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April 26-28, 2024
I’m a Cuban American writer born in Havana in 1969. I write because I need it. If you want to know why, ask me, I rather explain it to you while getting to know you. I like to keep it simple in my stories since I think that the most complicated things in life can be explained in a sentence or with a look. I hate rice soup, self-help books, and injustice. I also hate a bunch of other things (writer’s fundamental job is to be opinionated and hate stuff to bring balance into the Universe), but I like to focus more in what I love: my family, my friends, and music. I would like to win the Hans Christian Andersen award before being super old and incapable of dancing all night long to celebrate.
The Bad Years are a Los Angeles band made up of Sami Akbari and Aaron Mort, “who are awesome and they know it.” They have released three albums, including The Beautiful Liar EP, which is “packed with cuts that are tortured but uplifting.” The Bad Years describe their music this way: “If you were the sort of psychotic maniac who’d try to mix The Kills with The Cardigans and then add a dash of Lee Hazelwood, you’d get somewhere close to the kind of outsider pop of The Bad Years.”
Donishisa Ballard, from Chicago, Illinois, has been described as one powerful instrument of God. With large followings on Facebook, YouTube and all over the country, we’re so pleased to have her this year at Word of South.
The director of the creative writing program at Florida State University, Erin Belieu is the author of four poetry collections, whose work has also been published in numerous journals. Her most recent work, Slant Six, was named a top ten book of the year by the New York Times Book Review. She’s the cofounder of the national feminist organization VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, and previously served as the managing editor of AGNI. She is also co-editor of The Extraordinary Tide (Columbia University Press, 2002), the first ever comprehensive, non-thematic anthology of contemporary American women’s poetry published in the United States.
Chattanooga poet Laurie Perry Vaughen and the Atlanta jazz trio Three Way Mirror, performing as Billie Holiday on the Radio, present a unique show combining poetry and music. Atlanta saxophonist Jeff Crompton composes music for Billie Holiday’s namesake that “touches on blues, jazz, country, rockabilly, and more abstract areas.” The other members of the band are New Jersey natives Yaya Brown on congas and percussion, and Bill Pritchard on tuba. Vaughen’s poems are about the South, referencing music, race, technology, landscape, poverty, and family. Her diverse influences include Harper Lee, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Charlie Parker.
Mark Binelli is the author of the book Detroit City is the Place to Be, one of Publishers Weekly’s Top 10 books for 2012. “Binelli offers a wildly compelling biography of a city as well as a profound commentary on postindustrial America,” Publishers Weekly said in its review of his book. Mark Binelli is a contributing editor at Rolling Stone and Men’s Journal. Born and raised in the Detroit area, he now lives in New York City.
The Texas trio Blue Healer is making waves on the Austin music scene. The band’s sound comprises distorted upright bass, shimmering guitar, analog synthesizers, and drums. Blue Healer’s members say they blend indie rock and dance songs into the familiar fabric of classic songwriting. Members David Beck, Bryan Mammel, and Dees Stribling all gained experience touring nationally with other bands before they came together as Blue Healer in 2014.
David Broza is an Israeli musical superstar, who, along with being a singer-songwriter, is known for his commitment to humanitarian causes. In 2006, he was awarded the In Search of Common Ground Award along with Palestinian musician/composer Said Murad, and in 2009 King Juan Carlos I decorated him with the Spanish Royal Medal of Honor. In 2014, his album “East Jerusalem West Jerusalem” was released, accompanied by a documentary. In 2015 he recorded a new album with the Andalusian Orchestra of Ashkelon. Mr. Broza will be appearing with the author Bob Shacochis at a special Thursday night Word of South pre-festival event.
Susan Cerulean is a writer, naturalist, and activist based in Tallahassee, Florida. Her 2015 nature memoir—Coming to Pass: Florida’s Coastal Islands in a Gulf of Change (University of Georgia Press) just won the Gold Award for Florida Nonfiction by Florida Book Awards. Previous books include Tracking Desire: A Journey after Swallow-tailed Kites, UnspOILed: Writers Speak for Florida’s Coast, and Between Two Rivers: Stories from the Red Hills to the Gulf. She writes a regular column at www.susancerulean.com.
