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SouthArk Library prepares for second annual literary festival

Posted on March 8, 2019

By Michael Shine
Staff Writer

The South Arkansas Community College Library is geared up for its second annual literary festival.

The festival is a partnership between the SouthArk Library, the Union County Public Library and the Calhoun County Public Library to help the library create more of a resource of cultural activities. It is designed to offer things to readers of all kinds of books as well as writers and those interested in learning the craft of writing.

“One of the strategic initiatives of the college is to serve as a recognized resource for cultural enrichment,” said Philip Shackelford, library director. “This, I think, is really a compelling demonstration to our dedication to that initiative. Especially as an academic library, our responsibility is to promote literacy, academic success, learning and educational enrichment. Those things are really important to us as the library but also the college. This is a great opportunity to provide that to the community and to the college.”

The idea for the event come out of a strategic planning meeting two years ago, Shackelford said, when it was suggested to him that they could have a book symposium. He said they tried to make it happen that fall, but it got pushed back to the spring of 2018.

As part of the program, there will be at least one break out session each hour with each covering different topics related to being either a reader or a writer. One of the general sessions Shackelford said he’s looking forward to is the panel of librarians and educators talking about what reading can do for students.

“The second general session is going to be a panel of librarians and educators to really talk about the joy of reading, but also the importance and benefits of reading,” he said. “We’re hoping not to do just question and answer, we’ll have some topics that allow them to explore what books really influenced them, what are their favorite authors and what they would tell somebody who’s maybe not an avid reader to encourage reading.”

Some of the other break out sessions include “Today a readers, tomorrow a leader,” “What do you want to read? Reading recommendations for teens,” “Home of the Boom: Stories from South Arkansas,” and “Dark Stories: Tales of the living and the dead in the American South.” A full schedule is available at

Break out leaders come from SouthArk, but also from Henderson State University and SAU Magnolia as well as independent authors.

Along with the break out sessions, there will be a variety of vendors from the participating libraries that are focused on literacy. Shackelford said many of the vendors are authors themselves who will be there to sell books and talk to those interested in getting into writing.

The day will cap off with the keynote speaker author Cecelia Wilson.

Wilson write the novel “Back to Breman” which is based on the story of Edith Ropke Harris’ childhood in Nazi Germany. The 2017 novel follows Harris living in Bremen, Germany on the cusp of WWII with regular Allied bombing raids and the inability to trust anyone outside of the family. It’s focused on her nine-week journey through war-torn Germany.

Harris will be accompanying Wilson to the event.

Shackelford said they found out about Wilson because she did a free event at the Calhoun County Public Library.

“At our first meeting … she said ‘I think they would be interested, they could come for this,’” he said. “So we checked it out and they were good to go. We were blessed to be able to get them for free.”

This is the second annual literary festival with the first taking place last April. Last year’s was scheduled to take place over the course of two days, but was cut short by a thunderstorm that hit the SouthArk administration building, causing a fire.

Several of those who were scheduled to have sessions or booths, but weren’t able to because of the premature end, were able to reschedule to come this year. He said they approached it as a way to give them another opportunity.

Those planning the event decided to make it one day this year, but Shackelford said they’re excited to see the event continue to grow into a bigger thing in the coming years.

“We’re just hoping for a good turnout,” Shackelford said. “Everything else is lining up. No fire this time.”

Michael Shine may be reached at 870-862-6611 or Follow him on Twitter and like him on Facebook @MichaelAZShine for updates on Union County school news.