A New Name for the Arkansas Literary Festival Heralds a New Vision for Outreach

Little Rock is known for its many striking bridges, which make elegant silhouettes across the Arkansas River and provide pleasure to so many people who walk and bike the river trail. Our bridges light the night with color for all who enter and leave the city—a beautiful symbol of progress and hope.

Bridges take us across barriers that seem impassable. Through human invention and determination, bridges overcome obstacles and open the way for new journeys and opportunities. Bridges unite diverse communities and bring people together.

For all these reasons, the Central Arkansas Library System has chosen to herald a new community focus for its literary festival by renaming the annual event as the “Six Bridges Book Festival.”

Introducing the Six Bridges Book Festival

Previously known for 16 years as the Arkansas Literary Festival, the four-day event in April celebrates reading, literacy, stories and wordsmithing including musical lyrics. Scores of nationally known authors converge on the city to offer panels on a wide variety of topics, from cooking demonstrations to award-winning comedy to personal stories of tornado-chasing.

A slate of programming for children and teens includes hands-on crafts and music, animal visits, poetry contests, and more. Authors also venture out into the community for efforts such as “Writers in the Schools” (WITS), bringing the joy of writing to hundreds of students in the Little Rock area. Concerts, films, readings, and author parties enhance the festive atmosphere across 18 venues in downtown Little Rock, where events are held in museums, restaurants, the Clinton Presidential Library, and the CALS Ron Robinson Theater as well as in many library buildings.

The continuing success of the festival and its mission to encourage the enjoyment of reading and literacy have led CALS leadership to envision an even larger and more widely appealing festival for the future. By actively soliciting community input from all demographic groups and throughout the region, CALS plans to draw more people to experience the rich atmosphere of the festival and to see for themselves that the Six Bridges Book Festival offers something for everyone.

CALS Executive Director Nate Coulter looks forward to broadening the festival’s appeal. “We want to involve many people from our community in the selection of presenters and activities, so they know their reading interests and the stories that fascinate them are central to the festival and they are an integral part of shaping the content of the Six Bridges Book Festival each year,” Coulter said.

“While the event has been a great success over the years as the Arkansas Literary Festival, we want a more inclusive and less formal image, which we believe the name Six Bridges Book Festival will convey,” Coulter explained. “The label ‘literary’ doesn’t describe the wide variety of festival offerings available to our community members. And the word can be off-putting to those who associate it with books they were made to read in school, rather than books they like now. The Six Bridges Book Festival is a diverse, energetic celebration of all kinds of stories and topics, both literary and mainstream, and we feel the new name reflects the festival’s nature more accurately. Our goal is to draw a wider audience by removing any barriers of perception that this event is only for highbrow tastes.”

Since the festival’s inception, the event has been an important showcase for writers from all over the country, as well as locally based talent. Authors such as Sebastian Junger, Catherine Coulter, and Jamaica Kinkaid have mingled with critically acclaimed Arkansas writers such as novelist Kevin Brockmeier and state poet laureate Jo McDougall. Cooking experts such as 5-time James Beard Award winner Dorie Greenspan have offered demos and judged the mouthwatering annual Pie Bake-Off. Poet Jericho Brown, Thai-American novelist Pitchaya Sudbanthad, and memoirist Esme Wang presented in 2019.

Brad Mooy, the coordinator of the festival, looks forward to making the variety of the festival’s offerings and presenters more widely known to the community. “The diversity of presenters has greatly expanded over the years,” Mooy said. “We want to let people know that everyone is represented here, with topics and interactive activities that appeal to all age levels, cultural backgrounds, and reading tastes.”

The 17th annual festival now known as the Six Bridges Book Festival will take place April 23-26, 2020. Community organizations and community members at CALS branch libraries will soon be involved in the planning process.

For questions or interview requests, please contact Tameka Lee at tlee@cals.org or (501) 918-3048.

feature by Rosslyn Elliott