Gracie Lewis Chandler was born on Sapelo—one of Georgia’s barrier islands. She loved books and, as a young girl, occasionally wrote poems and short stories. This pastime became meaningful in the 1980s when the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, trying to resolve land issues on Sapelo, researched the genealogy of forty-four families—descendants of slaves. Many of the families’ ancestry interconnected with Bilali Muhammad, Sapelo Plantation’s manager, and his seven daughters. Chandler discovered that Bilali, her seventh-generation grandfather, had been renown in the region and had written a “book’ in Arabic. Known as The Bilali Muhammad Document, the leather-bound work is housed in the University of Georgia’s Hargrett Rare Books & Manuscript Library. This remarkable revelation inspired Chandler to consider writing seriously and, in spite of numerous setbacks, she never gave up on her dream. Thirty-five years later, Free To Be, her first published work, made that dream a reality.
Chandler is a graduate of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, Tallahassee, Florida. She has a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, Colorado and worked as an elementary education teacher and school-library media specialist. She retired after a long teaching career in Miami, Florida, and lives in Jacksonville, Florida with husband Tommy J. Chandler.
Chatham County Line is a bluegrass group from North Carolina, with members John Teer, Greg Readling, Chandler Holt, and Dave Wilson having played together for over fifteen years. In this time they have grown up together, weathered storms together, and performed around the world – fostering a vital, instinctive collaborative sensibility and deep reserves of trust. Chatham County Line elegantly reconciles the past and future, tradition and innovation. Their style combines an acoustic lineup with classic string-band instrumentation and a formidable talent for songwriting.
Katherine Clark is a native of Birmingham, Alabama and currently makes her home on the Florida Gulf Coast in Pensacola. She received her undergraduate degree from Harvard and a Ph.D. in American literature from Emory. The Headmaster’s Darlings is her first novel, and the first in a series of Mountain Brook novels to be published by Pat Conroy’s Story River Books imprint at the University of South Carolina Press. She is also the author of two oral biographies, Motherwit: An Alabama Midwife’s Story, and Milking the Moon: A Southerner’s Story of Life on this Planet. She recently completed work on Pat Conroy’s oral biography, forthcoming from the University of South Carolina Press.
Grammy-winner George Clinton, formerly known for his role in the groups Parliament and Funkadelic, revolutionized R&B during the 70’s. Since his first major hit “(I Wanna) Testify,” George Clinton made his mark in the music world for his psychedelic rock and funk band-format, with eccentric costumes and themes inspired by ’60s acid culture and science fiction. Clinton took Funk to new heights by blending the musical elements of Jazz, Rock, Pop, Classical and even Gospel into his productions, eventually developing a unique style called “Pfunk.”
Rita Coolidge, “The Delta Lady,” has been a force on the music scene ever since she graduated from Florida State University with an art degree in the 1960s. Coolidge began as a backup singer who toured and recorded with many of the rock stars of the 1970s. Friends say she actually wrote the piano solo at the end of Eric Clapton’s hit Layla, not a former boyfriend who took the credit. Coolidge and her former husband, Kris Kristofferson, teamed up for a number of hits and were twice named Country Duo of the Year. In the late 70s, Coolidge went solo and recorded a number of hits on the pop charts. Part Cherokee, Coolidge devoted herself to native American issues from the 1990s on and won several awards for her work in behalf of American Indians. Her memoir, Delta Lady, was published in 2016. She lives in Tallahassee, Florida, and as a part of this year’s Word of South will speak and sign books in connection with her induction into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame.
The Reverend Beverly Crawford is a gospel singer from Gainesville, Florida, where she and her husband, Pastor Todd Crawford, are co-pastors of the Gainesville Family Music Center. She has recorded five albums, and got her start singing with the New Life Singers on Bobby Jones Gospel, airing on the Black Entertainment Television (BET) network. She has won two second Stellar Gospel Music Awards for “Traditional Female Vocalist of the Year,” and her single “Thank You for All You’ve Done,” which debuted at #1 on the Gospel Music Billboard charts in 2014.
