Unlike in years past, when financial difficulties or the return of founding director Stephanie Hughley made even non-arts patrons take note of the event, this year's festival has quietly gathered steam, preparing to unleash a 10-day tempest of distinctly diverse programming on the city. Despite the apparent calm before the storm, this outing marks an important watershed for the festival, given its declared intention to become an annual occurrence.
This time around, programming stretches beyond just the Atlanta University Center and permeates the city. And in keeping with the event's subtext of expansion, the festival boasts a wider menu of literary-themed programming.
"When people think about arts, they think about dance, they think about music, they think about theater," says Ralph Cheo Thurmon, literary curator for the festival. "But for some reason, they don't think about the literary aspect as profoundly, and really that's the foundation of it all."
Thurmon, a fiction and poetry author who leads a writer's workshop at the Auburn Avenue Research Library, says his first goal for this year's literary arm was to move beyond just spoken word artists, focusing on more workshops and interactive events. He hopes to bridge the gap between today's young black wordsmiths -- who he says sometimes know nothing more highbrow than Tupac lyrics -- and their literary forefathers.
That element of linking past and present may not be more apparent than in the literary series' kick-off event, "Libations: We House the Spirits of Our Ancestors." The oral tribute to African-American authors will include the construction of a traditional African altar, called an Egungun, on stage at the 14th Street Playhouse to honor writers who have passed. Authors will read excerpts from their literary heroes, as well as from their own works. Featured in the event are a handful of local writers, including Valerie Boyd and Alice Lovelace.
Thurmon is quick to point out, though, that the festival's focus is not just on local talent. Popular serialist E. Lynn Harris appears July 27 to present the new short story anthology, Gumbo, which Harris edited along with Marita Golden. Oprah author Ernest Gaines (A Lesson Before Dying) reads from his works July 28. Both events, held at Spelman's Cosby Center Auditorium, are free with admission to the festival's Jubilation Square. Those seeking a slightly higher-profile literary luminary can shell out $250 to catch the grand dame of black letters, Maya Angelou, at the festival's Living Legends Gala July 18 at the Woodruff Arts Center. Harry Belafonte and Cicely Tyson are also slated to attend.
Thurmon says he hopes the festival's new annual status will make locals take more notice.
"This thing here is not something that people are doing in other parts of the world," he says. "I want the citizens of Atlanta to say, 'Hey, isn't this incredible? They're going yearly.'"
The slimmed-down but still sassy Jennifer Holliday rolls into in her Tony Award-winning role in this Broadway crowd-pleaser. Just don't tell her that you're not going. July 19-27 at 8 p.m.; July 21, 27 at 2 p.m. Fox Theatre. $16-$50.
An Evening with Anna Deavere Smith
She may be best known for playing Nancy McNally on "The West Wing," but don't dismiss her as another vapid TV star. Smith, a playwright, author and social commentator, hosts a screening of her film on the Rodney King riots, Twilight: Los Angeles 1992. Does President Bartlett know that his National Security Adviser is moonlighting? July 22 at 7 p.m. Woodruff Arts Center's Rich Auditorium. $10.
The heart of the festival, this sprawling cultural and commercial carnival on the campuses of the Atlanta University Center appeals largely to the family set. The Children's Education Village returns, this time telling the story of African-American migration after emancipation. There also will be a Vendor Marketplace, featuring the sale of clothes, jewelry and crafts, the Family Film Series, live performances of music and dance, and a food court. July 26-27, 10 a.m.-9 p.m., July 28, noon- 6 p.m. Atlanta University Center. $5.
Urban Bush Women
This isn't some hair-brained inner-city program started by Dubya, but an ensemble of dancer/activists who channel the struggles of African-American women. The troupe teams up with the National Song and Dance Company of Mozambique to premiere Shadow's Child, a fusion of dance and storytelling set in Africa and the South. July 26 at 1 and 8 p.m.; July 27 at 2 and 8 p.m. Morehouse College's Martin Luther King Chapel. $10-$20.For a complete festival lineup, see www.nbaf.org or call 404-730-7315.
Little harsh, in'it?
Oh that's right...I DID say enjoy yourself.
Go to hell Kombo!
When will you be accepting applicants for the 2014 competition?
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