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The last laugh 

How many dead authors does it take to make folks drive to Madison?

Organizers of the Georgia Literary Festival hope the answer is three.

The event started five years ago as the Eatonton Literary Festival, a celebration of luminaries Flannery O'Connor, Joel Chandler Harris and Alice Walker. But Brer Rabbit and peacocks only go so far before wearing out their welcome.

"After three years in Eatonton, we'd pretty much done everything you could do," says festival co-founder Glenn Eskew. Last year organizers changed the event's name and focus. Now it moves to a different Georgia town each year and highlights authors connected to that specific setting.

This weekend the festival lands in Madison, a gorgeous little time-capsule of a town that isn't usually heralded as a hotbed of writing. Programming centers on the theme of Southern humor and focuses on three late writers, Raymond Andrews, William Tappan Thompson and Buddy Atkinson.

Eskew calls Andrews "one of these great post-WWII Georgia novelists that people in the know still talk about." Andrews hails from a family of visual artists: His father was folk artist George "Dot Man" Andrews, whose work will be on display during the festival, and his much-celebrated brother Benny Andrews will give a talk on Raymond's writing.

The other two featured authors add perhaps some unintentional humor to the festival, given their just plain randomness. Thompson, who wrote in the mid-1800s, is known for his rough-and-tumble stories of the Southwest, while Atkinson wrote for "The Beverly Hillbillies" in the '60s. Scholarly lectures will ruminate on the legacies of these two forgotten scribblers. Other attractions include a book fair and storytelling sessions.

Eskew, who teaches Southern history at Georgia State University, says the festival's objective is "to get folks out of the metropolis and come see Georgia," as well as educate on the importance of the selected writers.

"The authors tend to be dead people," Eskew says. "There are lots of folks who will tell you they're the important Georgia authors today." Plus, he adds, "It's easier to deal with dead people."

The Georgia Literary Festival takes place Aug. 1-2 at the Madison Morgan Cultural Center, 434 S. Main St., Madison. All events are free and open to the public. 706-342-4743.

Shelf Space is a weekly column on books and Atlanta's literary scene.

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