Brought together by family ties and a shared appreciation for folk, rock, and roots music, The Currys are an Americana trio featuring brothers Jimmy and Tommy and cousin Galen Curry. Like many family groups, their songs are anchored by the sort of elastic, entwined harmonies that only seem to exist among kin. On their second record, West of Here, their songwriting chops match those interlocking voices, with all three members contributing songs to an album that deals with the constant search for home. For their third album, This Side of the Glass (2019), The Currys provide the organic, lived-in feel of roots music, but the album aspires to a greater variety of form and orchestration than earlier releases. This Side of the Glass is an insightful and satisfying new chapter from a band with many more stories to tell.
With their fourth studio album “All Your Favorite Bands,” Dawes has managed to transcend their Southern California influences and establish their own sound and themes. Songs on the new album range from the glass-half-full optimism of the first single, “Things Happen” and the minor-chord tension of “I Can’t Think About It Now,” to the soulful gospel of “Waiting for Your Call,” and the epic, Dylan-esque set piece “Now That It’s Too Late, Maria.” Dawes is able to master the art of duplicating the energy from their live shows and placing it into a studio recorded album, and as a result Dawes is creating their own special rock group category. Dawes is currently taking the road by storm on their international tour.
John T. Edge is a contributing editor at Garden & Gun and a columnist for the Oxford American. For three years he wrote the monthly United Taste column for the New York Times. Edge is also director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, an institute of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, where he documents, studies, and celebrates the diverse food cultures of the American South. His magazine and newspaper work has been featured in eleven editions of the Best Food Writing compilation. In 2012, he won the James Beard Foundation’s M.F.K. Fisher Distinguished Writing Award. Edge has written or edited more than a dozen books and is working on The Potlikker Papers, a history of the modern South, from the lunch counter sit-ins of 1960 forward. The Penguin Press will publish it in 2017.
Fatesealer is a rock and roll band from Wilmington, N.C. With their unique blend of musical intensity and lyrical introspection, Fatesealer’s debut full length album, filled with songs built around prickly melodies and crushing guitars, has been turning heads and helping the band grow a dedicated following in the Southeast’s independent music scene. Often compared to bands like Sonic Youth or Shellac, Fatesealer is known for intense live shows. The band will be touring the country in 2016.
Southern writer Tom Franklin is the author of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Crime Writers’ Association’s Gold Dagger Award. He has also won the Mystery Writers Association of America Edgar Awards for best short story and best novel. Franklin received a Guggenheim Fellowship for the Creative Arts. His previous works include Poachers, Hell at the Breech, and Smonk. Originally from Dickinson, Ala., Franklin teaches writing in the MFA program at the University of Mississippi.
Folk singer/songwriter Paul Garfinkel of Jacksonville has released two Florida-themed albums and is working on a third. Garfinkel is an environmentalist and master naturalist who helped found the Florida Artist’s Water Alliance in an effort to bring the protection of Florida’s water resources to the attention of the public through the arts. A regular on the Florida festival circuit, Garfinkel won first place in the Will McLean Foundation’s Florida Song Competition for his song “The Creek,” a biographical tribute to iconic author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.
Brandi George grew up in rural Michigan. Her collection of poetry, Gog (Black Lawrence Press, 2015) won a Gold Medal in the 2015 Florida Book Awards. These poems chronicle her upbringing as a Jehovah’s Witness from a working-class family, investigating religious persecution and generational cycles of violence, while also exploring the fraught relationship between art-making and religion in the Midwest. Gog, one of the book’s main characters and a biblical harbinger of the apocalypse, antagonizes the speaker in dreams and visions. Poems from this book have appeared in such journals as Best New Poets 2010, The Iowa Review, Gulf Coast, Columbia Poetry Review, Ninth Letter, and Prairie Schooner, also winning first place in the Dana Awards and the Zone 3 Poetry Awards. Brandi has been awarded residencies at Hambidge Center for the Arts and the Hill House Institute for Sustainable Living, Art & Natural Design. In 2013, she attended the Sewanee Writer’s Conference as a Tennessee Williams Scholar. Brandi currently resides in Tallahassee, where she is a Ph.D. candidate at Florida State University.
Lauren Groff is the author of three novels and a collection of short stories. Released last year, her latest novel, Fates and Furies, was a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award for Fiction and was featured in numerous Best of 2015 fiction lists. Amazon.com selected Fates and Furies as the Best Book of 2015. Her first book, The Monsters of Templeton, is set in a fictionalized version of Cooperstown, N.Y., a hometown Groff shares with 19th Century writer James Fennimore Cooper. Groff borrowed the name of the town and some of the characters from Cooper’s 1823 novel The Pioneers.
