Nashville is cool for lots of reasons, one of which is the Southern Festival of Books, started in 1988 by Humanities Tennessee and held every fall on the state capital grounds downtown. These days it attracts 250,000 book lovers and an impressive line-up of authors. I’m so proud to have been part of the 2015 festival, and for my book to now be carried by Nashville’s Parnassus Books, the incredible independent bookstore co-founded by writer Ann Patchett in 2011.
Fellow LSU Press author Cynthia LeJeune Nobles and I presented a workshop together at the festival called “Bayou’s Bounty,” in which we discussed fictional and historical literary representations of Louisiana food. Cindy’s book, A Confederacy of Dunces Cookbook, was released this fall. It’s a companion to the beloved John Kennedy Toole comic novel about flatulent complainer (and glutton) Ignatius J. Reilly, and includes about 200 plot-inspired recipes as well as insights into the food scene of 1960s New Orleans, Toole’s hometown and setting for the novel. (A Confederacy of Dunces is one of my favorite books. I read it when I was toying with the idea of moving to Louisiana many years ago, and reread it this year. It’s SO New Orleans, and so incredibly funny.)
During our workshop, as I was discussing Louisiana foodways, I asked the crowd if anyone was originally from Louisiana. Sure enough, a bunch of hands went up, which affirms one of Hungry for Louisiana’s central themes: the soul of the Bayou State is wrapped up in food. If it’s in your blood, it never leaves.
Afterwards, we signed books. I happened to sit next to another presenting author, the wildly popular Nicola Yoon, whose young adult novel, Everything, Everything has been a New York Times Bestseller. Yoon told me she wrote the manuscript in the wee hours of the morning after getting up with her new baby. I know what it feels like to get up in middle of the night with kids (I’m still scarred from it) and I can’t tell you how impressed I am that she pulled this off. Go, writer, go. The success of her novel has enabled Yoon to quit her day job and keep at her first love, the written word.
Later, I headed back over to the LSU Press tent. In addition to mine and Cindy’s books, two other 2015 releases from the Press were featured at the festival, my friend Gwen Roland’s novel, Postmark Bayou Chene and Tulane University visiting professor Christina Vella’s biography, George Washington Carver, A Life. I looked up at one point, and thumbing through these and other titles was novelist and playwright Rebecca Wells, the Louisiana native and author of Little Altars Everywhere and The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.
I appreciate Rebecca for indulging me in this picture in which I’m convincing her she’s Hungry for Louisiana. In truth, she’s about to move from her longtime home on the Pacific northwest back south – not to Louisiana, but to Nashville.
And why not? It’s a great place, filled with music, hot chicken and bibliophiles.
“Nashville is a city that is particularly sympathetic to all things independent,” Patchett writes on the Parnassus Books website about her decision to launch the bookstore.
It was fertile ground, she says, for recreating “that kind of bookstore, one that valued books and readers above muffins and adorable plastic watering cans, a store that recognized it could not possibly stock every single book that every single person might be looking for, and so stocked the books the staff had read and liked and could recommend…”
Thank you, Nashville, for a fabulous day.