Two Novelists You’ll Meet at the Southern Festival of Books: Bryn Chancellor and Stephanie Powell Watts

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Tell everyone you know who lives within driving distance of Nashville and loves books: The Southern Festival of Books happens this weekend, Friday-Sunday, October 13-15, 2017, and it is THE place to be if writers are your rock stars. Speaking of whom — novelists Bryn Chancellor and Stephanie Powell Watts will be among the visiting literary luminaries.

Both writers captured the attention of readers and bowled over critics this year with the release of their first novels. Chancellor’s Sycamore, which shows the ramifications of a teenage girl’s disappearance on the people of her community, was called “a hypnotic debut” by O: The Oprah Magazine. Watts’ No One Is Coming to Save Us, a story of small town striving with echoes of The Great Gatsby, was actress Sarah Jessica Parker’s choice for the American Library Association’s Book Club Central. Both writers are also professors — Chancellor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and Watts at Lehigh University.

Here, they tell us a little about themselves. At the festival, they’ll tell you more and sign your books, too. Don’t miss it!


I’ve been listening to . . .
Chancellor: Kathleen Edwards, who shows up a lot in my playlists. My spouse, who is far more music savvy than me, makes me awesome playlists, and he has introduced me to Courtney Barnett, Wye Oak, First Aid Kit, The Cave Singers, and Slowdive, which I’ve been running on repeat.
Watts: My son and I listened to Paste’s top ten Tom Petty songs. I didn’t realize how much of his music I know and love.

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No One Is Coming to Save Us is a favorite among readers, critics, and glamorous TV stars, such as Sarah Jessica Parker.

I love to watch . . .
Chancellor: Lately, Bojack Horseman. I find its combo of strangeness, absurdity, hilarity, grimness, and heartbreak remarkable. Just started Donald Glover’s riveting Atlanta—a lovely mix of funny and sad. I also love Shetland, a BBC procedural set in the Shetlands but one interested in characters and complexity.
Watts: I have been hooked on Columbo for a couple of years. I discovered the show during a bout of insomnia and was completely charmed by it. The first iteration of the show was set in the early seventies. Watch it sometime (or again if you’ve seen it). It reminds you what Americans were like back then: what they wore, their hair, what they drove, their houses and apartments. It also reminds me how far we have come in terms of diversity in casting and storytelling. We also have re-thought in significant ways what is acceptable to say to each other. It is not a documentary, but fun and interesting to watch.

bryn w mom 1980s
Just because you need to see it: check out Chancellor’s “Electric Youth”-style hat in this photo of her younger self and her mom.

Something I saw online that made me laugh, cry, or think . . .
Chancellor: Cry/think — A man playing the piano in his flooded home in Houston.
Think/cry — Nashvillian Justin Quarry’s article in Salon, “Altitude sickness in the upwardly mobile.”
Cry/despair/rage — Every day I open my browser and read the news.
Laugh — Cats in boxes and squares. I also re-watched the viral video of the father giving a Skype interview and being interrupted. The daughter’s walk into the room kills me every time.
Watts: I love standup comedy, and if I were braver and funny I would definitely give it a try. I do have a number of funny friends. The amazing poet Honoree Jeffers posted on her blog that she was doing so wrong that when she went to the pearly gates to meet Jesus, he was going to yell out to Peter, “Wrap her up a plate. She ain’t staying.”

Best meal I’ve had in the past month . . .
Chancellor: Landmark Diner, followed by take-home dessert from Las Delicias Bakery next door. Two of my favorite places in Charlotte (not, however, favored by my pants, which are pinching me).
Watts: I was in North Carolina recently near Calabash where they make a sweet batter for their fried shrimp, hushpuppies and flounder entrees. It is good stuff — not fancy, just good stuff.

bryn and tim wedding invite drawn by timothy winkler
The wedding invitation of Bryn Chancellor and artist Timothy Winkler was created by Winkler.

A creator who’s doing something I envy . . .
Chancellor: I don’t know if it’s envy so much as admiration and the sense that I wish I could do something as complex and cool. Amy Bagwell, poet/visual artist, co-founder of Wall Poems and Goodyear Arts in Charlotte. Casebeer, an artist and writer in Phoenix. My spouse, visual artist Timothy Winkler, who regularly blows me away with his imagination and talent. I also greatly admire people and organizations who support and defend creators—PEN, VIDA, Poets & Writers, Penland School of Craft, bookstores and libraries everywhere.
Watts: Wifredo Lam was a Cuban/Afro/Chinese artist who was a protege of Picasso. I saw some of his drawings that fused Santeria, Catholicism, and the stuff of his everyday life. The work was strange and scary and I’m sure not wholly acceptable in any religious camp. I want to be brave like that.

Screen Shot 2017-10-10 at 9.13.01 AMA book I recently recommended to someone else . . .
Chancellor: Hala Alyan’s Salt Houses, Megan Stielstra’s The Wrong Way to Save Your Life, Judith Ortiz Cofer’s The Latin Deli, Nashville writer Lee Conell’s new Subcortical, Tayari Jones’s forthcoming An American Marriage, J. Courtney Sullivan’s Saints for All Occasions, Gary Jackson’s poems Missing You Metropolis. (Whoops, you said “a book.” Too late!)
Watts: What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah is one of my go-to recommendations. I love short fiction, and this collection is a knockout.

The last event I bought tickets to was . . .
Chancellor: A poetry reading by Sandra Beasley at McColl Center for Arts in Charlotte, and the play This Is Our Youth at the Cort Theater in NYC.
Watts: Robbie Fulks at Godfrey Danels in Bethlehem, PA. I love singer/songwriters and he’s a great one.

Most meaningful recent travel destination . . .
Chancellor: Home to Arizona
Watts: I am from North Carolina and I lived there for most of my life, but I had never before been to Mount Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi. I got there. I had been feeling hope sieve through my heart. Sometimes it is just good to see something wonderful to change your mental scenery.

I wish I knew more about . . .
Chancellor: Astronomy and physics
Watts: I am trying to learn the violin. Before I started lessons with my son, I had never even touched the instrument.

My favorite thing about bookstores . . .
Chancellor: Being lost and found at the same time — losing all sense of time, finding new and old authors. Talking with booksellers WHO KNOW EVERYTHING.
Watts: I like the calm of a bookstore and the meditative way that adults walk through the aisles.

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See these novelists in person this weekend! Details: Bryn Chancellor will speak Friday at 2 p.m. and Stephanie Powell Watts will speak Saturday at 4 p.m., as well as Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m. as part of the Women’s National Book Association’s Coffee with Authors event. 

The weekend book-lovers have been waiting for is finally HERE! The Southern Festival of Books happens in downtown Nashville this weekend, October 13-15, 2017.SFB Final Update RESIZED FOR WEB

It all begins this Friday at noon. Print a festival scheduleclick around online, or grab the latest issue of the Nashville Scene to make your plans. And make a day of it! Tips: Give yourself time to get downtown and park (at the downtown library lot or in lots on nearby streets), and make sure to leave time to wander around War Memorial Plaza to see and hear great entertainment, sample the offerings from Nashville’s best food trucks, and browse the Parnassus Books book-tent!