Authors celebrate Southern culture, share inspiration at Columbia’s Deckle Edge book festival

Author Susan Tekulve, of Spartanburg, hands a signed copy of her novel, “Garden of Stone,” to a customer after speaking on a panel as part of the Deckle Edge Literary Festival.
Author Susan Tekulve, of Spartanburg, hands a signed copy of her novel, “Garden of Stone,” to a customer after speaking on a panel as part of the Deckle Edge Literary Festival. sellis@thestate.com

Each month for a year, Susan Tekulve’s great aunt would mail her an audio tape of family stories she had dictated.

As “the writer” in the family, Tekulve compiled her great aunt’s stories into a manuscript dubbed “Stuff Your Mother Never Knew About Your Grandmother,” which would become part of the inspiration for her prize-winning novel, “Garden of Stone.”

Spartanburg’s Tekulve joined two other winners of the South Carolina First Novel Prize on a panel Saturday as part of Columbia’s new Deckle Edge Literary Festival.

In its inaugural year, Deckle Edge fills a void left by the Columbia-anchored S.C. Book Festival, which dissolved last year after nearly 20 years of celebrating regional literature. Deckle Edge, though, continues to exalt Southern authors with a series of panels, workshops, exhibitions and readings featuring dozens of authors from across South Carolina and the South.

With events spread across various venues in the downtown Main Street corridor, the weekend-long festival takes on more of an arts-district vibe than its predecessor, which was typically confined to the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center.

In a panel discussion at the Columbia Museum of Art Saturday afternoon, South Carolina authors Matt Matthews, James McTeer and Tekulve shared how their Southern roots inspired their award-winning novels, which together have sold more than 12,000 copies.

Susan Tekulve, author of “Garden of Stone”

In addition to her great aunt’s collection of family stories, Tekulve drew inspiration for her female-focused inter-generational novel from her mother-in-law, Mary, she said.

She and Mary, an Appalachian native, would be the early risers in the family on vacations, so they would make breakfast together, and Mary would tell her family’s stories.

“The only book she had as a child was a King James Bible,” Tekulve said. “So she spoke with the cadence of a King James Bible. ... So I would just sit every morning and listen to these stories and her voice.

“Those two important family members who were women were great story tellers. So the novel has a bit of an oral feel to it.”

Matt Matthews, author of “Mercy Creek”

A Greenville pastor, Matthews said he drew inspiration for his coming-of-age story in part from some of his experiences leading a church.

“I was interested to explore explore what an inter-generational relationship is like,” Matthews said. “As the pastor of a church, I see a whole lot of that in the church. Old people and children connecting in all sorts of social and formal and informal ways. But I think it’s sort of a rare thing in our wider culture.”

“Another inspiration was ... becoming filthy rich and famous,” Matthew joked, to which his panel partner McTeer chimed in, “Check!”

James McTeer, author of “Minnow”

McTeer’s Beaufort upbringing gave him a creative foundation to explore an island-hopping setting for his main character’s quest and to tap into the magic of Lowcountry voodoo tradition, he said.

“My grandfather was the sheriff of Beaufort County, so I grew up hearing his stories of being the sheriff and the witch doctor, a practicing voodoo man along with his role as sheriff,” McTeer said. “I have a great pride in family history.”

Writing the novel, he said, was “getting all that Lowcountry goodness and magic and laying it on top of this chain story, a sea-island story, and it turned into a coming-of-age quest.”

Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.

If you go

The Deckle Edge Literary Festival continues Sunday with a number of events, including a nonfiction writing workshop and a poetry reading, scheduled at various venues along Main and Taylor streets downtown.

For a schedule of events or more information about the festival, visit www.deckleedgesc.org.