New “Read Local Festival” connects and celebrates Triangle’s “literary ecosystem”.

By Taryn Oesch

The Triangle is known for its dedication to eating local and shopping local, with such events as food truck rallies, farmers markets, and Restaurant Week becoming staples of our local culture. Now, thanks to group of dedicated volunteers, the Triangle will also be reading local.

PrintThe Triangle is home to an abundance of literary talent, and its literary culture is only improving, says Elizabeth Turnbull, local author, senior editor of Light Messages Publishing, and organizer of the new Read Local Book Festival. She uses the term “local literary ecosystem” to describe the Triangle’s literary arts scene, and the phrase is apt.  An ecosystem is a community of interdependent groups living in cooperation with each other. Certainly, this description fits our local literary ecosystem, and the Read Local Book Festival is an excellent example.

While many other state and national book festivals may only involve one publisher or bookseller, Read Local avoids competition by inviting all local vendors to participate. The festival is completely volunteer-led; even the authors are attending free of charge. Many of the events are free and the proceeds from those are being donated to the Durham Library Foundation. As Elizabeth points out, a community library, as the place where all members of the local literary ecosystem come together, is the perfect partner of a “read local” book festival.

The idea to create the Read Local Festival came from Elizabeth.  As an editor, she wanted a way to be able to really connect with her local authors – sometimes a difficult task at a small press like Light Messages. The term “Read Local” came from one of her authors. It started as a broad campaign and then they decided to create a small festival. Elizabeth gathered together a group of librarians, nationally bestselling authors, small publishers, and community volunteers, and soon this small festival grew into a two-day event to be held May 16-17. That kind of growth is “what happens when you get a group of brilliant people together,” she says. Events include workshops, panel discussions, an exhibitor fair, celebrity readings, lightning readings by emerging authors, an “Author Buffet,” and – the grand finale – “Writers in the Ring,” a boxing-themed “write-off” complete with audience jeering and cheering.  Find out who is coming, so far,  here.

Members of the local literary ecosystem, such as publishers, booksellers, designers, and artists, can apply online to participate in events or in the exhibitor fair. A full exhibitor table is $100, and half a table is $50 (again, proceeds go to the Durham County Library).

If, like me, you are excited by the thought of becoming a more integral member of the local literary ecosystem, sign up for email updates or to volunteer at the festival. There are opportunities for everybody, and the volunteer sign-up form not only allows you to select which days and times are best for you, but will tailor your volunteer shift(s) based on your interests. (For example, if you really want a volunteer role that will enable you to interact with the authors, you can say so!) If you have any questions about volunteering, email Elise Sharpe, the festival’s volunteer coordinator..

Do you tweet? Facebook? Share the event with your friends and followers! And of course, one of the easiest ways you can support the festival and your local literary ecosystem is to show up. Come to a workshop on graphic novels or a panel on writing about music, buy tickets for the Author Buffet and meet your favorite local authors, or come to Sunday’s free exhibitor fair to learn more about ecosystem members and get some swag (free in exchange for a donation to the Durham Library Foundation)! You can also contribute financially by sponsoring the event or donating online.

Aside from the Read Local Book Festival, Elizabeth and her team are working on other ways to build the “read local” movement in the Triangle and beyond. (Stay tuned for a Cookbook Rodeo!) For instance, Elizabeth wants to create a booklet to share her experience and advice for people in other towns who want to create similar “read local” festivals. She encourages everyone to “read local” by going to local booksellers and asking what local authors and presses they represent. In fact, she expands the definition of “local” and recommends doing the same when you visit another town, state, or even country: It “gives you a depth of understanding and richness you wouldn’t have otherwise.” It’s like reading Huckleberry Finn while traveling the Mississippi or perusing the poems of William Wordsworth when visiting England’s Lake District.

Taryn Oesch is a freelance writer and long-time Raleigh resident, graduating from Wakefield High School in 2006 and Meredith College in 2010. She enjoys volunteering for The Justice Theater Project and organizations that support children and teens with chronic illness and disabilities. In her free time, she plays the piano, spoils her godchildren, and battles for apartment space with her uncontrollable collection of books.


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