Lonnie Holley, sometimes known as “The Sand Man,” is a multi-faceted artist who started out as a sculptor and later added painting and music to his repertoire. Holley began his artistic career in his late twenties when he carved tombstones out of sandstone for his sister’s two children who were killed in a house fire. Holley’s sculptures have been displayed in the White House and in museums in his hometown, Birmingham, as well as New York and Atlanta. In his sixties, Holley met the founder of the Dust-to-Digital record label and recorded his first album. The New York Times described Holley’s music as “largely unclassifiable: haunting vocals accompanied by rudimentary keyboard effects, progressing without any traditional song structure — no choruses, chord changes or consistent melody whatsoever.”
Ravi Howard received the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence in 2008 for his novel LikeTrees, Walking, a fictionalized account of the true story of the 1981 lynching of a black teenager in Mobile, Alabama. His novel Driving the King is the story of Nat King Cole told through his driver, and explores race and class in 1950’s America. A television producer as well as an author, he lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
The Hub Chason Band is a blues and funk band from Tallahassee. It features 16-year-old guitarist Hub Chason III, who studies guitar with Luther Dickinson of The North Mississippi Allstars. The Allman Brothers Band drummer Butch Trucks has performed with the group. Chason’s musical influences range from Sly and the Family Stone and Duane Allman to Jeff Buckley and Bill Withers.
Recently named the “the New King of Americana Music” by GQ Magazine, Jason Isbell is rapidly gaining fans across all musical genres. On his albums, Isbell shares personal stories of struggle, addiction, and redemption through his craft. With his affecting lyrics and strong storytelling, his music “will seize your heart.” A singer-songwriter from Green Hill, Ala., Isbell was a member of the Drive-by Truckers. He recorded and contributed to three Drive-by Trucker albums before beginning his solo career. His most recent album, Something More Than Free, debuted at number one on Billboard Magazine’s rock, folk and country record charts and has garnered two Grammy nominations.
Author Adam Johnson, who earned a Ph.D. in English at Florida State University, won a 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for his novel The Orphan Master’s Son, which takes pace in North Korea, and the 2015 National Book Award for his story collection Fortune Smiles. He has also received the Whiting Writer’s Prize and a Guggenheim Fellowship for the Creative Arts. Johnson’s Pulitzer Prize citation called his book, “An exquisitely crafted novel that carries the reader on an adventuresome journey into the depths of totalitarian North Korea and into the most intimate spaces of the human heart.” He teaches creative writing at Stanford University.
Patrick Kendrick was a fire fighter and freelance writer, chief officer, and special ops technician before turning to writing fiction. He has had four novels published, all thrillers ranging from historical to crime to Young Adult. He has won several awards including the Hollywood Film Festival Opus Magnum Award and two Florida Book Awards. When he is not writing he does fire and special operations training and consulting with numerous academies and the US Army. He lives in South Florida with his wife and two sons. And, he drives by the beach as often as he can in his 1958 Chevy Apache thinking up plots for his next book.
Lee Bains hails from Birmingham, a city torn apart by some of the South’s most tragic events, and the singer isn’t shy about expressing the area’s shortcomings and flaws, while also delivering a dose of don’t-forget-where-you’re-from pride. One thing is certain, this band likes to rock. Lee Bains and the Glory Fires wrap commentaries and reflections in what they call “real Alabama rock ‘n’ roll.” The band currently resides in Atlanta, Georgia and Birmingham, Alabama. Lee will be appearing at Word of South with the author Caleb Johnson, and separately later that day with the Glory Fires.
Drummer Aaron “Mort” Mortenson and guitarist/vocalist Jay Rutherford of the band Los Colognes say they’re making jam music for fans of songwriters and classic rock for a younger generation. Formed in Chicago 15 years ago, the six-member band now calls Nashville home. Los Colognes has frequently backed Nashville singers in the studio and on tour. In 2014 they toured for half a year as the backup band for singer Caitlin Rose, giving them the opportunity to introduce their music to a large, diverse audience. Los Colognes has been influenced by J. J. Cale and John Prine, and is known for the band’s unique take, emphasizing song writing, on the jam band genre.
