How do novels come to be? How does a writer navigate the changing publishing industry? Why is literacy important?
These questions were at the center of discussion Saturday during the third annual Ladies of the Dove Literary Festival held at Liberty County High School.
During the event, 18 writers from the local and national scenes were on hand to promote, sell and discuss their work.
According to event chairwoman Dr. A’ndrea J. Wilson, who also is a novelist with seven published books, the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority’s Chi Pi Zeta chapter coordinates the event to promote literacy in the community and to inspire local writers.
“I think it went well,” she said Monday. “We had less turnout than last year, but the quality of the people who came this year was actually a little bit better. … The majority of the authors reported they did well on sales.”
She estimated that between 125 and 150 people attended the event, where New York Times best-selling author Omar Tyree served as the event’s keynote speaker.
In an interview before his speech, Tyree said he planned to thank readers and book buyers for their support, and he also spoke about the importance of literacy.
“If it wasn’t for the readers and people coming out to buy books and read books, then we wouldn’t have the authors that we have today,” said the self-described urban classical writer, who has published 19 books.
Tyree, a Howard University graduate who began writing novels at 19 years old, said he faced hardships as an emerging African-American author writing about contemporary social issues for a crowd that seldom reads.
Since then, he has strived to motivate more children, especially males, to take up reading. As part of that initiative, Tyree founded the Urban Literacy Project, which provides curricula and resources to participating schools.
Like Tyree’s work, Wilson’s “Ready and Able Teens” series also deals with social issues. Two other local authors, Gloria Harris and Zeta Phi Beta sister Rhonda Lawson, also participated in the event.
L. Divine, the author of the popular young adult series, “Drama High,” as well as Twilla Robinson Booker and Dwan Abrams, also attended.
Essence best-selling author R. M. Johnson was a guest speaker at the event, and he said early Saturday that his speech would focus on how a writer navigates changes in the publishing industry. His key tips for an aspiring writer?
“Educate yourself; take classes or find books on the craft …,” Johnson said. “And stay with it.”
In conjunction with the event, the sorority also held an essay contest with competitions between elementary, middle and high school students.
Combined, the sorority awarded 11 students with about $1,000 in cash prizes for the best essays that addressed the theme of “overcoming obstacles,” Wilson said. “This year, we did have an influx of senior high (entries), and their top prize is $500.”
First place winners in the essay contest were: Joirdin Alex, elementary school; Desiree Polite, middle school; and William Tilghman, high school.
Liberty County High School senior Shavia Wrease, who took second place in her division last year, entered the essay contest again as a way to indulge her love of writing.
While Wrease plans to become a dentist, she finds it inspiring to attend the event and interact with writers, she said.
“It’s neat that no matter how old or young you are, you can write a book,” she said.