Named for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s award-winning, long-form narrative feature Personal Journeys, the 2015 AJC Decatur Book Festival Presented by DeKalb Medical (AJC DBF) announces a new Personal Journeys Track, which will offer the insights of prominent national, regional and local writers and journalists in narrative journalism, creative nonfiction and personal memoir.
The AJC debuted its Personal Journeys feature in August 2012 in its Sunday Living section and the 3,300-word profiles became an instant hit with readers for the stories’ great writing and for the compelling local characters they present. Taking a more expansive view of that theme, the AJC DBF presents an array of writers who bring compelling nonfiction and memoirs on subjects such as personal tragedy, addiction, dark family secrets and more.
AJC DBF Programming Director Philip Rafshoon said he is excited to debut this track at the 10th annual event.
“We love what the AJC has done with the Personal Journeys features and we believe that festival-goers who are fans of nonfiction will find these writers and panel discussions engrossing and illuminating,” Rafshoon said. “We are especially delighted to have some of the AJC staffers who are responsible for turning out those stories as part of our panels.”
- Elizabeth Alexander: In The Light of the World, Alexander finds herself at an existential crossroads after the sudden death of her husband. She channels her poetic sensibilities into a rich, lucid prose that universalizes a very personal quest for meaning and acceptance in the wake of loss. The Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry at Yale University, Alexander composed and recited “Praise Song for the Day” for President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration. Her visit is co-sponsored by the Emory University Hightower Fund.
- Jamie Brickhouse and George Hodgman: These two bare-all writers are defined by mother-son relationships and self-discovery. Brickhouse’s Dangerous When Wet is an astonishing memoir—by turns both darkly comic and deeply poignant—about a native Texan’s long struggle with alcohol, his complicated relationship with Mama Jean and his sexuality. Hodgman’s hilarious, heart-breaking memoir, Bettyville, shares an unforgettable mother-son journey, capturing truths about family, identity and the current American landscape.
- Sarah Hepola: For Hepola, the author of Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget, drinking felt like freedom, part of her birthright as a strong, enlightened 21st-century woman in her 30s. But there was a price. Her career flourished but as the blackouts accumulated, she could no longer avoid a sinking truth. Blackout is her story of the sober life she never wanted. The personal essays editor at Salon.com, Hepola also has had work published in
The New York Times Magazine, New Republic, Glamour, Slate and The Guardian.
- Rita Gabis: Five years ago, Gabis discovered an unthinkable dimension to her family story: from 1941 to 1943 her grandfather had been the chief of security police under the Gestapo in the Lithuanian town of Svencionys, near the killing field of Poligon, where 8,000 Jews were murdered in the fall of 1941. Gabis felt compelled to find out the complicated truth of who her grandfather was and what he had done. A Guest at the Shooters’ Banquet is a history and family memoir like no other, documenting “the holocaust by bullets.” Gabis is the author of the poetry collection The Wild Field. Her work has appeared in Harvard Review and Poetry.
- Alan Gee: In the first collection of essays by a Chinese-American male to be published in over a decade, Gee writes in his first book about aspects of Asian-American life in a detailed, eloquent manner, looking at how Asian-Americans view themselves in light of America’s insensitivities, stereotypes and expectations. My Chinese-America addresses masculinity, identity and topics ranging from Jeremy Lin to immigration to profiling to Asian silences. He is an associate professor of English at Georgia College and State University, where he teaches in the MFA program and edits for the journal Arts & Letters.
- Truth vs. Fact in Memoir and Narrative Nonfiction presented by Lenz: Moderated by Suzanne Van Atten, the AJC editor in charge of producing the Personal Journeys features, this panel examines how far is too far when writers use a fiction writer’s toolbox for a more artful outcome than relying solely on a factual account. The panel includes Moni Basu, a reporter on CNN Digital’s enterprise team; Valerie Boyd, author of the award-winning Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston; AJC staff writer Mark Davis and Tom Junod, a writer for Esquire who has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award 11 times, winning twice.
- Saturday, Sept. 5, 12:30 p.m., at the Old Courthouse (101 East Court Square).
- Reconciling Racism from a Sixties Childhood presented by Emory University: Jim Grimsley, Professor of Practice in Emory University’s Department of English, and Jim Auchmutey, a 29-year veteran of the AJC who twice won the Cox Newspaper chain’s Writer of the Year Award, discuss the social turmoil of the American South during the 1960s. A novelist and playwright, Grimsley is the author of How I Shed My Skin: Unlearning the Racist Lessons of a Southern Childhood. He presents the deeply moving narrative of his youth in the newly integrated North Carolina public schools of the 1960s, remembering his first real encounters with black children and their culture. He is the author of four previous novels, among them Winter Birds, a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award. In The Class of ‘65: A Student, a Divided Town, and the Long Road to Forgiveness, Auchmutey chronicled the experiences of Greg Wittkamper’s life at a Americus High School in southwest Georgia. Wittkamper came from a nearby Christian commune, whose members publicly supported racial equality. For his tolerance, Wittkamper was mistreated as badly as the school’s first black students were in 1964. Forty-one years later, a dozen former classmates wrote letters to him, asking his forgiveness and inviting him to return for a class reunion.
- Saturday, Sept. 5, 3 p.m., Decatur Presbyterian Sanctuary (205 Sycamore Street).
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Decatur Book Festival Presented by DeKalb Medical (AJC DBF) is the largest independent book festival in the country. Over Labor Day weekend (Sept. 4–6) tens of thousands from metro Atlanta and beyond will share the historic Decatur Square with world-class authors, illustrators, editors, publishers and booksellers for a weekend filled with literature, music, food and fun. For more information, visit decaturbookfestival.com,“like” Decatur Book Festival on Facebook or follow @DBookFestival on Twitter.