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My Visit to the 2014 South Carolina Book Festival in Columbia, South Carolina

Jeannie with Pat Conroy Signature

The third weekend in May, I attended The South Carolina Book Festival in Columbia, South Carolina. Held at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center,  the festival is a free program of The Humanities Council of South Carolina. The event was blessed with great weather. This was my first visit to Columbia, and the drive down from Charlotte was warm and beautiful.

Columbia, South Carolina, Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center

Sadly, I didn’t make it to the Opening Keynote Address by Christopher Buckley, and I wasn’t able to attend both days of the festival, but my Saturday schedule was packed.

[typography font=”Covered By Your Grace” size=”24″ size_format=”px”] The Old Writer: Working on the Ending[/typography]

Rob Neufeld and Gail Godwin at the South Carolina Book Festival

The first program I attended was with authors Gail Godwin and Rob Neufeld. I haven’t read either of their works, but once they said they were from Asheville, North Carolina, I felt right at home. I have an innate ability to be drawn to anyone or anything that speaks of Asheville.

Gail Godwin and Rob Neufeld at the South Carolina Book Festival

I loved hearing Ms. Godwin speak and read from her work. Further, any writer who takes a photo with her cats rolling around and commanding attention from the camera is someone I’d want to know. I anticipate I’ll learn more about Ms. Godwin, as I have her Making of a Writer: Journals 1961-1963 in my summer reading cue.

Hear Ms. Godwin in her own words in an interview on The Book Show with  Joe Donahue.

Gail Godwin photo by Jerry Bauer
Gail Godwin photo by Jerry Bauer

 

Rob Neufeld is a writer and editor. He edited both volumes of Ms. Godwin’s The Making of a a Writer: The Journals of Gail Godwin. He provided insight into the works of Ms. Godwin, explaining that her journals were never written to be published, that they were indeed true journals filled with private thoughts, dreams, and personal interactions throughout her life. He revealed that Ms. Godwin is dedicated to writing in her journal; she fills 800 pages a year.

As I entered the room for the next program, I overheard two teenage boys talking about Ms. Godwin. They enjoyed listening to her, but once she was introduced as having studied with Kurt Vonnegut, they had hoped she would elaborate on the time spent with Vonnegut. I silently nodded in agreement. I would have loved to hear a few of those stories myself.

[typography font=”Covered By Your Grace” size=”24″ size_format=”px”]”Women of Action: Strong Female Characters” [/typography]

Women of Action Strong Female Characters Panel
Authors: Nina de Gramont, Jeremy Whitley, Suzanne Kamata

 

The trio on the next panel spoke about the need for fictional female characters to possess both strength and intelligence. Each author spoke about how they tackled the idea in their own books.

 Nina de Gramont referenced her book, Every Little Thing in the World, and said that intelligent female characters are also flawed and may make poor choices for themselves or others.

Jeremy Whitley, author of the Princeless comic series, created a self-empowered princess  who’s tired of waiting to be rescued by others. As a father, Mr. Whitley wants his daughter to be inspired by the characters that she reads about, and for him, that means creating a strong female character that isn’t waiting for a prince to arrive and set her world straight.

Suzanne Kamata, author of Gadget Girl: The Art of Being Invisible, spoke of the way in which a female character can possess strength while having her vulnerabilities and weaknesses displayed to the reader. Ms. Kamata’s own daughter, who has cerebral palsy and is deaf, was the inspiration for Gadget Girl. The female protagonist, Aiko Cassidy, also has cerebral palsy, and through her story, Ms. Kamata presents the honest journey of a character who is liberated by her art.

The audience for this panel was very interesting, as the ages of the audience members ranged from teenagers to seniors. One senior lady spoke up and said that she loved to read about strong female characters because in her day, “girls weren’t allowed to even sweat.”

[typography font=”Covered By Your Grace” size=”24″ size_format=”px”]A Conroy Family Roundtable[/typography]

I was fortunate to grab a seat in the crowded room that housed the roundtable discussion with Pat Conroy and his siblings. Moderator Aida Rogers asked the family questions about their youth, their parents, and of course, what is like to have Pat Conroy as a brother.  I felt as though I were sitting with old friends, as Jim, Mike, Pat, Tim, and sister Kathy Harvey entertained the crowd with their stories. I didn’t know what to expect when I saw the program on the schedule, but I loved it.

It is a rare event where fans get to experience a beloved author in such an unguarded and familial setting. The intimacy of the hour felt surreal, and I’m certain I’ll never experience such an event like this at any future festival.  Watching the five of them reminisce over their shared past and joke with one another as their authentic personalities bloomed before us was a moment I’ll always treasure.

