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Grantee Spotlight: A Q+A with Carolina Mountains Literary Festival


Located in the mountains of Western North Carolina, Burnsville is home to Mount Mitchell – the highest peak east of the Mississippi River. It’s also home to many artist studios, hiking trails, waterfalls, and the Carolina Mountains Literary Festival.


In 2023, Carolina Mountains Literary Festival received a Community Engagement Grant from North Carolina Humanities to help host and bring authors to the annual event. The festival, now its 16th year, serves as an inclusive environment to instill the joy of reading, learning, thinking, and conversation within diverse, regional populations. The festival invites readers, writers, visitors, and locals to not only enjoy the festival, but the surrounding area’s natural and cultural resources.


We connected with Dr. Daniel Barron, a board member of the Carolina Mountains Literary Festival, to learn more about the festival and why books remain an important access point for ideas and conversation.


The 2023 Carolina Mountains Literary Festival schedule will be announced on June 1, 2023. To learn more, visit:


Tell us about the festival.

Daniel: Carolina Mountains Literary Festival started when author John Ehle, who some call the godfather of the Carolina Mountains Literary Festival, and some of his author friends, including the wonderful Charles Price, were sitting on the porch of the Nu Wray Inn on the Burnsville town square. After chatting for a while one night, they said, “Wouldn’t this be great if more people could join our conversations?” So that’s what they did; they organized the very first Carolina Mountains Literary Festival in 2007. Today, we still try to keep that small, intimate feel to this festival that attracts hundreds of visitors and locals every year.


What can people expect to experience when they attend?

Daniel: In 2023, we will have book readings, author conversations, a keynote address, interactive writing workshops, and more. One of the interesting things we are doing for the first time this year is collaborating with the Parkway Playhouse to host a play writer workshop, because they are having a festival for play writers of their own at the same time. We also have a great program selection committee who develops our list of invitees. For example, last year we featured a woman who spent a great deal of time going out and recording enslaved people’s graves; where they were, who was there, and any of the stories related to them. Then she wrote a book of poetry related to her experiences. You don’t often see poetry, slavery, and cemeteries going together, but it was just fascinating. We try to introduce people to new ideas and different genres, especially by new and often younger writers.


How does the festival impact the local economy?

Daniel: We encourage authors, writers, and the public to come and enjoy themselves in Burnsville, Avery, Mitchell, Yancy counties and other enjoyable places around the Toe River Valley! That’s why we call it the Carolina Mountains Literary Festival. There’s Grandfather and Roan Mountains as well as Mount Mitchell; the three peaks of our three counties. Fortunately, we’ve been able to work with the local Chamber of Commerce to encourage people from Atlanta, Charlotte, Raleigh, and East Tennessee to come over and spend some time with us. The idea is we want to celebrate the region as well as the literature. We say, “Come spend a day or two with us at the festival, then why don’t you stay to check out local shops and attractions while you’re here.” In our 828-area code, we have a higher concentration of artists than any other location in the United States. After the festival we send a survey out to local businesses, and they say that this is one of the best festivals for them that is here in the area.


How are people invited to partake?

Daniel: We reach out to the high schools and libraires in Mitchell and Avery counties in addition to Yancey and invite them to come on days that have children’s and young adult authors speaking. And we always have both children and young adult authors. We want young people and their families to have access to those authors. Most years we’ve been able to work with teachers to have an author visit their classroom and sometimes give out free books so that they can share and read among themselves. We also reach out to our senior centers and bring authors and parts of the festival to them.


Why are the humanities, libraries, and festivals like this important?

Daniel: Having spent a career as a librarian, educator, and researcher, I believe culture is for everyone. It’s not just for an elite group of people who can afford it or have higher education degrees. With the Carolina Mountains Literary Festival, we hope to help everyone understand that culture and literature can be an everyday, beneficial part of a person’s life. The research is very clear; that kids who are a part of the arts and humanities, do better in all other aspects of their academic work. It’s also clear from research that if we don’t help kids to read early, they’re not going to be readers. Reading means reading everything, not just books, but also being able to think critically. We want to make reading and thinking fun and enjoyable. To celebrate and be aware of our local culture is a very important part of the festival. I have always appreciated that North Carolina Humanities encourages people to tell their stories and think about them. Thank you for this opportunity and for supporting us.


How can people support the Carolina Mountains Literary Festival?

Daniel: Please come to the festival! It’s just a good two-day feeling, even when it rains. We also have donation and festival sponsorship opportunities at:



About North Carolina Humanities’ Grantee Spotlights: NC Humanities’ Grantee Spotlights shine a light on the incredible work of our grantee partners, offering details about their funded project, and feature a Q&A with a team member(s) associated with the organization.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.