If you throw a rock in Greensboro, you’ll hit a writer. That’s what they say.
It’s been that way for a long time. The writer that became O. Henry roamed downtown streets as a teenager and flirted with female students at what is now Greensboro College. The M.F.A. program at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro is one of the nation’s oldest. Greensboro is also home to the iconic Unicorn Press, a poetry press that published poets like Thich Nhat Hahn and Philip Levine before people knew their names.
The state of N.C., likewise, is literary thick with Southern writers like Lee Smith and Wiley Cash, to voices like Zelda Lockhart and Maya Angelou. The first slave autobiography written in America was from Bladen County-based Omar Ibn Said, a literate West African who remained in bondage his whole life. He wrote his story in Arabic.
In so many ways, NC is tethered to the world, then and now.
The state is a collection of voices and storytellers, a convergence of the Old and the New South. From the Smokey Mountains to the Outer Banks, writers are everywhere. If you move to the state, you might be — or become — a writer. You can’t help it. There’s something in the water. Or in the air. Or in that ruddy NC clay that becomes our famous pottery.
There’s more to it than that. There always is. There are independent bookstores and community that comes with such things, like readers who are interested in ideas. Greensboro may be awash with writers and readers, but the opening of Scuppernong Books became the catalyst for community. The bookstore wasn’t a college campus because not all writers are born out of a MFA tradition. It wasn’t a library because you can’t buy books, beer and wine in libraries, at least, not in the ones around here. Greensboro’s independent bookstore became the little downtown space that could, and did.
One day, a customer walked in and looked around. He saw the vibrant literary community spilling out of Scuppernong’s doors, and he said, “What this city needs is a book festival!”
And so, it began.
I am excited and honored to be part of Greensboro Bound from the ground up. I recognized that ideas and creative imagination are more important than ever. Such things make us better people, better citizens, and just more interesting, in general. As a writer and a reader, I appreciate the many vibrant book festivals throughout the South. Greensboro Bound isn’t interested in being bigger or better. We want to offer something different, something that speaks to the bountiful world of stories and the community that comes from fearless, joyful engagement with the world.
They say if you throw a rock in Greensboro, you’ll hit a writer. I say if you throw enough rocks at enough writers, something magical happens: those rocks become bridges to new places.
—Deonna Kelli Sayed is a Greensboro-based writer with global connections. She is on the Greensboro Bound Organizing Committee. Follow Deonna on Twitter @deonnakelli, and learn more about her at dksayed.com