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Music In The Word 

Carolina Writers Night mixes it up

"I listened and I heard / music in a word / the word when you played your guitar." -- from "Pure and Easy" by Pete Townshend.

If it's true that most writers secretly wish to be musicians -- and vice versa -- then there's gonna be a whole lot of role-playing at this year's Creative Loafing Carolina Writers Night. As folks like Dave Eggers and his McSweeney's collective have learned, people like hearing writers read their work, and like basking in the presence of their favorite yarn-spinner -- especially if said author brings an acoustic guitar and plays trivia games with those assembled.

More and more, people are looking for more than a monocle and a monotone from their favorite authors. Spouting forth behind a pasteboard podium isn't always enough when you have a big room to reach. Yes, even among the relatively patient denizens of Bookworld, folks want a little pomp with their circumstance.

This year's Carolina Writers Night, always one of the more envelope-pushing events on the Novello slate, has picked up on the trend, offering up a night of stories and music that ought to please fans of either discipline.

Writers Clyde Edgerton (Raney, Lunch at the Picadilly) and Lee Smith (Oral History, The Last Girls) will join singer-songwriter Marshall Chapman (herself a newly minted novelist) to perform a rag-tag melding of songs and stories and sidetracks that manages to come across as something of a campfire storytelling session, sans the campfire.

Frye Gaillard, a founding editor of Novello Festival Press, says the idea to switch things up a bit came after attending a book fair last year, and seemed a natural fit for the music-geared confines of The Neighborhood Theatre.

"Amy Rogers and I were at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville last year representing Novello Festival Press, and we went to a performance at the Bluebird Cafe, a sort of songwriter's Mecca. They were doing a show where they had Marshall Chapman doing some of her songs and Lee Smith and Jill McCorkle reading stories (along with) another musician, Matraca Berg, who is also a singer-songwriter from Nashville.

"It just had a very literary flavor, and there was just a real fit between the songs and the stories Lee and Jill were reading, so we thought, this sounds like something we could do a variation of for Carolina Writer's Night. We talked about it with (CL editor) John Grooms, and then we called. The lineup this time around is turning out to be Marshall Chapman, Clyde Edgerton, who not only has a new book out (Lunch at the Piccadilly) but also is good with the banjo, and Lee Smith, who will just be doing some reading. It should be fun."

All of the authors have dabbled in multiple media for some time now. Edgerton, an accomplished banjo player, has played in the Clyde and the Rank Strangers Band (along with Matt Kendrick and Jack King), and in the Tarwater Band (along with Susan Ketchin and others). The Tarwater Band, incidentally, even has an album entitled The Devil's Dream, based on the novel of the same name by Lee Smith. On the recorded version, Smith talks between songs about her love of mountain music and growing up in Appalachia.

Chapman, a Spartanburg, SC, native, has had songs recorded by everyone from Emmylou Harris to Jimmy Buffett and has released eight critically acclaimed albums. In 1998, Chapman -- along with songwriting pal Matraca Berg -- contributed 14 songs to Good Ol' Girls, a literary musical based on the stories of Smith and McCorkle. This fall, St. Martin's Press released her debut novel, Goodbye, Little Rock and Roller along with a companion CD.

Different versions of the quartet (Jill McCorkle was slated for the CWN event this year as well, but had to bow out) have performed to sold-out crowds from Chapel Hill to Nashville, and the project has even received support from the North Carolina Arts Council, an agency funded by the State of North Carolina and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Before the "band" takes the stage, three other authors will read from their work, all of which was published by the library's publishing imprint, the Novello Festival Press. Michelle Groce, a first-time author, will read from her young adult fiction book Jasper, "the story of a pragmatic stray cat with an uncanny knack for sensing the future." Poet Tony Abbott will read from his already-acclaimed first novel, Leaving Maggie Hope (see review by Ann Wicker in CL, Oct. 8). Finally, Novello Festival Press founding editor Amy Rogers will read from her book of essays and recipes, Hungry for Home: Stories of Food from Across the Carolinas.

At this rate, it seems you'll never view (or hear) a reading the same way again.

This year's installment of Creative Loafing's Carolina Writers Night -- Co-sponsored by Novello Festival Press -- will take place on Tuesday, October 21, at 7:30pm at The Neighborhood Theatre (511 E. 36th St.). Admission is free. For more information, call 704-336-2074.

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