Had he lived, Union County poet and author Byron Herbert Reece (1917-1958) would have turned ninety years of age on September 17 this year. His brief life and his notable works will be the theme of the Georgia Center for the Book annual Georgia Literary Festival to be held at Blue Ridge this coming weekend, September 28-30.
Citizens of this mountain area will rarely have the privilege this close at hand to participate in such an extravaganza of celebration for writers and the written word. I hope I can convey to you some of the excitement and enthusiasm generated by a chockfull program and the privilege to meet some of Georgia's best-known present day writers as well as paying tribute to Union County's own Byron Herbert Reece, poet extraordinary.
First, let me give a little history of the Georgia Literary Festival. The current event is the ninth consecutive year the festival has been held. An event such as this often gains momentum as it proceeds year by year. The first was more local in nature, held in Eatonton, Georgia in 1999. Dr. Glenn T. Eskew, professor in the history department of Georgia State University who lived in nearby Madison, GA, conceived and put together the first festival, inviting notable writers from around Georgia. It was so enjoyable and successful that Eatonton again hosted the 2000 and the 2001 festivals. In 2002, another middle Georgia town, Sparta, was the site. Then to Madison, Dr. Eskew's hometown, for 2003. By 2004, the Georgia Center for the Book voted to be one of the main promoters, and with Dr. Eskew as consultant, the Center has continued until this ninth venue to lead in scheduling and advising local towns on conducting the festival. In 2004, Columbus hosted the event, in 2005 it went to Elberton, and in 2006 to Macon.
Blue Ridge had an active committee vying for the 2007 venue, and their proposals and tentative program were accepted. Bill Starr, director of the Georgia Center for the Book, has this to say about the 2007 Blue Ridge Festival: "Blue Ridge is a beautiful town that draws many visitors throughout the year, and we know that the festival is going to be very, very popular, with so many outstanding writers taking part and so much going on. And almost everything is free." (In Sept. Georgia Public Library Newsletter, page 1.)
As another accolade to Reece and his life, a brand new book entitled "Faithfully Yours," compiled and edited by Dr. Raymond Cook and Dr. Alan Jackson, will be presented at the festival and available for sale. Reece was known for his copious correspondence, and this book collects his letters- to friends, his publisher, to literary associates- and gives insight into the mind and character of Reece previously unavailable to the public.
Recently, Rev. Keith Jones (who is my son and the local chairman of this year's Georgia Literary Festival) has professionally recorded on CDs the poems of Reece through the auspices of National Recording Company of Rome, Georgia. A limited number of the tapes will be available for sale at the festival, and information for ordering will be at the Byron Herbert Reece Society Booth.
All the Literary Festival events are free to the public. An auxiliary event, such as a Mark Twain impersonation by actor Kurt Sutton at the Blue Ridge Community Theater, has a ticket price ($15 - 7:30 Friday). The Blue Ridge Scenic Train Ride is also an auxiliary event with a cost. The Reece Society has prepared a "Reece Ramble" brochure that takes the sightseer on a guided tour of places dear to Reece. This "ramble" can be made after the festival is over.
I must admit that I've been looking forward to this literary festival for over a year now. I've heard about meetings to plan it. I've been privy to how the money to sponsor it was received gratefully. I know most of the people who have worked extremely hard to put together a weekend highlight of major proportions. Then came my unexpected heart surgery on August 30. I had a strong incentive to recuperate. Would the doctors even think of allowing me to go to Blue Ridge? Imagine my joy when Dr. Wanna told me: "With these limitations, you may go!" I agreed to his directions gladly. I look forward to as much of the festival as I can "take in" without getting unduly tired. I even plan to fulfill my segments on the program at 7:30 Friday night, at 11:20 Saturday, and at 2:00 p. m. Saturday. I hope to see many of you there!
Keynote speaker Cathy Cox, President of Young Harris College, will address the festival attendees in the Old Courthouse, now home of the Blue Ridge Mountain Arts Association. Her topic will be "Byron Herbert Reece's Intellectual Home, Young Harris College.” Several noted authors will lecture on appropriate topics of Appalachian life and culture.
The program is too long to list completely. But think of how you can honor one of Union County's most noble literary figures by just attending. An opportunity like this comes but once in a lifetime to most of us.
c 2007 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Sept. 27, 2007 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.