps reading from his 2012 novel "Canada," about a 15-year-old who takes refuge in Canada after his parents go to jail for robbing a bank. He may also talk more about a topic he discussed with David Koon in this week's Arkansas Reporter — his time growing up in Little Rock's Marion Hotel. Kane Webb moderates.
1 p.m. "Delta Queen" (Main Library, 5th floor). Louisiana writer Cynthia LeJeune Nobles will talk about her book, "The Delta Queen Cookbook," and the recipes from the famed steamboat while chef Lee Richardson serves up samples. $15, limited seating. Purchase tickets via arkansasliteraryfestival.org.
2:30 p.m. "Pathos and Possibility" (MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History). Leonard Pitts Jr., a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Miami Herald, will talk about his novel, "Freeman," about a runaway slave who returns to the South after the Confederacy surrenders. Shareese Kondo moderates.
2:30 p.m. "Poster Girl" (Argenta Community Theater, NLR). Sponsored by the Little Rock Film Festival and the Hendrix-Murphy Foundation, this film screening will feature the Oscar-nominated documentary short "Poster Girl," the story of former cheerleader and National Merit Scholar Robynn Murray, who joined the Army and went to Iraq, only to come home a scarred, broken woman forced to battle both the Veterans Administration and her post-traumatic stress disorder. Filmmaker Sara Neeson will be on hand to answer questions about the film.
4 p.m. "A Dazzling Trio" (Arkansas Studies Institute, room 124). Readings by three of the South's most unique fiction writers, all masters of comic wisdom: Cult favorite Padgett Powell ("You and Me," "Edisto"), known for dazzling sentences that imbue his short works with emotional punch even as they careen away from narrative convention; the up-and-comer Kevin Moffett ("Further Interpretations of Real-Life Events"), a dark humorist who writes heartbreaking short stories and is at the vanguard of experiments in fiction and new media, and local favorite Kevin Brockmeier (The Brief History of the Dead," "The Illumination"), whose knack for using puckish whimsy to poke at hard truths has made him a three-time O. Henry award winner and a must-see at the festival. Angelle Gremillion moderates.
4 p.m. "Invisible Inc." (Argenta Community Theater). Local authors and actors — including Graham Gordy and Trenton Lee Stewart — read "Invisible Inc.," Shakespeare scholar Paul Menzer's new play about feuding magicians in Depression-era New York.
4 p.m. "Lone Star Borders" (Main Library, Darragh Center). Oxford American magazine editor Roger D. Hodge, who is writing a book about Texas border country, and Domingo Martinez, author of "The Boy Kings of Texas," will compare notes. KUAR's Michael Hibblen leads the discussion.
4 p.m. Petticoats, Ribbons and Newspapers (Mosaic Templars Cultural Center). Publishers Dorothy R. Leavell of the Crusader Newspaper Group, Rosetta Miller-Perry of the Tennessee Tribune and Janis F. Kearney of the Arkansas State Press will talk about female African-American journalists working in the civil rights movement with moderator Angela Thomas of AY Magazine.
Sunday, April 21
3 p.m. Finale (Main Library, Darragh Center). Darkly funny writers Karen Russell ("Swamplandia," "Vampires in the Lemon Grove") and Lydia Millet ("My Happy Life," "Love in Infant Monkeys") will talk about their recent books with Little Rock novelist Kevin Brockmeier.