Annual FSU Literary Festival Brings Community and Customers to Frostburg

Jan 6, 2017 12:00 AM

Representatives of Sundress Publications, from left, founder Dr. Erin Elizabeth Smith, "Stirring" managing editor Luci Brown and writer-in-residence Jennie Frost, lead an author-publisher panel discussion at the FSU Independent Literature Festival.

When the Independent Literature Festival, hosted in downtown Frostburg for the past decade, was created, it was designed to build a stronger, more inclusive literary community in the region. Judging by the Indie Lit Fest’s 10th anniversary event, which drew more than 100 editors, publishers, teachers and writers, the festival is meeting its goal.

From its 2006 start as the Western Maryland Small Press Fair, the Indie Lit Fest, put on each fall by the Frostburg State University Center for Literary Arts, has had a real impact on members of that community.

Dr. Elizabeth Savage, professor of English at West Virginia’s Fairmont State University and poetry editor for its literary journal, first attended Indie Lit in 2011. She has returned every year since.

“The regional alliances formed and fed by Frostburg’s festival have real consequences in the real world, but like most forms of power, those effects are branching and expanding in ways not immediately visible,” Savage said.

Her books of poetry are published by Baltimore-based Furniture Press Books, whose founder she met at Indie Lit in 2011. That meeting led to Savage’s first book in 2012 and a second in 2015, and additional writing projects.

“The friendships and professional networks emitting from this annual event are to me and many others the most important, satisfying dimension of our lives as guardians of the arts and humanities,” Savage said.

Others echoed that notion.

Dr. Erin Elizabeth Smith, founder of Knoxville, Tenn.-based Sundress Publications, first visited for an author-publisher panel discussion with a Sundress poet in 2015. She wasn’t sure what to expect.

“I knew it was Western Maryland, but then I was just overwhelmed with how beautiful the drive was, how beautiful it was here and how friendly it was,” Smith said. “I go to probably 10 literature festivals during the year, and this is hands down my favorite!”

Smith returned for 2016 and plans to again in 2017. Despite the distance, Sundress covered their travel expenses in book sales. The press also recruited several writers for its artists’ residency program near Knoxville.

At Indie Lit, Smith saw people she greets in passing at larger events, “but here I get to go out and have a beer with them and go out to dinner. Last year we all went to the steakhouse and had this giant table of editors and authors just telling stories and having conversations that you don’t always get to have.”

Beyond filling local restaurants, pubs and hotels with literary discussions, Indie Lit also benefits some local independent purveyors of literature.

Craig O'Hara of PM Press, who recently moved to Frostburg, displays his press' books during the FSU Independent Literature Festival.

Though PM Press is a small publisher with international staff and main offices in Oakland, Calif., PM co-founder Craig O’Hara recently relocated to Frostburg from his native West Virginia. While nearly half of PM’s yearly revenue comes from direct sales at 100-plus similar events, O’Hara appreciates the community at Indie Lit.

“The event is not a large money-maker, but it is a valuable chance to meet folks from both inside and outside of Frostburg who take reading and writing seriously,” O’Hara said.

At a past Indie Lit Fest, O’Hara connected with local musician Jon Felton, who introduced PM to the team behind a recent children’s book, for which Felton’s band recorded a companion soundtrack CD through PM.

That community also connected O’Hara with Main Street Books in Frostburg. Beyond selling titles from PM and other small presses, Main Street Books hosts the festival’s Friday night kickoff reading.

“I have found that after the reading introduces folks to the store, we can’t keep them out!” said owner Fred Powell. “Sales increase dramatically in certain areas: poetry, fiction – especially small press titles – and blank books and journals.”

Many attendees hail from small towns that no longer have independent bookstores, and Powell said they marvel at the shop’s continued presence on Main Street.

“On Saturday, we find it hard to get folks out of the store by closing at 5 p.m.,” he said.

For 2017, Powell is already planning an after-hours event to help those dedicated booklovers peruse to their hearts’ content.

The next festival will be Oct. 13 and 14. To learn more about the FSU Center for Literary Arts, visit www.frostburg.edu/cla.

Caption Info:

Craig O'Hara-PM Press.jpg – Craig O'Hara of PM Press, who recently moved to Frostburg, displays his press' books during the FSU Independent Literature Festival.

IndieLit panel.jpg – Representatives of Sundress Publications, from left, founder Dr. Erin Elizabeth Smith, "Stirring" managing editor Luci Brown and writer-in-residence Jennie Frost, lead an author-publisher panel discussion at the FSU Independent Literature Festival.