Singer-songwriter Lera Lynn’s self-released sophomore album, The Avenues, continues to receive praise and critical acclaim from many sources. Emotive, poignant and intensely introspective, the material on The Avenues is entirely self-penned and fearlessly personal. In 2014, Lynn started working with legendary producer T Bone Burnett writing and recording music for the critically acclaimed HBO series, True Detective.
Since 2012, Lera Lynn has performed in listening rooms, concert halls, and festivals in North America and the UK. Lynn’s shows are intimate regardless of venue type and feature songs spanning from her earliest recordings to the most current, including some interesting covers. “My favorite part of this job is performing in a live setting, and seeing the potential to move people through music.”
Rick Moody is the author of the novels Hotels of North America, The Four Fingers of Death, and The Ice Storm, which was made into a movie starring Kevin Klein and Sigourney Weaver. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, Moody has won numerous awards for his writing in this country and in Italy. At the turn of the millennium, the New York Times recognized Moody as one the country’s outstanding young writers, naming him to its list of 20 writers for the 21st century. In all, Moody has published 13 books and story collections, including On Celestial Music—And Other Adventures in Listening. In addition to his writing, he is a musician, a composer, and a life coach. Several of his songs have been recorded by other artists. A native of New York City, he received his MFA from Columbia University and teaches at New York University.
Donald Morrill is the author of three volumes of poetry, Awaiting Your Impossibilities, At the Bottom of the Sky and With Your Back to Half the Day, as well as four books of nonfiction. He has taught at Jilin University, Peoples’ Republic of China, and has been a Fulbright Lecturer at the University of Lodz, Poland, as well as the Bedell Visiting Writer in the Nonfiction Writing Program at the University of Iowa and Writer-in-residence at the Poetry Center at Smith. Currently he teaches in the Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing Program at the University of Tampa and is Associate Dean of Graduate and Continuing Studies there.
Country rocker Israel Nash’s move to Dripping Springs, Texas, in 2011 after five years of trying to make it in New York City is paying off. Nash’s latest album, Rain Plans, which he recorded at his Texas home, has received raving reviews on both sides of the Atlantic. The German Rolling Stone called it “the most phenomenal Americana record of the year.” Some rock critics have compared Nash to Neil Young at his best, citing his singing style and lyrics. Originally from Missouri, Nash released is first two albums under his full name: Israel Nash Gripka.
No one knows what to call Neil Alday and Further South-Country/Southern Rock/Americana? Neil calls it, “Good songs with a southern accent.” Neil’s first band-Socialburn-was a hard hitting rock quartet whose songs “Down” and “Everyone” charted to # 8 and # 27 in the rock and modern charts (Electra/Atlantic/ then Universal Records). They toured extensively before breaking up in 2007, when Neil went back home and started playing his southern roots songs he had hidden from his rock band. He honed his act in small bars playing for friends and die-hard fans, before forming Neil Alday and Further South.
Their new record, “Whiskey, Women, Drugs and Gold” is a collage of Neil’s melodic snapshots of small town life in North Florida. The record was produced, mixed and mastered by John Kurzweg (Creed, Puddle of Mudd, Jewell, Godsmack, Eagle Eye Cherry, Socialburn). Neil’sband has been touring regionally in support of the record, and opening for acts including Blackberry Smoke, Lucero, American Aquarium, Theory of a Deadman, Nikki Bluhm and the Gramblers, and No Sinner.
Neil’s songs are poignant and humble, devoted to his southern roots. Hear the band, and you will be a believer, and a new friend.
Dianne Ochiltree is a nationally recognized author of books for young readers, many of which have appeared on “best of” reading lists, been featured in book clubs, and been translated into foreign language editions. Her recent titles include It’s a Seashell Day (Blue Apple Books, 2015), It’s a Firefly Night (Blue Apple Books, 2013), and Molly, by Golly! The Legend of Molly Williams, America’s First Female Firefighter (Calkins Creek/Boyds Mills Press, 2012). Dianne is also a writing and publishing coach for aspiring children’s writers as well as a workshop presenter. Her chocolate Labrador Retriever Sally is a certified therapy dog, and together they visit schools and nursing homes in their area. Dianne and her husband live by the beach in sunny Sarasota, Florida.