Columbia, South Carolina, Convention Center

Pat Conroy and family are loved by the audience at the South Carolina Book Festival
At the end of the program, fans lined up to hug and shake hands with the members of the Conroy family.

 

After the program, the family was available to sign Mr. Conroy’s books. I didn’t initially get in line, as it was quite long, and I had a long drive ahead of me. I paused before leaving the building and returned to find the line had shortened and reprimanded myself for thinking I should leave without meeting Mr. Conroy. I shook off my shyness and got in line to have my well-loved copy of The Prince of Tides signed.

It was a great honor to meet and shake hands with Pat Conroy. He and his brothers and sister Kathy were so personable and friendly, and they can’t help but make everyone they encounter feel like an instant friend. I’ve met a number of celebrities, and I’m never impressed by pretentious personalities. The genuineness of the family was endearing, and it only served to solidify my admiration for Mr. Conroy.

Jeannie with Pat Conroy Signature

I will confess that I didn’t participate in my usual routine of cleaning my hands with antibacterial hand soap. I came home and rubbed my “Pat Conroy hand” all over my computer, pens, notebooks, and cat. Yes, even the cat. I’m hoping I absorbed a tiny inkling of Mr. Conroy’s greatness. Don’t judge me; writers must do whatever is necessary to help keep the inspiration train returning to the station, and if believing in the power of a few mixed skin cells achieves that goal, I’m all for it.

Listen to Mr. Conroy speak about his book The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son, and his decision to no longer hide behind fiction to tell his family’s stories.

The book festival was great fun. I loved the people I met, especially the fellow readers and festival attendees. Seriously, everyone was greeted with a smile and a warm hello. The volunteers did an excellent job, and I look forward to future festivals.

The convention center is beautiful and easily accessible. Every meeting room was marked for easy navigation. The snack bar was a hit, and I was happy to see they offered a few vegan items, too!

Maybe I’ll see you next year at the Nineteenth Annual South Carolina Book Festival! Mark your calendars for May 15-17, 2015!

Check out the commercial for the 2014 South Carolina Book Festival.

Facts about Columbia, South Carolina:

Columbia, known by its inhabitants as The City of Dreams, is the state capital and largest city in the State of South Carolina. The population was 129,272 according to the 2010 census. The 2013 United States Census estimates put the city at 133,358. Source: Wikipedia

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Remembering Sweet Tristan

Jeannie's Siberian Husky Tristan in a Mobility Cart

Tristan, the middle dog.

Tristan was our beloved and challenging middle dog. He was an intelligent Siberian Husky who believed he was the leader of our pack, and his dominance issues with our older dog always kept us on our toes.

In the last year of his life, he suffered from Canine Cognitive Disorder and had Degenerative Myelopathy. Essentially, he had a canine version of dementia, and he experienced weakness and instability in his hind quarters. We purchased a mobility cart for him, and he took off with a renewed spirit and vigor.

Jeannie's Siberian Husky Tristan in a Mobility Cart

I was fortunate enough to be with him around the clock.   Most days and nights passed with little sleep, as he was driven to pace and walk. I stayed right by his side as he rolled around the house. He was always the active dog, even in his senior years.

I learned so much from him in the fifteen years I was blessed to share with him. Among so many things, he taught me about forgiveness, patience, and of course, unconditional love. It is hard to imagine that it has been four years since I’ve buried my face in his furry neck. Time is a funny thing. It feels as though it were yesterday when I last held him, and yet in the same heartbeat, it feels like he’s been gone fifteen years.

I miss you, Tristan. I love you.

Jeannie Bushnell with her Siberian Husky, Tristan

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Book Review: Afro-Vegan Cookbook by Bryant Terry

Afro-Vegan Cookbook by Bryant Terry

I’m pleased to present the review of and my cooking adventures with The Afro-Vegan cookbook by Bryant Terry. As a cookbook collector, I think the cookbook is beautiful. The plant-based recipes are southern with African and Caribbean influences.

In the words of the author:

Imagine if you removed the animal products from African, Caribbean, Southern, and other Afro-influenced cuisines, then meticulously cut, pasted, and remixed the food to produce recipes with farm-fresh ingredients as their heart and soul: that is Afro-Vegan.

As a fun element, each recipe has a musical soundtrack suggestion, and there are film and book suggestions on some recipes.

