The Georgia Center for the Book (GCB) is an affiliate Center of the National Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. Since receiving Affiliate Center status in 1998, it has become the largest non-profit, literary presenting organizations in the Southeast, and one of the largest in the nation. The Center’s mission is to support libraries, to promote literacy and the literary arts, and to preserve the literary heritage of Georgia.
When the GCB received its affiliate charter, former DeKalb County Public Library director Darro Willey stated, “The center won’t need to defend the book, because it doesn’t need defending. But, we do plan to celebrate the book and try to keep it prominent in people’s minds.”
“The center won’t need to defend the book, because it doesn’t need defending. But, we do plan to celebrate the book and try to keep it prominent in people’s minds.”
When Darro Willey became the Director of the DeKalb County Public Library, one of his early projects was to establish an Affiliate Center for the Book in Georgia. The Center for the Book was created in the Library of Congress in 1977 by former President Jimmy Carter. It was the intent that each state have an Affiliate Center that would expand the reach of the Library of Congress and showcase the literature of each state. Willey came to DeKalb County from Broward County, Florida, which was then home to the Florida Center for the Book. In late Fall of 1996, Willey wrote to John Y. Cole, director of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, and expressed interest in creating a Georgia Center for the Book, with DeKalb County Public Library acting as the host. By summer of 1997, Willey had sent a proposal to the Library of Congress for approval that included a mission statement, a structure for operations, and an Advisory Council that consisted of four steering members, including the first Executive Director for the Georgia Center for the Book, Anne Johnson, and sixteen other members from among the community of authors, publishers, librarians, journalists, and academics from around the state.
On September 5,1997, Willey wrote to the DeKalb County Commissioners, stating, “I am pleased to inform you that DeKalb County has recently received a singular recognition among Georgia libraries. The Library of Congress Center for the Book has designated the DeKalb County Public Library to serve as the host institution for a new state organization — The Georgia Center for the Book.”
Executive Director Anne Johnson worked on organizational planning in 1998, and began planning for literary programming in 1999. One of the first events for the GCB was a reception celebrating the creation of the organization on January 22, 1998. Dignitaries from around the state attended the event, and John Y. Cole was the special guest for the evening. The Georgia State Senate recognized the Georgia Center for the Book by resolution on January 28, 1998, the date celebrated as the birthday of the GCB.
Rhonda Mullen became Executive Director in 1999 and continued planning what would become three major programs for the Georgia Center for the Book: All Georgia Reading the Same Book (the One Book, One Community project created by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and what would later become the Books All Georgians and Young Georgians Should Read lists), Letters About Literature, and River of Words. Mullen was responsible for the first literary event hosted by the GCB at the Decatur Library: an event featuring Georgia author Janisse Ray, whose Ecology Of A Cracker Childhood was selected as the “Book All Georgians Should Read,” chosen from the twenty-five books on the Georgia Reading List. Compiled in 2001, the 2002 list was released to the public on October 26, 2001, at Borders Books and Music in Buckhead with Congressman John Lewis giving remarks.
Bill Starr became Executive Director in 2003, and was charged with increasing the number of literary events presented by the Georgia Center for the Book. It was during this time that the GCB took over the responsibility for coordinating the former Georgia Literary Festival. The GCB, with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the Library of Congress, began Georgia’s River of Words student art and poetry competition, created by Robert Haas during his tenure as the US Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, and joined The Letters About Literature competition. Georgia continues to be honored by the many national and grand national winners in these competitions. The GCB also began its partnership with the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum.
In 2006, Joe Davich joined the GCB as the Programming Assistant after previously working in bookstores in West Virginia and Atlanta. Seeing an opportunity to grow the number of author talks hosted by the GCB, Davich approached publishers quarterly to book literary events. From 2006 to 2013, the number of author events hosted by the GCB increased to over one hundred per year, and featured authors Amy Tan, Tina McElroy Ansa, Kahled Hosseini, Anne Lamott, Elizabeth Gilbert, Amy Sedaris, Terry McMillan, Karin Slaughter, Sue Grafton, James McPherson, Alison Weir, HRH Princess Michael, Rep. John Lewis, Ambassador Andrew Young, Carmen Deedy, Terry Kay, Ferrol Sams, Natasha Trethewey, Kevin Young, Dave Barry, Jamie Lee Curtis, Shaquille O’Neal, and many more.
The Georgia Center for the Book forged partnerships to present several prestigious literary awards in Georgia. The GCB partnered with The Chattahoochee Review and Georgia Perimeter College to present the Townsend Prize for Fiction. The Lillian Smith Book Award (LSBA) is presented annually by the Southern Regional Council, University of Georgia Libraries, DeKalb County Public Library/The Georgia Center for the Book, and Piedmont College, in conjunction with the Decatur Book Festival. The Stanley Lindberg Award was presented biennially (in opposite years from the Townsend Prize) and is currently not active.
Bill Starr retired as Executive Director in April 2013, and later that year in October 2013, Davich took over the position. Continuing the strong tradition of author events, Davich expanded the programming to include the visual, theatrical, and motion picture arts. The GCB partners with the Decatur Arts Alliance to present the annual The Book as Art exhibition, and with documentary filmmaker Hal Jacobs to host The Decatur Shorts Docs Film Festival. Jacobs’ documentary Lillian Smith: Breaking The Silence debuted at the Decatur Library Auditorium. Also in partnership with Jacobs, the GCB hosted a presentation of Jordan Is So Chilly: An Encounter With Lillian Smith, a one-woman show created by local actor Brenda Bynum that toured across the state, sponsored by the Georgia Humanities Council. Davich sought partnerships with local churches, bookstores, and other organizations to support literary programming in Decatur and beyond. One such partnership is with the First Baptist Church of Decatur for the Conversations at First Baptist reading series.
Davich renewed ties with other Affiliate Centers for the Book with programs such as Route 1 Reads, a reading program with the sixteen Affiliate Centers for the Book along Route 1; On My Mind, a reading series with ReadSC — the South Carolina Center for the Book (a play on the titles of both state songs); and most recently with Georgia Poet Laureate Chelsea Rathburn for the Georgia Poetry in the Parks program, which features the works of Georgia poets on signage placed in parks across the state.
The GCB hosted the first editions of the Broadleaf Writers Conference, brainchild of author Zachary Steele, the GCB’s Programming Assistant from 2016 to 2018. Georgia State University’s Revival: Lost Southern Voices, a festival for readers, began holding their annual conference at Decatur Library in 2019, and the GCB became a full partner for the conference after Ally StoneWright became the Programming Assistant in July 2019. StoneWright, a Georgia native, received her PhD from Georgia State in English, Creative Writing, and was involved with the conference from its early stages.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Georgia Center for the Book went virtual and continued to provide monthly author programs and expand the virtual offerings of its many annual programs. We now offer a variety of in-person and virtual programs. Part of the going-virtual initiative has been the creation of this new website, now live thanks to the help of Jimmy Lo and Jerri Wilson of DeKalb County Public Library, and the enthusiasm and hard work of Ally StoneWright. She promises it will only get better from here as more is added.
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