UNCC’s Literary Festival Finds a Home in the Heart of the City

When I moved to Charlotte in 2015 for my teaching position in UNC Charlotte’s Department of English, I discovered the campus isn’t what you’d call centrally located. Built north of the city on affordable farmland after World War II, the university has become a thriving urban institution, but a sense of remove from the city—physically and figuratively—persists. When I first met with Charlotte Lit and folks from other colleges and organizations to chat about supporting and building the literary arts, I came away with the feeling that UNCC was, well, a little out of the loop, in part because of its distance from the heart of Charlotte.

I knew I wanted to bridge this divide, to bring UNCC into the literary fold. This would help fulfill my college’s mission of community engagement but also my own. Literary events have enormous power: they give us joy, unite us, let us express our shared humanity, and show us how writing and art can sustain us, especially in times of change and upheaval.

Enter UNC Charlotte’s Center City campus, a gorgeous building located smack in the middle of Uptown, adjacent to First Ward Park and a quick stroll from the 7th Street Market and light rail station. Not only does Center City have a wonderful space, but it is committed—in spirit and, importantly, in funding—to programming community events. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences hosts its “Personally Speaking” series there, and my department had launched the Center City Literary Festival in 2013 and 2014, so the seeds of possibility were planted.

In 2017, the Center City Literary Festival was reborn.

The free public festival includes daytime and nighttime events. During the day, we feature children’s authors along with fun kids’ activities such as creation stations (coloring, crafting, and character-building) and scavenger hunts. In the evening, we welcome award-winning authors for a reception, readings, discussion, book signings, and socializing.

We are committed, within our budget, to inviting renowned and emerging writers. In 2017, we were fortunate enough to bring prominent poets Nikky Finney and Eduardo C. Corral and fiction writer Dustin M. Hoffman; we also are dedicated to showcasing a UNCC or local writer (I was part of the 2017 festival). Here is what one attendee shared afterward:

“The whole experience delivered such a surprise gift—I hadn’t expected to be so deeply moved. The writers reconstituted my writing will—threw buckets of water my way—and reminded me how dehydrated I’d become. The presenters reminded me that language is how we reconnect with ourselves. When we make the effort to articulate those pieces that make us uniquely human, our words ‘ping’ others. Collectively we learn that we’re not alone—we get ‘re-membered.’ Isn’t that a big part of what writing’s all about? Nikky spoke of how writers ‘save’ something. I know that last night saved a part of me.”

The 2018 festival on Saturday, April 14, 2018, will offer another terrific evening lineup: Jill McCorkle, acclaimed fiction writer who this year will be inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame; poet Gary Jackson, winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize and other honors; Hannah Dela Cruz Abrams, prose writer and winner of a Whiting Award; Paula Martinac, UNCC creative writing instructor and Lambda Literary Award-winning fiction writer; and Siobhán Campbell, a poet and critic serving as the Spring 2018 Kingston Visiting Writer at UNCC.

With the completion of the light rail, we hope to diminish the physical divide between campus and city and offer more events on our main campus, which is vibrant in its own right. For now, we hope you’ll join UNC Charlotte for a great day and night of literature set against Uptown’s luminescent skyline, right in the beating heart of the city.


Center City Literary Festival
Saturday, April 14, 2018
UNC Charlotte Center City Campus
320 E. 9th Street, Charlotte 28202



Bryn Chancellor is a 2017-18 North Carolina Arts Council fellow and an assistant professor of English at UNC Charlotte. Her novel Sycamore, an Indie Next pick, an Amazon Best Book of 2017, and among Bustle‘s Best Debuts of 2017, is out now in paperback.