Afro-Vegan Cookbook by Bryant Terry

I know that many people shy away from a book like this because they fear the recipes will be too far outside of their comfort zone, or the recipes will require expensive ingredients that are hard to find. The ingredients used in the recipes won’t require a trek to a specialty store. This is very important to a lot of people, especially those who are new to cooking, and those who are intimidated by cooking recipes that seem foreign or confusing. I have a number of super fancy ingredient cookbooks, and while I love to look through them (because I do look through my cookbooks, even when I have no intention of making anything from them), the convoluted recipe list doesn’t inspire me to get in the kitchen. The recipes, photos, and ingredient lists in Afro-Vegan make me want to throw on my apron and get to work.

You need a bit of an adventurous palate for these recipes. The foundation of the recipes are based on solid pantry staples, but the manner in which Terry combines spices and introduces other ingredients into a dish may have you raising an eyebrow. Don’t fret. I made five of the recipes, and I enjoyed each of them.

The book isn’t heavy on images. A photo doesn’t accompany every recipe. I know some people like the idea of seeing every recipe photographed, but the images that are included are beautiful.

Smashed Potatoes made by Jeannie Bushnell

Potatoes are one of my favorite foods, and the smashed potatoes with peas, corn, and chile-garlic oil recipe is easy to prepare, and it will undoubtedly become a favorite menu item for your family. Don’t be afraid of the chile-garlic oil. If you don’t want it too spicy, cut back on the chile pepper. Remember, the mixture will have a great deal more spice when it is made fresh and will mellow out after it has been in the fridge overnight. Try it and see how you like it.

 

All Green Spring Slaw made by Jeannie Bushnell

The All-Green Spring Slaw is a great side for the smashed potatoes, because it calms the heat of the chile-garlic oil. This fresh and light dish can be paired with just about anything. The dressing has a foundation of silken tofu that can easily be whipped up and added to another favorite salad. I’m normally not a fan of slaw, but this green cabbage recipe features additions like peas, sugar snap peas, celery, and raw pumpkin seeds.

 

Glazed Carrot Salad made by Jeannie Bushnell

You may think you know glazed carrots, but I bet you’ve never had them quite like this. I make a sweet glazed carrot dish around the holidays every year (I am from Texas!), but this savory dish is a delightful twist on that menu favorite. This recipe will surely surprise your guests and palette, as the cinnamon, garlic, cumin seeds, cilantro, and peanuts propel this dish to another level. The roasted cumin seeds add a spice that is mellow and delicious.  This would be a great item to bring to a potluck or summer barbeque.

 

Collard Greens and Cabbage with Lots of Garlic made by Jeannie M. Bushnell

Collard greens have been a staple of my diet my entire life. Collard greens are easy to make and have many health benefits. This recipe calls for thinly sliced collard greens, and as someone that usually just roughly chops or tears the greens, this was new for me. The thin cuts combined with cabbage lightens the flavor of the greens and prevents the greens from turning into the large mush pile that so many people cite as a reason that they refrain from the vegetable. I was pleased to find bagged collard greens that were thinly sliced. If you are short on time, finding them sliced will help reduce preparation time.

I would never have thought to throw cabbage in with my greens, but I really enjoyed the extra texture and flavors. I love garlic, and this recipe calls for seven cloves! Again, if that is too much garlic for you, adjust the amount to fit your tastes.

 

Coconut Rice Pudding made by Jeannie M. Bushnell

Of all the recipes that I tried, this one took the most preparation. It requires  prior planning, as the raw cashews and basmati rice need to be soaked overnight, and the dessert needs to chill. The nectarines and peach puree add sweetness to the cashew cream and rice. Smooth and delicious, this pudding is already a favorite in our house.

Put the pudding in these little 4 oz. canning jars, and you’ve created a portable snack that is ready when you want it. You can toss them in your lunch sack or make them in advance for a weekend outing. They make a great snack any time of the week.

[typography font=”Just Me Again Down Here” size=”24″ size_format=”px”]The Last Bite:[/typography]

Seasoned cooks and newbies alike will benefit from this cookbook. Based on many well-known recipes, the mundane recipes you may have grown accustomed to are taken to new heights of flavor. The techniques used in the book are unlikely to confuse or overwhelm a new cook. Additionally, this book would make a great gift for anyone who is attempting to incorporate more plant-based recipes into their diet.

Interested in trying one of his recipes? Check out this recipe for Muscovado-Roasted Plantains.

Find Afro-Vegan in an independent bookstore near you!

You can follow Mr. Terry on FB and Twitter, too.

Disclaimer: I received this free book from Blogging for Books for this review. I’ve provided my honest opinion and experience with the book.