Chapter16.org: A Real Page-Turner
This month, award-winning authors from across the country will convene at Legislative Plaza for the Southern Festival of Books, a gathering of writers and readers now in its 23rd year. But while the annual confab of literary luminaries is a high point of the region’s cultural calendar, the weekend festival is by no means the only time and place that lovers of literature can gather to hear — at least figuratively speaking — the voices of leading writers passing in and out of the state. Thanks to Humanities Tennessee, the nonprofit organization that funds and organizes the Southern Festival of Books, writers and readers congregate online all year long at Chapter16.org.
Founded two years ago as a venue to showcase the broad-based literary life of Tennessee, Chapter 16 takes its name from the fact that the state was the sixteenth to join the Union. With Tennessee as its unifying theme, Chapter 16 provides coverage of writers who are from Tennessee, educated in Tennessee or visiting Tennessee. It also covers books that are about or set in Tennessee; and literature and writers that are otherwise affiliated with the state.
“The point of Chapter 16 is to let people who love books understand the surprisingly full literary life of this state,” says editor Margaret Renkl, who oversees the “community of Tennessee readers, writers and passersby” envisioned by Executive Director Robert Cheatham and the staff of Humanities Tennessee. “We claim a lot of writers whose Tennessee connections might surprise people,” Renkl adds.
On any given day, Chapter 16 might include an interview with Abraham Verghese (the best-selling author of Cutting for Stone was a medical resident in Johnson City, Tenn., where he first explored the subject of rural AIDS); meditations on the children’s classic The Secret Garden (author Frances Hodgson Burnett spent her young adulthood in Knoxville); or an interview with Margaret Atwood (the Canadian author of The Handmaid’s Tale spoke at Belmont University last fall).
“I was dumbfounded when I found out how much newsworthy stuff was happening in the state,” Renkl says, adding that Chapter 16 has already increased its online publishing from weekly to daily and maintains an active Facebook presence to update readers about new postings. Meanwhile, on its main webpage, Chapter 16 keeps a running calendar of book-related events, readings and signings across the state.
Since its founding in October 2009, Chapter 16 has published original work by celebrated authors including Alan Lightman, Richard Bausch, Madison Smartt Bell, Hampton Sides, Alice Randall, Michael Sims, Adam Ross, Ann Patchett and John Egerton.
The site has featured interviews with The Blind Side protagonist Michael Oher, Sex and the City author Candace Bushnell and U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins, to name a few of the diverse people who find the time to talk with Renkl and her cadre of freelance contributors. And while the majority of the content on the site is written by assignment, one section is dedicated to essays of up to 1,500 words, which can be submitted for consideration.
Every Friday in the weeks leading up to the Southern Festival of Books, Chapter 16 will feature one of the more high-profile authors scheduled to attend the weekend of readings and lectures. This includes best-selling novelist Walter Mosley, author of The Last Days of Ptolemy Gray; Melissa Fay Greene, author of No Biking in the House Without a Helmet; and Cold Mountain author Charles Frazier, whose novel Nightwoods debuted in September.
Chapter 16 highlights can also be found offline, in the pages of Nashville Scene and The City Paper. The content is available at no charge to publications that credit the source and link back to Chapter16.org, and Humanities Tennessee is working to develop additional publication partnerships across the state.
By the time the Southern Festival of Books opens in October, Chapter 16 plans to unveil its newest initiative, a database of online resources about authors in Tennessee history. The first phase of the database will include historical writers, such as Robert Penn Warren (the author of All the King’s Men was graduated from high school in Clarksville, Tenn.); Alex Haley (the author of Roots spent his boyhood in Henning, Tenn.); and James Dickey (the author of Deliverance attended Vanderbilt).
Chapter 16 plans to expand the database to include contemporary literary figures, many of whom will be stopping by Legislative Plaza this month to celebrate the rich artistic tradition of Tennessee and the South.