Janis Owens is a novelist, memoirist, folklorist and storyteller. As a child, her family lived briefly in Louisiana and Mississippi, and then returned to North Florida, where she attended the University of Florida. Her first novel, My Brother Michael, won the Chautauqua South Fiction Award for Best Novel. The companion novels to My Brother Michael are Myra Sims, and The Schooling of Claybird Catts. Her most recent novel is American Ghost, which is a Florida Book Award silver medalist. Her only foray into nonfiction is The Cracker Kitchen: A Cookbook in Celebration of Cornbread-Fed, Down-Home Family Stories and Cuisine. Part-cookbook, part-family memoir, Cracker Kitchen celebrates the backwoods resilience of a much-maligned section of Southern culture: the hapless, toothless Cracker. Intertwined with their history is the history of her own beloved Cracker family: Grannie, Granddaddy, Uncles and Cousins-in-law, complete with pictures from her family album and many a hilarious family story. Between traveling and speaking on writing and Cracker culture, Owens lives on both ends of the South: part-time on the farm in Newberry, and the rest of the year in Abingdon, Virginia. She is working on her fifth novel, also set in North Florida.
Dexter Palmer is the author of the futuristic novels Version Control and The Dream of Perpetual Motion. In a review of The Dream of Perpetual Motion, the writer Jeff VanderMeer described it as “a singular riff on steampunk — sophisticated, subversive entertainment that never settles for escapism.” Palmer lives in Princeton, New Jersey, and earned a Ph.D. in English literature from Princeton University, writing his dissertation on the works of James Joyce, William Gaddis, and Thomas Pynchon. He staged the first academic conference ever on video games at an Ivy League University. He is also a musician, with a CD of experimental music soon to be released.
Singer-songwriter Grant Peeples, a native of Tallahassee, says he was changed forever at the age of 15 when a friend came over and played three classic Bob Dylan songs. Peeples’ long career as a musician has included a short stint in Nashville, owning a club where artists like Jerry Jeff Walker played, recording music with his buddies at the Possum Club studio in Wakulla County, and a 10-year non-productive sojourn in Nicaragua. He returned to the States 15 years ago and has been entertaining fans with his energetic performances and acerbic wit ever since. Grant brought his “Clay Tablet” series out of retirement for a special episode on the January 6 insurrection on Capitol Hill.
Pierce Pettis has been writing and recoding finely crafted songs since the late 1970s, when Joan Baez included his “Song at the End of the Movie” on one of her albums. Since then, his songs have been covered by many artists, including Dar Williams, Garth Brooks and Art Garfunkel. Pettis was part of the Fast Folk movement in New York in the 1980s, after which moving to Nashville, where he worked as a staff songwriter for Polygram/Universal Music. He has received numerous songwriting awards including a 1999 ASCAP Country Music Award for “You Move Me,” recorded by Garth Brooks. After many years in the music business, Pettis said he has finally found his comfort zone. “The biggest change,” he said, “has been getting over myself and realizing this is a job and a craft. And the purpose is not fame and fortune (whatever that is) but simply doing good work.”
Leonard Pitts, Jr. is a nationally-syndicated columnist who won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary, and has also written three critically acclaimed novels, as well as spent time as a music critic. His 2015 novel Grant Park is a powerful account of race relations in this country over a 40-year period culminating in a plot to assassinate Barack Obama on the night of his election as president. Pitts grew up in the Los Angeles area and graduated from the University of Southern California. He now lives in Bowie, Md.
Leslie Kemp Poole is an award-winning environmental writer and historian. A fourth-generation Floridian, Poole has long been interested in the role of women in the state and how they were saving the state’s important natural resources even before they were able to vote. She explored the important role of women in the state’s environmental movement in her book Saving Florida: Women’s Fight for the Environment in the 20th Century. A former Orlando Sentinel reporter, Poole is a visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Rollins College in Winter Park.
