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A literary Christmas wish.



By the time this pre-apocalyptic year began winding down — the day after the presidential election, actually — I decided to cocoon myself in literature. For a couple of weeks, I even tuned out social media and ate nothing but a steady diet of novels and short stories. More than mere entertainment, fiction is a life force — it's where we learn about morality and decency and cultures not our own. Reading fiction is an essential distraction and something I plan to do as much as anything else throughout the new year and beyond.

I want you to join me. More than that, all I want for Christmas is for the writers and readers in Memphis to come together. Over the past year, I've engaged with more of you, and something close to a community has begun to coalesce, and it's been transformative. Memphis is known as a haven for musicians, and the visual arts have a strong community, as do the performing arts and independent filmmaking. These communities (which overlap, by the way, in a Venn diagram of immense talent and unanimity) are part of what make Memphis such a unique and wonderful place.

It's time for the literary arts of Memphis to claim its legacy built upon the pages of Peter Taylor, Shelby Foote, William Faulkner, James Jones, and even John Grisham. There are so many dedicated and creative writers in the community today — Jamey Hatley, Corey Mesler, Nat Akin, Kimberly Richardson, Greg Hunt, Cary Holladay, Margaret Skinner, and far too many others to mention here — and you need to get to know them all. Readers abound as well, as evidenced by the crowds at booksignings and the proliferation of book clubs.

What I'd ask Santa for, though, is a single organization to gather these folks up and give them a home and an ongoing calendar of events to sate their literary appetite. There are those out there giving it the old college try. There are actual colleges, in fact, such as Christian Brothers University and nonprofits like Literacy Mid-South. Their Memphis Reads and Mid-South Book Festival events are just two of the highlights of readers and writers coming together in 2016.

Other than those, that's about the only evidence of it, I'm afraid. And these two institutions don't even work together. Instead, one event was held one week, ending on a Sunday, and the other began the following Monday morning. Bookends of literary appreciation weeks with barely gap enough for a piece of flash fiction to be at home; and they weren't on speaking terms. What a wonderful time of year it would be if these entities worked together, pooling their knowledge, passion, and resources to bring even more nationally known writers, publishers, and agents to town to discuss what it is they do.

Story booth is another haven for the community and possibly one of my favorite places in town. This book-lined, "hidden" sanctuary is part of Crosstown Arts with programs for visiting writers and school children in some of the hardest-to-reach schools in Memphis. It's under a transitional phase at the moment, as Crosstown Arts prepares to inhabit and program multiple spaces throughout the Crosstown Concourse development to open over the next couple of months. Its reach into the schools and into the writing community has become invaluable, and I hope to see it continue and expand.

For CBU, Literacy Mid-South, and story booth to come together, possibly even under a single, overarching nonprofit, to celebrate the literary arts and engage area schools to encourage a love of literature in young readers and writers with year-round programming, and with the backing of our wonderful local bookstores and world-class public library, is an item at the top of my wish list for that jolly old elf. A Christmas miracle? After what 2016 has handed us, let's hope a love and regard of reading becomes a bit of reality in the coming year.

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