Reinvigorated Southern Lit Alliance books big plans
At age 63, an old dog isn’t thinking about new tricks, but the Southern Lit Alliance is feeling frisky as a pup off the leash, bringing readers and writers together with bold new programs for 2016 and broader outreach than ever before.
“Celebrating literature—that’s our mission,” says Alliance Board President Clif Henry, a local attorney. “Whether you’re a reader or writer, we want to set a common ground for all those who enjoy literature. We seek a newer audience for the mission and goals of our organization.”
Henry and the SLA staff intend to sustain the traditions that date back to the 1952 founding of the Alliance’s precursors, the Adult Education Council and later the Arts & Education Council, especially the flagship event: the Celebration of Southern Literature that brings dozens of famous and emerging authors to Chattanooga every two years. So, if this is not your parents’ Alliance, what’s new?
A series of book-related events called SouthBound, the brainchild of SLA Program Director Rhett Reeves, has sponsored book discussions at local taverns and coffee shops over the past year. That pace intensifies in calendar 2016, with events each month, including book clubs with visiting authors at venues like café-bar Granfalloon; scheduled public readings by published authors; and intimate dinner parties with visiting writers in local homes. These events extend ideas that have been part of the biennial Celebration, but now they’ll occur during the “off-year” as well, and thus, far more frequently.
“With the number of younger people moving here from other parts of the country,” says Henry, “we’re able to introduce them to the Chattanooga community using literature as a common background, going to lots of different places for these events. We’re a growing city, culturally a phenomenal city for the South, and the Alliance wants to contribute something unique as one of the pieces in this game.”
Reeves gives a for-instance from a recent book club hosting Kerry Howland, a creative nonfiction guest writer: “We had a woman there who moved here from LA, new in town, looking for something to do in Chattanooga. She stumbled upon us and had a great time, having a conversation with an award-winning writer and a bunch of like-minded people on a Tuesday night.”
Connecting writers to students in local schools has long been an Alliance goal, and the flood of visiting writers will boost that effort as well. “Bringing a writer to Chattanooga once a month for a reading or presentation, it will circle back into our outreach mission,” says Reeves. “So these writers will either do a writing workshop with teachers, visit a high school classroom, or attend a dinner party with some donors, the proceeds of which all cycle back.”
In a first for Chattanooga, the Alliance plans a day-long Young Readers Festival at the Chattanooga Public Library in early June 2016, bringing in children’s and YA authors galore to rub elbows with local kids. “It will be presentations and readings and book signings and just a whirlwind of a day with everything fun, in partnership with the Library,” says Reeves.
Henry and Reeves give credit for strong leadership over the past two decades to Susan Robinson, who recently stepped down as SLA executive director. In addition to financial support from local foundations like Benwood and Lyndhurst, the Alliance relies on its biggest fundraiser of the year as well, the smART gala and art auction scheduled for Sept. 24 at Stratton Hall.
“St. John’s Restaurant will cater the event,” says Reeves, “with libations by Chattanooga Brewing, Riverside Liquors, and Chattanooga Whiskey, and entertainment from the Booker Scruggs Jazz Band.”
The Alliance’s Facebook page—another pet project of Reeves—will feature previews of the 50 art pieces by local artists that will go to the highest bidders that night. Profits from the sales and the $50 tickets go into the Alliance’s outreach funding. “The name of the game for this fundraiser is to get what we’re doing out there,” says Reeves. The evening will showcase “slideshows of outreach programs, quotations from high school students who met a writer in their classrooms, pictures from our TheatreExpress outreach.”
As a nonprofit, the Alliance depends on its board of directors for elbow grease as well as brainstorming. Four new board members came on board in July, bringing a diversity of backgrounds and talents: Christian Collier, a local spoken-word poet and performer; Sam Currin, English Department Chair at McCallie School; Judge Kristina Graham of the Lookout Mtn. Judicial Circuit; Professor Jane Taylor of the Dalton State College English Department. After 63 years, the Southern Lit Alliance reinvests in the Chattanooga literary community once again, with a new generation of leaders and a cornucopia of fresh ideas.
Tuesday, Aug. 25: SoLit Book Clubs
Tuesday, Sept. 29: A Southern Girl, guest author John Warley;
Thursday, Oct. 8: The Sheltering, guest author Mark Powell. SoLit Out Loud reading
Tuesday, Oct. 13: Warley & Powell, Books & Brews
Visit southernlitalliance.org for more information.