In addition to listening to speeches Friday at the inaugural Cormac McCarthy Literary Festival, another event took place behind aisles of books in the genealogy section at the Blount County Public Library.
Anne De Lisle wore a cashmere sweater and leather gloves as she stood beside a table strewn with photo albums dating back to the 1960s.
De Lisle was married to Cormac McCarthy for 15 years — years she no longer wishes to keep private.
“It’s this huge part of my life hidden. He never wanted me to come to things like this because he never wanted me telling our personal story,” De Lisle said. The festival is the first event regarding McCarthy that De Lisle chose to attend.
De Lisle and McCarthy lived part of their marriage in Rockford, where McCarthy wrote the novels “The Orchard Keeper” and “Suttree.”
“They say they know nothing about him ... that he’s a recluse. But I know everything about him,” she said.
Though the man may be unknown to most, his name is not.
McCarthy is a Pulitzer Prize, best-selling author of several novels such as “The Road,” “All the Pretty Horses” and “No Country For Old Men.” He grew up in Knoxville and moved to Rockford for part of his adulthood.
Because of McCarthy’s ties to Blount County, the library decided to name its first-ever literary festival after him.
“We’re using his name because he’s our big literary touchstone,” said Ari Baker, library education services manager.
The festival, which started Friday and runs until Sunday, seeks not only to acknowledge the works of McCarthy but also to encourage local writers to join Blount County’s growing community of creatives.
“One of our main goals for the festival was providing space for local authors to connect with more regional voices — writing stories and sparking conversations in Appalachia,” Baker said.
Baker headed the committee of library and Friends of the Library staff who have been planning the event since last year, he said.
Another goal of the festival, he added, was to augment the library’s existing programs, such as the Foothills Project, a 10-month course in writing and research for novice or amateur writers. The focus of the course is the creation of a written work of creative nonfiction that tells true stories of East Tennessee’s past and people.
“(The festival) is about people having the tools they need to write their own Appalachia,” Baker said.
One of many speakers of the weekend, Stacey Peebles is no stranger to writings involving both East Tennessee and McCarthy.
Peebles doubles as editor of the The Cormac McCarthy Journal and English professor at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. She was first approached about speaking at a literary event representing McCarthy and inspiring budding writers last November when she was speaking at the University of Tennessee.
Peebles was most intrigued by the literary festival’s proposed location: a public library.
“This is more naturally public, which I think is great,” she said. “It gives people access to this kind of program.”
Friends of the Library and Humanities TN, whose focus centers on promoting library and arts programming, funded the festival, which is expected to take place biennially.
In addition to Peebles, speakers Friday included writers such as Frank X. Walker, noted for coining the phrase “Affrilachia” to describe African American life in the Appalachians, and Susan Beckham Zurenda, award-winning fiction writer.
As the festival continues, attendees can expect to hear talks from authors and poets Ron Rash, author of New York Times bestseller “Serena;” Summer Awad and Nik Buhler, writers from Sundress Academy for the Arts; Sharyn McCrumb, award-winning author of “The Unquiet Grave;” Lin Stepp, international author of :For Six Good Reasons;” and Amy Greene, author of “Bloodroot,” a New York Times “Editor’s Choice pick.
The festivities are not limited only to those interested in writing.
In addition to local authors, wood carvers, painters, potters, and basket weavers from Blount County will be displaying their work. Children can participate in hands-on crafting of mosaics and corn husk dolls. Musician J.P. Baldwin will conclude Saturday’s festivities with a musical performance at The Bird and the Book.
Also tomorrow, the library will hold a dedication for a mosaic created by McCarthy and local artist Bill Kidwell. The mosaic was created by the duo in the 70s in downtown Maryville. When the area had to be repaved, part of the mosaic was moved to the lawn of the library.
For those wanting to learn more about McCarthy, De Lisle will have her personal photo albums on display.