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5 Things you can’t miss at the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival

Osha Gray Davidson

This year's Great Southern Writer is Osha Gray Davidson

Just throwing a simple party means plenty of planning and prep. So, if you’re preparing for a three-day festival, you’re definitely going to need some help. Fortunately, the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival is supported by a dedicated team of about 50 volunteers.

Dr. Ellen Mullen, a retired physician, and Stephanie Halphen McKay are coordinating volunteers for the 2020 event, which will be held April 3-5. Mullen’s husband Greg has also stepped up to the plate, sharpening his online skills to update the festival’s website and manage related software, including ticketing.

This year, the festivals’ leaders have turned to technology to organize volunteers’ schedules, as well. An Internet app, Signup Genius, enables volunteers to select when and where they want to help out.

“It’s been easy to use and very effective,” Ellen Mullen said. More than half of the 80-plus time slots have already been filled.

The festival, now in its fifth year, includes more than 25 events at multiple venues. A variety of activities are free, including a music-and-poetry presentation, movie screenings, and a walking tour featuring New Iberia’s stately live oaks. Other events, such as a cooking demo and the festival’s main draw, the Great Southern Writers Symposium, require participants to purchase tickets.

“Volunteering for the festival is a lot of fun,” said Mullen, who has previously served as a volunteer greeting visitors at one of the festival’s information tables. “You get to meet a lot of people that way,” she said. Volunteers answer questions and hand out maps and brochures.

“We generally have a lot of people who just happen upon the festival. They’re visiting downtown New Iberia and ask, ’What’s going on?’ When they find out about it, they want to attend some of the events, so they end up buying tickets.”

In addition to directing visitors, volunteers lend support at festival events, collecting tickets, serving food and doing whatever else may be needed, Mullen explained.

The festival is centered downtown, with events along Main Street, at Bouligny Plaza, the Sliman Theater, Shadows-on-the-Teche, the Essanee Theater and the main branch of the Iberia Parish Library. Children’s activities, including book readings and games, are held in the Church Alley pocket park.

Festival organizers estimate that more than 500 people have attended the event in recent years. Last year, the festival welcomed large tour groups from the University of Alabama and the city of St. Louis, Mo.

“We’ve also been spreading the word locally by advertising to groups with literary interests,” said Mullen.

The festival is presented by the Iberia Preservation Alliance in conjunction with New Iberia’s Main Street Program. The Alliance is a coalition of the Bayou Teche Museum, the Iberia Cultural Resources Association and the Shadows-on-the-Teche, which is operated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Festival activities are supported by community sponsors and ticket sales. Cathy Indest, who serves on the festival’s planning committee, said that profits from ticket sales have an impact beyond the literary festival.

“Although the organizations that produce the festival all are nonprofits, we do make some profit on ticket sales,” Indest explained. “That money is reinvested in other community events, so that the public can attend at no charge.” These free events include New Iberia’s Beneath the Balconies, which features live theater and musical performances.

“So, by supporting the literary festival, you’re also supporting the cultural community at large.”

Pullout:

If you’d like to volunteer at this year’s Books Along the Teche Literary Festival, send an email to techefest@gmail.com

For a complete list of festival events, ticketing information, and additional details, visit booksalongthetecheliteraryfestival.com

5 things you can’t miss at this year’s fest

This year’s headliner is Osha Gray Davidson, author of “The Best of Enemies.” Read the book, hear him speak, and see the movie, too: free screenings will be held at The Grand New Iberia throughout the festival.

Kids and books go together like fun and games. Check out children’s activities in the Church Alley pocket park, or, if you’re a grown-up who wants to create children’s books, attend author and illustrator workshops.

Ante up. It’s almost like a festival within a festival: the Bourré on the Bayou Tournament welcomes beginners and experienced players who are 21 and older.

Learn a thing or two. A university researcher reveals a new perspective on the Acadian diaspora, while an area attorney (and James Lee Burke aficionado) connects the dots between Dave Robicheaux and the Louisiana legal system.

Dance! Two ticketed events, Jazz it Up and Boogie on Down, feature live music and great food, while the Allons Manger Food Truck and Music Event is free and open to the public.

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