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

22 Jul

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.

The Old Writer: Working on the Ending

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.

“Women of Action: Strong Female Characters”
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.”

A Conroy Family Roundtable

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

2 Responses to “My Visit to the 2014 South Carolina Book Festival in Columbia, South Carolina”

  1. D.G. Kaye July 22, 2014 at 9:38 pm #

    Wow How fascinating Jeannie! So envious! What a wonderful experience, wish I could have been there with you. Thanks for the beautiful share, I shall help you share. Oh, and, LOVE The Prince of Tides! <3

    • JMB July 22, 2014 at 9:53 pm #

      Thanks, and me too, Debby! You never know what the book festivals will be like, and if you can make it to one, they really are worth checking out.

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