The Bookmarks Festival of Books & Authors was hosted once again by Bookmarks, a bookstore and literary arts organization, in downtown Winston-Salem September 6-9, featuring authors, panels and exhibitors, book readings, food trucks, book signings, and book sales. The festival officially began here at Salem College on Thursday, September 6, with keynote speaker Zinzi Clemmons reading a selection from her book What We Lose and answering questions from the audience. There were a number of ticketed events during the festival; most notably, the Kid’s Keynote, Dav Pilkey, the creator of the Captain Underpants book series, who discussed his graphic novel series Dog Man.
Saturday was devoted to free events downtown, including panels, children’s book readings, and opportunities for members of the public to share drafts of their work on the Downtown Stage. Writer and illustrator Jennifer Thermes opened the family-friendly series of events in Winston Square Park with a reading of her children’s book, Grandma Gatewood Hikes the Appalachian Trail, based on the true story of Emma Rowena Gatewood, the first woman to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. Fans of Thermes eagerly await her next children’s book, which will be a history of Manhattan Island, told from the perspective of the island itself.
Calvary Moravian Church sponsored a series of talks by nonfiction writers, including Rick Bragg, Mark Powell, Beth Macy, Matthew Horace, and bestselling author Vegas Tenold, who wrote the notable Everything You Love Will Burn: Inside the Rebirth of White Nationalism in America. Tenold, a Norwegian-born journalist who spent about six years covering the rise of the “Alt-Right” in America, was inspired to begin his research after finding out about a local Neo-Nazi group when he was living in Brooklyn, NY.
“I think I’d been naive up until that point,” he told the audience.
He also discussed how he spent time with Matthew Heimbach, leader of the Traditionalist Worker Party, a Neo-Nazi group founded in 2013. Heimbach’s goal was to make white supremacy “more palatable to Conservatives,” said Tenold. “Everyone wants to be the next guy—everyone wants to be the next Hitler, so to speak.”
Tenold also advised the audience to refer to members of the movement simply as white nationalists, Nazis, or white supremacists. “You shouldn’t use the term ‘Alt-Right,’ said Tenold. “Why should we let them call themselves what they want?”
Other events at the festival included a number of author panels, some moderated by other authors. Popular among teens and young adults was “Check Your Reality at the Door: YA Fantasy,” featuring Zoraida Cordova, Claire Legrand, and Makiia Lucier, moderated by Roshani Chokshi. The authors spoke about world-building and character-developing in YA novels, drafting, and inspiration, as well as the importance of daydreaming in any aspiring writer’s life. All the authors on the panel agreed on the worst writing advice one could possibly receive: forcing oneself to write every single day.
“Don’t write every day,” said Legrand. “Unless you’re on a deadline, like me,” added Cordova.
The authors also fielded questions from the audience, mostly young people seeking advice for writing or inquiring about the writers’ creative processes and routines.
The festival also featured a wide variety of exhibitors, from Winston-Salem Pride to Aperture Cinema, including businesses like Bookish Birds, which sold “smart gifts for smart people,” namely buttons and book-related artwork. The NC Writers’ Network also had a tent offering information about their organization, as well as a few literary magazines, including the local Winston-Salem Flying South. Wake Forest University Press and Prospective Press were also featured, as well as a number of authors, like Marshall Gordon and Cameron Kent, who set up tents to advertise and answer questions about their novels.
The Bookmarks Festival, known as the largest book festival in the Carolinas, ended up featuring nearly fifty authors and dozens of panels and events. More information regarding Bookmarks and the annual festival can be found at bookmarksnc.org.