I read this week that New York City bookstores are closing at an alarming rate. While I'm sorry to hear it, it can't be much of a surprise. With tiny retail spaces in Manhattan topping $10,000 a month, how many booksellers can afford to stay?
At the same time, I noticed a slew of writerly events—workshops and festivals—in the Southern Appalachians, and it got me to thinking. What if you all just moved down here?
[caption id="attachment_9467" align="alignright" width="208"] Lovers' Leap outside Chattanooga, Tennessee. Photo by Kay Gaensler on Flickr.[/caption]
I know. I know. It would be a big change. You'd give up skyscraper views and great public transit, but imagine all you'd get in exchange—waking with hazy, blue mountains right outside your door; watching a parade of wildlife—fox, deer, even bear—while you write; taking a mid-day break to swim at the base of a waterfall.
Even if you want an urban experience, we've got you covered. Asheville has gorgeous deco buildings and was named Beer City USA four years in a row. Roanoke has a world-class art museum, not to mention a bustling downtown with a daily farmers' market. Charlottesville has more restaurants per capita than nearly any city in the U.S. and an amazing book festival. Oh, I almost forgot Chattanooga; it's had bike-share for years, which I hear is all the rage in New York City.
Now, back to real estate. There's a giant deserted asylum in Staunton, Virginia (also home to a leading Shakespeare theater and a lively arts district.) I know it sounds a little strange, but the facility consists of breathtaking Georgian buildings that I bet would go for a song. With a little renovating, it could make a stand-out corporate campus for Harper Collins or Random House.
And all you Brooklyn hipsters, you're going to die when you see our old coal camps. Picture vintage wooden houses, each with a little porch, neighboring authentic, old-time storefronts. Can you imagine a better spot to open that apothecary-bar or cronut shop you've always wanted?
[caption id="attachment_9474" align="alignleft" width="276"] Tribal graffiti in Roanoke, Virginia. Photo by Jessica on Flickr.[/caption]
Here's the best part—you get all this charm and serious literary chops too. James Agee, Annie Dillard, Ron Rash, Barbara Kingsolver, Cormac McCarthy, Dorothy Allison, Charles Frazier, Thomas Wolfe—some of the world's best authors have called Appalachia home. Whatever you may have heard, we write and read a lot. What's more, we'd love to have you join us.
So how about it? Ready to dip your toe in the proverbial water?
The below events provide a perfect intro to Appalachian writers along with mountain living. If that's not enough, just ring me. I'm happy to show you around, and unlike those fancy moving concierges in New York, I'll do it for free.
See you soon!
Western Carolina University Literary Festival, March 31-April 4: Let's start with Ron Rash. With multiple best sellers and an upcoming film based on his novel Serena, he may be Appalachia's hottest writer, and here's a chance to see him on his stomping ground. Alongside Jill McCorkle, a perennial New York Times Notable author, Ron will read and share writerly wisdom on the campus where he teaches.
[caption id="attachment_9476" align="alignright" width="220"] Tower of books in Asheville, North Carolina. Photo by Zen Sutherland on Flickr.[/caption]
Appalachian Writers' Workshop at Hindman Settlement School, July 27-August 1: Located at an historic center for Appalachian culture, this Kentucky workshop features Silas House, award-winning Appalachian writer and former NPR commentator. With sessions in poetry, fiction, memoir, and nonfiction, you're bound to find something you like, which might even include a spouse. Love bloomed for Pinckney and Laura Benedict (who might be called the first couple of Appalachian lit) when they met here in the 1980's, so why not for you?
Tinker Mountain Writers' Workshop, June 8-13: Want to ask Pinckney and Laura about their aforementioned romance? Here's the place to do it. Each year, they join other superb faculty members on the Hollins University campus, where they lead small group sessions of no more than 12 people each. Courses include advanced novel writing, getting unstuck, screenwriting, road stories, poetry, and more. The bonus prize is spending time in Appalachia's best kept secret—Roanoke, Virginia—my quirky, vintage sign obsessed, utterly charming hometown.
[caption id="attachment_9480" align="alignleft" width="289"] Malaprop's, a Guernica Editor's Pick bookshop in Asheville, North Carolina. Photo by Joe Schram on Flickr.[/caption]
Appalachian Young Writers' Workshop, June 22-28: Young talent will find its place here. Rising 10th through 12th graders and graduating seniors are invited to enjoy a week of writing and reflection at Tennessee's Lincoln Memorial University. Daily workshops will explore literature from the region and also our unique mountain environment, culture, and music. The session culminates in a lovely anthology of student work.
Tennessee Mountain Writers' Annual Conference, April 3-5: This mountain gathering offers all the writerly advise you could want in fiction, poetry and nonfiction plus it boasts special sessions on the business of writing. Publisher Kate Larken will advise writers on editing and publishing while literary event planner Kathy Womack offers marketing tips. If that's not exciting enough, the conference is held in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, the once-secret city where fissionable plutonium, the main ingredient of nuclear bombs was pioneered. It will no doubt be (wait for it, wait for it) a blast!