ARTlanta is a column dedicated to celebrating the artists, creatives, and designers who give Atlanta its flavor. Our city has long had a reputation for nurturing the courageous and the bold. From performers to musicians, painters to animators, Atlanta is enriched and enlivened by their presence. In this space, I’ll highlight artists, discuss trends, and list can’t-miss events. Let’s paint the town peach.
As a child, some of my best days were marked by books. Between the Six Flags 600 Minutes Reading Club in elementary school and the added summer reading assignments in middle and high school, there was always a book cracked open on my bed. However, many of the books that were required reading when I was in high school and college, such as Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, are among the many books currently being challenged and banned across the country.
I did some digging to see how this issue is playing out in Georgia libraries and schools. There were rumblings in Cobb, Forsyth, and Henry County schools last year—most of which wound up with the challenged books being reinstated. Then, just a couple of weeks ago, a Cobb County teacher was fired for reading My Shadow is Purple, a children’s book about gender identity, to her fifth grade class. A few days later, the school district removed two books from 20 school libraries. Though these incidents are not reflective of all Georgia school districts, book bans are always a cause for pause.
I recently had a chat with Nic Stone, who is an Atlanta native, Spelman alumna, and one of the most prolific authors of young adult literature today. Stone’s 2017 book, Dear Martin, is about a Black teenage boy named Justyce who experiences police brutality and witnesses a violent racial incident, and he begins writing letters to Martin Luther King Jr. about how to remain peaceful in the midst of upheaval. Dear Martin has also become one of the most banned and challenged books in the country because it addresses racism and stereotypes.
Its first challenge came out of Columbia County, Georgia in 2019 where the then superintendent denied teacher requests for its placement on the supplemental reading list, deeming it inappropriate for school libraries due to “extreme content.” There, and in other school districts across the country, Stone says that most of the time, the principals and school board members who ban her books admit they have not read them.
“Kids just want to see themselves in books and read books that aren’t boring,” Stone says. “I love getting to talk to young people, because I think the core of all of this is a beautiful shared humanity that we all have access to. We just have to be willing to tap into it and see each other as human without a fear of scarcity.”
Stone says she would like to see Georgia go the way of Illinois and ban book banning in libraries so that all people have access to the books of their choice. Stone wrote Dear Martin—and the follow up, Dear Justice—to encourage kids to have bridge-building, interracial conversations about race and difference. She is currently working on the third installment in the series.
“The more we allow kids to create the world that’s in their heads, the better we are,” Stone says.
Celebrating the literary South
Creating and imagining better and new worlds is the task of the writer. Especially in the South, stories are our currency, which is why I take heart in the numerous literary events that Atlantans can experience in late summer and early fall. Writing is a vulnerable artform, and it’s important to have spaces for people to connect to each other’s unique life experiences. My hope is that people of all ages will forever have access to the books that celebrate, enliven, and inspire them. The power of reading is that it allows us to access or imaginations, and when we imagine new worlds, we can create better realities.
Below is a list of literary events I’m looking forward to across Metro Atlanta:
- Charis Books + More, the southeast’s oldest feminist bookstore, will be hosting two internationally-acclaimed authors in the coming months. On September 5, Tayari Jones will be in conversation with author and publisher Denene Millner. Then, on October 26, Regina Bradley, author of Chronicling Stankonia, will be in conversation with two-time National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward about her Civil War novel, Let Us Descend.
- When it comes to professional basketball, what players wear off the court can be just as influential as what they do on the court. Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, Mitchell S. Jackson will be at 44th & 3rd Bookseller on September 12 to discuss his new book, Fly: The Big Book of Basketball Fashion. This is definitely going to be a coffee table book flex.
- Decatur’s Little Shop of Stories is one of the most beloved book stores in the metro area. On September 13, hear Broadway star (and voice of Elsa!) Idina Menzel and her friend/co-author Cara Mentzel talk about their newest picture book, Proud Mouse.
- FoxTale Book Shoppe is hosting Georgia’s reigning queen of beach reads, Mary Kay Andrews, on September 23. They will be bringing Christmas in September with a meet-and-greet for her new book, Bright Lights, Big Christmas, at Huff Harrington. Tickets include a signed book, swag bag, and small bites.
- The Fierce Reads Thrills & Chills Tour is making a stop at Brave and Kind Books on September 28, just in time for young adult readers to grab their favorite spooky books before Halloween. Featured books include Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé, I Feed Her to the Beast and the Beast is Me by Jamison Shea, This Dark Descent by Kalyn Josephson, and The Changing Man by Tomi Oyemakinde. Tickets are free.
- On Saturday, September 30 from 11 a.m.-3 p.m., kids of all ages can experience the Hey! Let’s Read Book Festival for Children of Color. The annual festival, which is held at the Russell Center for Innovation, features author chats, arts & crafts, story time and more.
- A Cappella Books and Criminal Records are hosting culture critic Andrew Chan on October 6 for a discussion of his new book, “Why Mariah Carey Matters.” This is the first full-length, critical perspective on the pop star, known for hits such as “Emotions,” “Honey,” “Fantasy,” and “We Belong Together.”
- From their sip & paint events to afterschool creative writing classes for kids, Lit Diaries is one of the most exciting book stores to open in the last six years. Snag your tickets for their Fall into Books Fest happening on October 28.
- The Marcus Jewish Community Center’s Book Festival is one of the largest in the Southeast. Featuring book signings and discussions with a slate of names ranging from Hillary Clinton to David Sedaris. This year’s festival will take place from October 28 through November 18, and will include events featuring actors John Stamos and Henry Winkler.
- Every November, The Atlanta Writer’s Club hosts the annual Atlanta Writers Conference. This is the perfect skills-building opportunity for poets, novelists and non-fiction writers who are ready to take their careers to the next level. Workshops cover everything from romance writing to how to self-publish.
What books are you getting into? Use the hashtag #ARTlanta and share with us.
About Kelundra Smith
I grew up in Stone Mountain and Loganville, where my parents and teachers got me into the arts early because that’s where energetic girls who talk a lot go. I am a theater critic, journalist, playwright, and lifelong arts lover. My articles about Southern art and artists have been published in the New York Times, ESPN, American Theatre, Garden & Gun, Oxford American, Bitter Southerner, ArtsATL, and elsewhere. As a playwright, my scripts focus on lesser-known historical events in Georgia’s history.