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Greensboro Bound literary festival returns — virtually
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Greensboro Bound literary festival returns — virtually

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GREENSBORO — The annual Greensboro Bound literary festival — canceled in 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic — will return this year in a virtual format. 

The third festival, this year titled "21 Conversations," will be held virtually from May 13 to 16.

The festival plans conversations between North Carolina authors with authors from around the globe on a collection of varied topics.

Those authors include Nnedi Okorafor, Roxane Gay, Candacy A. Taylor, former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins, John Hart, Allan Gurganus and Bakari Sellers.

"We are trying to cover as much ground as we can in 21 conversations," said Steve Colyer, who introduced the festival idea to the city.

"I am stunned that we were able to get the level of people and the kind of conversations we will be having," Colyer said.

Most will be pre-recorded, with a few special events that will air live.

The public can watch for free at greensborobound.com, thanks to supporting sponsors.

Viewers likely will be inspired to buy a book as well. Downtown bookseller Scuppernong Books partners with the festival.

The full schedule, with dates and times for each event, will be released on April 1.

Attendees will need to register via greensborobound.com to access links for pre-recorded events, and to sign up for live Zoom events and workshops, Program Manager Jessica Beamon said.

Colyer hopes that it will attract at least the same number of viewers as in years past, if not more. About 5,000 people have attended each of the past two festivals.

Dabney Sanders, who chairs the board of organizers in the Greensboro Literary Organization, shares Colyer's optimism about festival growth.

Because presentations will be archived for later viewing as well, Sanders said, "It gives us the possibility to reach many more people in different ways."

Organizers also will produce the first-ever Children's Book Festival in North Carolina from March 8 to 12, featuring author presentations and other events.

The children's festival, too, will be virtual, and reach all 16,000-plus middle-grade students in Guilford County Schools.

The nonprofit Greensboro Literary Organization formed in 2017 to create year-round programming and present the city’s first literary festival.

It wanted to create a space for readers and writers to come together and share stories and experiences.

By providing a platform for dialogue, it aimed to create more understanding of and empathy for the human condition.

It also would create an Authors Engaging Students program, which brings authors to schools and gets their books into school libraries.

The inaugural festival made its debut in 2018, bringing authors and book lovers to downtown venues. It returned in 2019.

But when the pandemic hit in 2020, organizers canceled with hopes of returning in person in 2021. 

With the pandemic persisting this year, they instead have planned virtual conversations with such authors as:

• Nnedi Okorafor, a Nigerian American writer of fantasy and science fiction for both children and adults. She is best known for her Binti novellas and her novels "Who Fears Death," "Zahrah the Windseeker," "Akata Witch" and "Lagoon."

She will converse with Tara Green, director of UNCG's African American Studies program. UNCG University Libraries made the event possible.

• Billy Collins, former U.S. poet laureate. He will talk with Ron Rash, poet, short story writer and novelist. The Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro made the event possible.

"Lots of folks end up really enjoying him, even if you might say you’re not a poetry person," Sanders said of Collins.

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• Allan Gurganus, a novelist, short story writer and essayist. His work, which includes "Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All" and "Local Souls," is often influenced by and set in his native North Carolina.

He will speak with Southern author George Singleton.

• Roxane Gay, author of The New York Times best-selling essay collection "Bad Feminist," "Hunger," "Not That Bad: Dispatches From Rape Culture," and the forthcoming "Unti on Writing."

Gay will talk with Cynthia R. Greenlee, co-editor of "The Echoing Ida Collection."

• John Sayles, independent film director, screenwriter, editor, actor and novelist who wrote "A Moment in the Sun."

He will speak with Pulitzer Price-winning journalist David Zucchino, author of "Wilmington's Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy."

• Candacy A. Taylor, author of "Overground Railroad: The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America."

Taylor will converse with Natalie Pass-Miller, executive director of Greensboro's historic Magnolia House. Magnolia House was listed in "The Green Book" for Black motorists seeking safe places to stay and dine during segregation. 

"That speaks so well to this whole idea of looking at North Carolina and the world and making those connections," Sanders said. 

• John Hart, a thriller novelist whose books take place in North Carolina, where he was born and once lived. He is a Davidson College graduate.

• Bakari Sellers, author of the memoir "My Vanishing Country" and the son of civil rights activist Cleveland Sellers.

Cleveland Sellers, who received his education doctorate in history at UNCG, spoke at the 2019 festival.  

Bakari Sellers will converse with Issac Bailey, a veteran journalist and author of "Why Didn't We Riot? A Black Man in Trumpland."

• Kaitlyn Greenidge, author of "Libertie," in conversation with Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle, author of "Even as We Breathe."

• Sharon Salzberg, author of "Real Change: Mindfulness to Heal Ourselves and the World."

Salzberg will converse with Omid Safi, author of "Radical Love: Teachings from the Islamic Mystical Tradition."

• Rivers Solomon, author of "Sorrowland," in conversation with K.M. Szpara, author of "Docile."

Cookbooks will have a presence, too. 

Whitney Otawka, chef at Greyfield Inn on Cumberland Island, Ga., has written a book called “The Saltwater Table.”

She will speak with Ricky Moore, who runs two restaurants in Durham and wrote “Saltbox Seafood Joint Cookbook.”  

The lineup includes other authors with North Carolina ties, including Denise Kiernan, a journalist, producer and history author who lives in Asheville, and Greensboro’s James Tate Hill.

Hill is an editor for Monkeybicycle and contributing editor at Literary Hub, where he writes a monthly audiobooks column.

The Romance Panel will feature Alisha Rai, Rosie Danan, Kianna Alexander and Joanna Lowell.

One of the two livestreaming workshops will feature Jessica Jacobs and Nickole Brown, authors of "Write It! 100 Poetry Prompts to Inspire."

The other will be a young adult-focused workshop with the editor and authors of "Our Stories, Our Voices: 21 YA Authors Get Real about Injustice, Empowerment, and Growing Up Female in America."

Sanders sees "a little bit of a silver lining in being forced to go virtual" this year.

It can't replace the camaraderie of an in-person festival, Sanders said. Organizers look forward to returning to that in 2022.

"But I think we can probably reach many more than you sometimes can do with an in-person event," she said. "That’s exciting long-term."

Contact Dawn DeCwikiel-Kane at 336-373-5204 and follow @dawndkaneNR on Twitter.

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