Rob Roberge is the author of the memoir Liar (Crown, 2016), and Cheryl Strayed has called his writing “both drop-dead gorgeous and mind-bendingly smart.” He is also the author of four books of fiction, most recently The Cost of Living (Other Voices Books, 2013). He teaches in UC Riverside’s Palm Desert MFA in Writing Program, and his work has been widely published and anthologized. Along with his writing, Roberge plays solo, with the root-rock outfit The Danbury Shakes, and the art-punk band The Urinals, who’ve had their work covered by, among others, The Gun Club, The Minutemen, and Yo La Tengo. He lives in San Pedro, CA.
If you are a fan of the FSU Seminoles or a resident of Florida, you know – or should know – about the writings of Tallahassee’s own Diane Roberts. Her latest book, Tribal, a comic, critical analysis of a Southern intellectual’s love of FSU football and distaste for the excesses that go with it, made several Best of Book lists in 2015. Dr. Roberts is a professor of creative writing at Florida State who received her undergraduate degree at FSU and doctorate at Oxford University in England. The author of four books, she is known for her spot-on interpretations of Southern culture and her sardonic sense of humor. She writes op-ed articles for major newspapers and has been a commentator for NPR and the BBC. Diane will be appearing at Word of South with the author/journalists Cynthia Barnett and Julie Hauserman.
Marshall Ruffin is a guitarist, singer and songwriter from Atlanta whose musical style mixes blues and rock. Ruffin also plays gospel in church on Sundays. He has recorded two EPs and a new album that will be on sale during his performance at Word of South. Ruffin has performed and recorded as the guitarist and backing vocalist for Lonnie Holley, another 2016 festival artist, with whom he recently toured Europe. His song “Light The Way” was featured during their appearance in London on BBC Radio 6. Ruffin was the winner of the 39th Eddie’s Attic Songwriter Shootout in 2013. Marshall will be appearing at Word of South with the writer and editor Chuck Reece.
Colorado singer-songwriter Lara Ruggles released her debut full-length album, Cynics and Saints, last year, overcoming a number of obstacles she describes as “tears, sweat, and blood” that delayed its release for more than three years. “I’m the kind of person who spent eight years training a wild horse,” said Ruggles. “But this still tested my patience beyond anything else I’ve ever done.” Despite her obstacles, Ruggles has gained a following in the Denver area and has won a number of local music awards. Before seriously pursuing her songwriting career, Ruggles won a poetry slam and taught songwriting and creative writing to middle and high school students and seniors.
Bob Shacochis is one of America’s most provocative and accomplished writers. His story collection Easy in the Islands won the National Book Award, and his novel Swimming in the Volcano was a National Book Award finalist. His most recent work, The Woman Who Lost Her Soul, was the winner of the Dayton International Literary Peace Prize and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. He lives in Florida and New Mexico, and teaches at Florida State University. Mr. Shacochis will be appearing with the musician David Broza at a special Thursday night pre-festival event.
Born in Okinawa, Brenda Shaughnessy is an award-winning American poet. A recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts, Shaughnessy has also received fellowships from the Radcliffe Institute, the Japan/U.S. Friendship Commission, and the Howard Foundation of Brown University. Her 2008 book Human Dark with Sugar won the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets. The Poetry Foundation says Shaughnessy’s “work is known for its ability to twin opposites: her poems are both playful and erotic, lyrical and funny, formal and strange.” She is an assistant professor of English at Rutgers University, where she also teaches in the MFA program.
Amanda Shires is a violinist and singer/songwriter who performs as a solo act and with her husband Jason Isbell’s band, the 400 Unit. She began playing violin around age 10, and by her teens was performing with Western Swing legend Bob Wills’ band the Texas Playboys. She has released five albums and appeared in the film Country Strong in 2013. Her singing has been compared to Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton and the imagery in her lyrics has been compared to Tom Waits. A native of Texas, Shires now lives in Nashville.
If you’re ready for some Hip Hop Shakespeare Fusion, the 2016 Word of South Festival is the place for you. Come check out the Sonnet Man, aka artist Devon Glover of New York, who performs the Bard’s love sonnets to a Hip Hop beat, introducing young people to Shakespeare’s immortal words in a form they know and love. Glover teaches and performs in New York City and drew an enthusiastic response from viewers when he appeared on the Today Show. The Sonnet Man promises to make Shakespeare “exciting and fun” for his Tallahassee audience.
