SMU’s Dallas Literary Festival Goes Virtual

The theme of the Dallas Literary Festival, hosted by SMU,  is a fitting one for the times — turbulence.

The free, virtual program will be from March 26-28. For the full schedule and to register, visit

The event begins at 5:30 p.m. March 26, with Alice Johnson, author of After Life: My Journey from Incarceration to Freedom in a keynote conversation with Mitchell Jackson, author of Survival Math. March 27-28 will be devoted to panels, readings and author interviews featuring New York Times columnist and author of The Devil You Know: A Black Power Manifesto Charles M. Blow, the first Native American Poet Laureate of the U.S. and  author of the memoir Crazy Brave Joy Harjo, Pulitzer Prize in poetry winner and author of Leadbelly and Olio Tyehimba Jess, the author of Where Reasons End and Must I Go Yiyun Li, and the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography Sontag: Her Life and Work Ben Moser.

Other guests include Trevor Pryce, former NFL player and author of An Army of Frogs, a middle-grade book series, and producer of Kulipari, the animated Netflix series based on the books. He will join 80 nonfiction and fiction writers, poets, editors, agents, cookbook authors and illustrators who will serve on panels and read from their works.

Dallas literary icons Ben Fountain, National Book Award finalist and author of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, and Emma Rodgers, founder of Black Images Book Bazaar and the Dallas Civil Rights Museum, will receive the inaugural Literary Leaders award at the festival.

The executive director of the festival is SMU and Dedman College assistant professor of practice of creative writing Sanderia Faye Smith, founder of LitNight Reading Series, a casual monthly virtual gathering of writers and reading enthusiasts, and the author of Mourner’s Bench

“In a typical year, confirming a list of authors like this would be very difficult,” Smith said. “But with COVID-19 stay-at-home recommendations and a virtual format, we’ve assembled a unique group of writers that will help all participants understand the meaning of our turbulent times.”

Young writers ages 14-18 have the opportunity to win $250 and read their work at the festival if they win the Young Writers contest. The submission deadline for the fiction contest is March 1. 

The Young Writers contest winner will open the festival with a reading from the winning work, followed by welcomes by Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, SMU President R. Gerald Turner, St. Luke “Community” United Methodist Church Pastor Richie Butler, and others.

“This festival will answer the question, ‘Is Dallas a literary city?’” said Smith. “The reply is, ‘Yes.’”

Rachel Snyder

Rachel Snyder, deputy editor at People Newspapers, joined the staff in 2019, returning to her native Dallas-Fort Worth after starting her career at community newspapers in Oklahoma. One of her stories won first place in its category in the Oklahoma Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest in 2018. She’s a fan of puns and community journalism, not necessarily in that order. You can reach her at [email protected]

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