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A revival, of sorts, for Novello

Library's budget cuts had shelved Charlotte's landmark literary festival. But thanks to two volunteers, a smaller Tribute to Novello starts this weekend.

By Pam Kelley
Reading Life Editor

More Information

  • In October, Novello Festival Press, a successful offshoot of the reading festival, will release two new books it had committed to publish before budget cuts. After that, the press, like the festival, is on hiatus.

    The press is the nation's only library-sponsored literary publisher. In its 10 years, it has published 26 books and put nearly 300 writers into print through anthologies and works of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and children's literature.

    The press's biggest success is Ron Rash's first novel, "One Foot in Eden." The N.C. writer has since won national acclaim and twice been a PEN/Faulkner Award finalist.


  • www.cmlibrary.org/novello

    Everything's free, but donations are welcomed.

    Friday

    Levine Museum of the New South, 200 E. Seventh St., 7-8:30 p.m.

    History writers Mary Norton Kratt ("Charlotte, North Carolina: A Brief History"), Tom Hanchett ("Sorting Out the New South City"), John Grooms ("Deliver Us From Weasels") and Mike Lassiter ("Vanishing Americana")

    Saturday

    Main Library, 310 N. Tryon St.

    Fantasy writers, noon-12:45 p.m.: A.J. Hartley ("What Time Devours") and Faith Hunter ("Blood Cross").

    Romance writers, 1-1:45 p.m.: Harold Lowry, writing as Leigh Greenwood ("When Love Comes") and AlTonya Washington ("Book of Scandal").

    Novello Festival Press Panel, 2-2:45 p.m.: Showcasing "Topograph: New Writing from the Carolinas and the Landscape Beyond," edited by Jeff Jackson.

    Mystery writers 3-3:45 p.m.: Mark de Castrique ("The Fitzgerald Ruse") and Cathy Pickens ("Can't Never Tell").

    Poets, 4-4:45 p.m.: Tony Abbott, Alex Grant, Diana Pinckney, Irene Honeycutt, Richard Allen Taylor and Stephen E. Smith.

    Short story writers, 5-6:15 p.m.: Aimee Parkinson ("Woman with Dark Horses"), Craig Renfroe ("You Should Get That Looked At") and Robert Boisvert ("Long Dead Lover").

    Novelists, 6:30-8 p.m.: Judy Goldman ("Early Leaving"), Aaron Gwyn ("The World Beneath") and Pat MacEnulty ("Picara").

    Oct. 9

    ImaginOn, 300 E. Seventh St. Events for children and young adult readers.

    Picture book panels

    11 a.m.: Tameka Brown ("Around Our Way on Neighbors' Day"), Judy Stead ("12 Days of Christmas in North Carolina"), Gail Haley ("A Story, A Story") and Sherry Neidigh (illustrator of "Count Down to Fall").

    Noon: Kelly Starling Lyons ("One Million Men and Me"), Gloria Houston ("The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree") and Carole Boston Weatherford ("Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom").

    Junior fiction and young adult:

    Junior fiction, 11:15 a.m.: Stephanie Tolan ("Surviving the Applewhites"), Melissa Thompson (Keena Ford series) and Eleanora Tate ("Celeste's Harlem Renaissance").

    Young adult mystery/suspense, 12:15 p.m.: Caroline B. Cooney ("Face on the Milk Carton") and Mark de Castrique ("Death on a Southern Breeze").

    Young adult, 1:15 p.m.: Carrie Ryan ("The Forest of Hands and Teeth"), Karon Luddy ("Spelldown"), Joyce Hostetter ("Blue") and P.B.MacEnulty (Alixandra's Wings").

    Novello Festival Press panel, 1:30 p.m.: Introducing the press's first bilingual children's book, "Wings and Dreams: The Legend of Angel Falls," by Irania Macias Patterson, illustrated by Catherine Courtlandt McElvane.



For nearly two decades, October in Charlotte has meant the Novello Festival of Reading - a literary extravaganza that brought the city big-name authors full of great stories and provocative ideas.

But this year, on its 20th anniversary, the festival seemed doomed, one more program lost as economic woes forced the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library to slash its budget.

Lucky for book lovers, some fans have refused to let Novello go.

On Friday, volunteers led by book lovers Mark West and Pat Siegfried kick off A Tribute to Novello, a free festival aimed at carrying on the spirit of the original. It continues Saturday and Oct. 9, with more than 30 authors, most from Charlotte. All have agreed to appear at no charge.

For die-hard Novello fans such as Wanda Hubicki, that's welcome news. "I think it's really important to keep alive the idea of Novello," she says.

The library launched Novello in 1991, partly at the urging of Rolfe Neill, now-retired publisher of The Observer.

Neill told Bob Cannon, then library director, to find a way to make reading as fun as sports. Cannon, now head of Florida's Broward County library system, remembers urging his development director, "Come up with something that's fun."

The first program featured Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Halberstam. Over time, the festival grew. Speakers have included Toni Morrison, Maurice Sendak, John Grisham, Kurt Vonnegut and Pat Conroy.

Former President George Bush and first lady Barbara Bush, who spoke in 1999, hold the record for highest fee: $100,000.

Khaled Hosseini, author of "The Kite Runner," set the attendance record, attracting 2,300 people in 2008 and selling out Ovens Auditorium.

Always, Novello offered children's activities and provided Charlotte's schools with countless author appearances.

And always, Novello events were free or inexpensive - $15 to $30 for headlining authors.

In good years, the Novello budget topped $400,000.

The library paid for author appearances with ticket sales, donations, corporate sponsorships and fines - never county money.

Hubicki has attended more Novello events than she can remember.

"My birthday's in October, so I always felt it was a little gift from the library to me."

Meeting authors of books that touched her has held a special significance.

She remembers how ice cream moguls Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield made her laugh and how Isabel Allende, author of "The House of Spirits," spoke from her heart. She discovered North Carolina's Ron Rash, now a favorite author, at a Novello event.

"You want to hear them speak off the page, and have a chance to let them know how they have reached you," she says.

A well of goodwill

When he learned Novello was being cut, West, a UNC Charlotte English professor, began contacting authors to see if they would donate their time for a Novello-like festival.

West sees the festival as a three-way connection. "It connects the library, writers and readers. It adds a creative and, dare I say, intellectual dimension to Charlotte."

Unbeknownst to West, Siegfried was also trying to keep the festival going.

"I just couldn't see it go away," she says. Siegfried, an owner of Black Forest Books and Toys, is the library's former youth services director.

When the library connected the two, they teamed up.

As they contacted authors, asking them to donate their time, both found a well of goodwill, for both the library and Novello.

Asheville's Gloria Houston, author of "The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree," has been featured at many past Novellos. She's among more than a dozen children's authors appearing this year.

"Good lord, you brought the biggest authors in the world to your city for free or for a minimal cost," she says. "That's an amazing gift."

All sorts of writers

By keeping the Novello spirit alive, fans hope the library can revive the festival when the county's budget fortunes improve.

Library officials have the same hope. But they say the library system, which has laid off staff, cut hours and closed branches, would have to regain significant funding before that could happen.

This year's festival is shorter than many of the past events, which could span weeks. Though there are no big-time celebrities in the bunch, there will be as many or more authors - poets, mystery writers, children's authors, novelists.

Says the library system's Karen Beach: "It's going to be a great couple of days."

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