A Tennessee native, first-ever Spoken Word Award recipient at the Conference on Southern Literature, and founder of The Nashville Writing and Performance Institute, Minton Sparks has established herself in Nashville. Sparks meshes her gift for storytelling with music, and poetry to tell vivid stories of the rural South. She earned the title of the first non-singing country singer with the release of 2001’s Middlin’ Sisters. Since then, she’s released two studio follow-ups—This Dress (2003) and Sin Sick (2005), and a live record cut in Nashville. Whatever she’s doing, it’s working: Minton’s been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered, BBC’s Bob Harris Show, and WoodSong’s Old-Time Radio.
Sye Elaine Spence is a singer, songwriter, and artist originally from New York City and now residing in Atlanta, GA. In 2008, she began collaborating with artists and producers in New York City in efforts to begin a career as a professional songwriter. In doing so, her interest in becoming an artist was heightened.
Spence’s collaboration with folk multi-instrumentalist, Michael Lesousky returned to her roots as a writer and a poet. Collaborating for months, choosing scenic and serene locations to create, the two stumbled upon a simple quiet sound that supported Spence’s simile-laden lyrics and hushed vocals. The resulting four-track set, Bloom, begins with its title track, featuring a softly plucked banjo as the sole accompaniment. Spence’s most recent two-song outfit, “Repeat/1964,” sustains this very simplistic style of accompaniment while bringing more poetic lyricism to the forefront.
Story Pirates believes that every child has a story to tell. Whether it’s a world where cats can fly or a rock opera about fuzzy alien tickle monsters, this sketch comedy musical is based entirely on stories by elementary schoolers! Watch the Story Pirates celebrate the words and ideas of your very own student authors. This imaginative show features 6 actors and a live pianist who bring along colorful sets, costumes, and props to create a hilarious, inspiring, and one-of-a-kind event.
The Suffers are a 10-piece band from Houston that is redefining the sound of Gulf Coast Soul. The band is known for mixing elements of Classic American Soul with Rock & Roll. Lead singer Kam Franklin’s voice is backed by talented and powerful horn and rhythm sections. Entertainment Weekly lauded the band’s “buttery horn arrangements, funky guitar licks, and lead singer Kam Franklin’s bubbly vocals.” The Suffers released their debut album Make Some Room in 2014.
Bruce Thomason served in law enforcement agencies in Texas, Ohio, and Florida, including more than 21 years as the Chief of Police in Jacksonville Beach. During his long career, he had the opportunity to work as a patrol officer, detective, and, ultimately, as a police executive. This wide-ranging experience has given him an exceptional grasp of police policies and procedures that make his thrillers both exciting and thoroughly believable.
Perception of Power is the third installment in the Detective Clay Randall Thriller Series, preceded by Body Toll and The Six O’clock Rule. The Six O’clock Rule won a Gold Medal in the Readers Favorite National Book Awards competition and a Finalist designation in the National Indie Excellence Awards competition.
“Many readers have asked me where I get my ideas. It’s easy, I tell them. From real life incidents; some so bizarre I couldn’t possibly make them up.”
Thomason retired from law enforcement in 2012 after 45 years. Since 2014, he has served as a City Councilmember in Jacksonville Beach where he lives with his wife, Jackie, whom he describes as his principal editor, best friend, and greatest fan.
Raised in Pensacola, Florida, Jim’s songs reach deep into the underbelly of the South. One time Pentecostal, fashion model, New York taxi driver, prosurfer, photographer, and film-maker, White’s music is the channel for all the stories he collected along the way. His previous albums ‘Wrong-Eyed Jesus’ , ‘No Such Place’  and ‘Drill a Hole in That Substrate…’  were acclaimed as masterpieces of ‘outer space alternative country’ and established Jim as a phenomenal, maverick talent.
Wayne A. Wiegand is F. William Summers Professor of Library and Information Studies Emeritus at Florida State University, and former Director of the Florida Book Awards. As author and editor of many books (including Irrepressible Reformer: A Biography of Melvil Dewey) and over one hundred scholarly articles, he is often referred to as the “Dean of American library historians.” In 2008-9 he was a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow to support research on his recently published book, “Part of Our Lives:” A People’s History of the American Public Library (Oxford University Press, 2015).