Despite the hopes of many a librarian and professor, book festivals rarely draw new readers. More likely, such events are venues where bibliophiles bump elbows with fellow travelers. A sad state of affairs, especially in an era when people shamelessly boast of the time passed since they last opened a book.
For bookstore owner Darren Vincent, who credits a newfound love of the written word with delivering him from an angry, dissatisfying life in New York state, it's especially distressing. So this weekend, Vincent, the 33-year-old owner of RealEyes Bookstore in north Charlotte, hopes to reach out to book-lovers and book-ignorers alike with the Charlotte Literary Festival. Vincent bemoans Americans' lack of interest in reading, a lack he says can be found particularly within the African-American community.
So he's taken an unorthodox approach to the festival, planning author readings alongside band performances and children's activities. "You don't want people to look at it like it's just literacy," Vincent said. "Then you're going to only attract people who read." At the festival, people can hear about the worlds of publishing and record deals, as well as listen to author readings by well-known poet Nikki Giovanni, author Omar Tyree and journalist Patrice Gaines.
Three years ago, Vincent was a nonreader who would have been an unlikely bookstore owner. But a book by self-help guru Susan Jeffers changed all that. "That book just did something to me," he recalled. "I went from this stubborn kid of the street to -- I felt like I didn't know anything. I just stuck my face in a book, reading and reading. I went through some type of transformation. I started reading more; I started praying more.
"It was a new world to me," Vincent said.
Last October, one person urged him to organize a literary festival. Then more recently, another did. Then, two hours after that, another person on the other end of the telephone urged him along. He took it as a sign. "I'm spiritual, so I figured it was the time to put this on," Vincent said.
Denial letters rolled in from names like Tavis Smiley, Maya Angelou and Danielle Steel. Then Nikki Giovanni "blessed me," he said. An e-mail from her indicated she liked what Vincent was doing. "It was almost like she knew me," he said.
Now, he hopes the Charlotte Literary Festival might offer the same transformation for someone else.
"I want to offer something to those who are like me. The [Jeffers] book dramatically changed my life around. It brought peace in my world. All it takes is just one book."
Charlotte Literary Festival