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story.lead_photo.caption Festival: Above, two-year-old Virginia Louise Young searches for books while attending the South Arkansas Literary Festival at the El Dorado Conference Center on Saturday. Terrance Armstard/News-Times

Readers and writers alike flocked to the Conference Center on Saturday morning for the second annual South Arkansas Literary Festival.

The festival is a partnership between the SouthArk Library, the Union County Public Library and the Calhoun County Public Library to help the library create more of a resource of cultural activities.

As part of the event, visitors could attend break out sessions covering a variety of topics including poetry writing, scholarly publishing and reading recommendations for teens.

Author Elanena White, who was part of the Today a Reader Tomorrow a Leader, attended last year’s Literary Festival – which was scheduled to be two days, but was cut short because of a fire in the Administration Building – said the festival served as a way to get her books and names out there.

White, who is an El Dorado resident, has published nine faith-based books focused on connecting people with the christian faith. She wrote her first book, Looking for Daddy: Finding Your Internal Little Girl, in three days in 2013 when she was struggling depression.

“It was my healing outlet and help other to heal,” White said.

White attended last year’s festival as well and said she likes the structure of this year’s better. Last year, all the speakers were in one room taking turns whereas this year the different speakers were on a schedule in several different rooms with multiple going on at once.

“I like this year because they have different themes if you want to explore different things in writing,” White said.

Lynn Valentutti, Manager of Digital Services with Arkansas State Library in Little Rock, echoed White by saying the festival is a good way to reach the public. The Arkansas State Library is a resource for schools, colleges and libraries. Valentutti described them as a niche library because they serve as an information resource center for state government. However, many of the library’s services are free to any Arkansas citizen.

She said coming to the festival was a way to promote public awareness by letting them know some of the services available such as book clubs, government documents and summer workshop programs.

Author Niki Smith, who is from El Dorado but currently lives in Junction City, said she came to the festival as a way to support her alma mater of SouthArk. She was invited by people she knows at the school.

Smith recently published her third novel, which are loosely a series. Smith said all three are related, but only the third one is it really important to have read the others. She writes creepy mystery stories set in the fictional town of Crafton.

Smith is a registered nurse as a way to pay the bills. She said it has been helpful with her writing in providing inspiration and stories. Some elements of her job as a nurse has made their way into her books.

“Writing is something I’ve always been interested in, but it doesn’t pay the bills until you’re famous,” Smith said. “I like nursing.”

Smith attended last year’s festival and she agreed that this year’s has gone better. One of the things that stuck out to her is that the vendors, such as herself, are in the hallway of the Convention Center rather than in one of the rooms like they were last year.

“I think this is better since people don’t have to search to find us,” Smith said.

The idea for the festival came from SouthArk looking to be more of a recognized cultural resource for the area. Philip Shackelford, SouthArk Library Director, said especially for an academic library it’s their responsibility to promote literacy, academic success, learning and educational enrichment. The festival, from his point of view, is a way to be that.

Last year’s festival was held in April and scheduled to be two days. However, the evening of the first day, the SouthArk Administration Building was struck by lightning, causing a fire that burned throughout the next day and cause the festival to be cancelled. Part of the reason that the fire lasted as long as it did was multiple tornado warnings throughout the night that forced firefighters to retreat into the truck while the fire was still burning.

Shackelford said he was glad that so many of those scheduled to come last year were able to return.

Despite the severe weather warnings and multiple tornado warnings over the course of Saturday, Shackelford said he was glad to see it wasn’t hitting too hard.

“It’s going great,” he said. “The weather is cooperating and we haven’t seen any severe weather. The breakout sessions are going good and people have some good questions.”

Lecture: Author and historian Ken Bridges, PhD, seated left, watches as businessman and fellow author Richard Mason lectures. Terrance Armstard/News-Times
Lecture: Author and historian Ken Bridges, PhD, seated left, watches as businessman and fellow author Richard Mason lectures. Terrance Armstard/News-Times

Michael Shine may be reached at 870-862-6611 or mshine@eldoradonews.com. Follow him on Twitter and like him on Facebook @MichaelAZShine for updates on Union County school news.

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