Organizations: The Georgia Center For The Book
Success story: Now in its 12th year, the Georgia Center for the Book is the state affiliate of the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. It is one of 50 literary programs across the country connecting readers with authors. The Georgia Center is chartered with and sponsored by DeKalb County Public Library.
In just over a decade, the Georgia Center for the Book has become one of the largest non-profit literary presenting organizations in the Southeast, and its free statewide programs annually reach about 90,000 readers and writers.
What’s in a name?: Al-though the center is affiliated with the Library of Congress, the federal institution does not provide funding. Center Executive Director William W. Starr says the misunderstanding can occasionally reach comic proportions.
“Unfortunately, I’m not rolling around in a wheelbarrow filled with federal money,” says Starr. “I don’t receive a federal paycheck. We’re supported by the DeKalb County Library and through grants and donations.”
Nomadic Festival: Each year, the center hosts the Georgia Literary Festival. This October, the two-day event heads to the campus of Georgia Southern University in Statesboro. The event brings together writers and readers via panel discussions, book signings, lectures and workshops.
Aside from $5,000 in seed money from the Georgia Humanities Council, each locale is on its own to raise the rest.
“This [past] year the festival was in Rome and fund raising was tough in this current economy,” says Starr. “But there’s a solid bond that exists between readers and writers. It always seems to work out.”
Well-connected: Starr brought with him many connections from his years as book and arts editor at The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C., when he came to head the center in 2003. Decatur High School grad Roy Blount, Jr. was the first of 30 authors Starr invited to speak that first year. In 2009, the center hosted 125 writers. Other notable speakers over the years have included novelist Pat Conroy, satirist Carl Hiaasen, ABC News veteran Barbara Walters and PBS “Washington Week” moderator Gwen Ifill.
A nice problem: Says Starr: “Thankfully, we’ve never had a problem getting authors to come here and speak to us for free. The publishers we work with know our events are well-attended by enthusiastic readers.”
But persuading the authors to leave? Well, that’s a bit more problematic.
“Convincing Pat Conroy to move his line along can be a challenge,” Starr says, laughing. “He wants to talk to everyone.”
But humorist and actress Amy Sedaris may hold the Georgia Center for the Book record for longest signing. Hers lasted until 1 in the morning in 2006.
“She spent 20 minutes with each fan just posing for pictures,” Starr says. “We kept hoping she would stop talking so we could all go home. But her readers just stayed. It was exhausting but also a lot of fun.”