Elgin Literary Festival brings authors, readers together

  • Traci D. Ellis

    Traci D. Ellis

  • Jenn Sommersby

    Jenn Sommersby

  • Justina Ireland

    Justina Ireland

  • Jim McDoniel

    Jim McDoniel

  • Elgin Literary Festival 2019 will feature readings, book signings, discussions and activities for readers and writers alike.

    Elgin Literary Festival 2019 will feature readings, book signings, discussions and activities for readers and writers alike. Courtesy of Roberto Martinez

By Jamie Greco
Daily Herald correspondent
Posted1/25/2019 6:00 AM

Four years ago, Karly Kirkpatrick of Elgin created the Elgin Literary Festival as an alternative to Chicago writers' conferences.

"I was a local writer and I was finding that there was not a lot of writers' conferences in the area," she said. "Writers usually do it for love and not money, and they put out money for conferences and it can be cost prohibitive."


The fourth annual festival, which is free, takes place Friday and Saturday, Jan. 25-26, at the Hemmens in downtown Elgin. Featuring a variety of speakers and workshops, ELF is a place for book lovers and writers -- as well as would-be writers -- to come together, celebrate and explore the written word.

Last year saw 400-500 people wandering through the offerings, and the lack of an entrance fee is partially responsible.

"It grows a little every year," said Amanda Harris of St. Charles, cultural arts manager for the city of Elgin.

"The thing that's notable is that people come from as far away as about an hour and a half to attend. They attend both days. They don't just come and go."

A diverse group of authors and speakers are expected, Harris said, as well as "a ton" of local authors.

"There's a lot of different perspectives, it's not just one genre or ideology," said Elizabeth Melvin of Elgin, a presenter at the event. "There are history writers and local writers and visiting writers and readers."

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"We have a very broad offering this year," Kirkpatrick said. "I'm very excited about the great things that will really excite a lot of people."

"You can meet local authors and support them," said Melvin, who, along with her literary group, which publishes a literary magazine called Neologian, will offer a presentation titled "Writing Abroad and Reading Across Borders."

"It's about getting off the New Best-sellers list and helps you find what they are reading in England or Pakistan and broadening your horizons that way," she said.

There will be nearly 30 local authors exhibiting their books and 16 presentations with such diverse subject matter as "Carving Out Time to Write in This Crazy and Chaotic World," hosted by Gregory Thompson and Lea Grover, and "Candid Conversations About Race and Equity" by featured speaker and author Traci D. Ellis.


Ellis is one of four featured speakers -- the others are Justina Ireland, Jim McDoniel and Jenn Sommersby.

Two groups will perform on Friday. At 7 p.m., Goodly Creatures, a theater ensemble with a cast of eight, will perform Shakespeare's sonnets, updating them for 21st century audiences. Leaving the language intact, the ensemble will present 12 sonnets within a story of three couples.

Following at 8:30 p.m. will be "The Question is the Answer: A Live Poetry Event." The open poetry readings have become a must-see for those that attend every year.

"The Friday night live poetry reading is the best snapshot of Elgin at an event I have ever seen. We can't nail down why," Harris said. "There is every type of person present in that room, and they're all so supportive and they're all there to share their art. And people come to listen because they know they're going to get that quality there."

The atmosphere is more welcoming than one might expect from a literary-based event, according to Melvin.

"It's so accessible in a comfortable environment," she said.

"Sometimes when people hear 'literary festival,' they think they're going to go to a conference type thing, and that's not what this is," Melvin said. "This is an event where people who are readers and people who are writers can come together and learn something."


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