New literary event Deckle Edge to pick up where S.C. Book Festival left off

The South Carolina Book Festival is no more, but book lovers can rejoice as a group of Columbia literary aficionados have a new event in the works to promote the city’s writing community.

The collective, coordinated by local writer Darien Cavanaugh and Annie Boiter-Jolley of Jasper Magazine, will launch Deckle Edge, South Carolina’s Literary Festival early next year.

University of South Carolina Press Executive Director Jonathan Haupt, Jasper Magazine Editor-In-Chief Cindi Boiter, USC English language and literature professor Elise Blackwell and Richland Library, among others, also signed on to help create the new festival.

“We didn’t want to lose that book festival,” Cavanaugh said of the S.C. Book Festival. “We were very proud of it, and it was a central part of the literary arts community here.”

A website for Deckle Edge will be launched in the next week or two, Cavanaugh said, and the new festival is set for Feb. 19 through Feb. 21.

Deckle Edge still will feature book signings, sales and other types of programming familiar to visitors of the SC Book Festival, but the new format will be a more inclusive program to include, graphic novels, comic books, singer-songwriting, and writing for film and comedies.

“We’re going to hold onto the audience and visitors they had,” Cavanaugh said. “They have been loyal and we want to be loyal to them.”

Local literary collectives like The Watering Hole and Poets of Color, in addition to a group of LGBT southern poets, will hold special readings and panels. Cavanaugh said organizers have reached out to Richland School District One to have out-of-town authors do read-ins with students at some of the elementary schools.

“We’re looking at appealing to younger visitors,” Cavanaugh said. “We’re going to hold onto all the good aspects of the S.C. Book Festival, while bringing new elements.”

Cavanaugh said the festival likely will keep the Columbia Convention Center as a central location and will add other spots around town to serve as meeting points for some of the breakout sessions. Festival sessions also could expand into the evening to accommodate the singer-songwriting events, according to organizers. Cavanaugh said the team has reached out to Scott Hall catering to host a literary-themed dinner.

OneColumbia for Arts and History will serve as a funding sponsor for the festival, according to Executive Director Lee Snelgrove. Columbia City Council allocated $25,000 of funding for the festival, which was approved by the hospitality tax committee at the Aug. 18 work session.

Snelgrove said The Humanities Council, which hosted the annual S.C. Book Festival in Columbia since 1997, has not committed to joining the upcoming literary festival, but he said it was possible that they might be an exhibitor.

“They are still helping guide us a little bit, but they’re not directly involved at this point,” he said.

The Humanities Council ended the S.C. Book Festival after 19 years because of its limited three-person staff and the annual event’s narrow reach in the state.

Randy Akers, executive director of The Humanities Council, said the nonprofit would spend $200,000 a year and have up to 50 volunteers help run the festival.

“We thought that we could spread those same resources around the state and fund more programs serving our mission and reaching our audience,” he said.

Akers said larger publishers like Books-A-Million and Barnes and Noble did not turn out at this year’s book festival as more people look to Amazon and other online websites to purchase books.

Only six antiquarian sellers of rare and first-edition books came out to this year’s festival, which is down from 22, according to Akers. The festival also failed to grow beyond the nearly 6,000 people who attended each year.

“Things are changing, but  we’re just real pleased we did it for 19 years,” he said.

The Humanities Council has chosen to replace the S.C. Book Festival with several smaller initiatives that can spread funding for more literary events across the state, Akers said.

The new format will include a literary speakers bureau of authors and writing instructors who can hold public engagements across the state. The nonprofit will offer a literary grant for other festivals, workshops and artist residences. Writers also will be featured at the annual South Carolina Humanities Festival, according to Akers.

“With a renewed emphasis to serve a diverse statewide audience, including rural communities, the Council will bring some of the best aspects and the creative spirit of the S.C. Book Festival to a larger number of people year round, rather than one weekend,” Akers said. “We will reach people in their own communities and provide opportunities that otherwise would not exist.”

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