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Caddo Poet Laureate named 2019 Book Lover of the Year

By Judy Christie. THE SHREVEPORT TIMES. Published 7:00 p.m. CT Dec. 25, 2019


Poet and novelist Ashley Mace Havird foresees a busy 2020, coordinating authors to lead literary conversations, holding her own book talks and poetry readings, cheerleading for a variety of new books by area authors and helping launch Pause for Poetry on Red River Radio.

And more.

The activities are a continuation of work she’s done in 2019 as Caddo Parish Poet Laureate, as an author and as an advocate for the written word in Northwest Louisiana.

For her ongoing passion for building a strong literary community, Havird has been named the 2019 Book Lover of the Year.


Ashley Mace Havird (Photo: Courtesy photo)

Not only is she an active literary force behind the scenes, she is the author of four poetry collections and an award-winning novel. Her most recent poetry collection, “Wild Juice,” was selected for the Southern Messenger Poets Series, coming from LSU Press in 2021. “The Garden of the Fugitives,” Texas Review Press, 2014, won the X. J. Kennedy Prize for Poetry. Her novel, “Lightningstruck,” was published by Mercer University Press in 2016 and won the Ferrol Sams Award for Fiction.


Chat with her, and she’ll tell you she sees her work as Caddo Poet Laureate as a responsibility as well as an honor. Her term for the position, sponsored by Caddo Parish and closely affiliated with the Shreveport Regional Arts Council (SRAC), began in April 2018 and ends in 2021.

“I’ve done my best to enhance the literary arts in Caddo Parish in a variety of ways,” she says. Among her efforts:

—Havird organized group readings, including “Love Poems to Planet Earth,” in response to the mixed-media Joan Hall exhibit, “Global Contamination: A Gulf Project,” at the Meadows Museum of Centenary College.

—She coordinated writers of all genres to read and conduct literary conversations during Downtown Shreveport Artwalk, which takes place the first Wednesday evening of each month.

—With the help of SRAC, she originated the week-long KAT (Kallenberg Artist’s Tower) Writer’s Residencies for Louisiana writers, which brought state Poet Laureate Jack Bedell in June and New Orleans poet Andy Young in August. This initiative has proven hugely successful, with each resident delivering a craft talk and conducting a free workshop, public events enthusiastically attended by a wide variety of individuals.

In September, again with the help of SRAC, Havird hosted the 2nd Shreveport Writing Marathon, the “Scrawl Crawl,” a day-long event which took participants to various historic locations in Shreveport Common, including lunch in Oakland Cemetery and culminating in a group reading at Central Artstation.


She speaks with enthusiasm about the participation of artists of various genres and artistic disciplines in the workshops, talks and writing marathons. “I was gratified by the participation of not only poets and literary fiction writers but spoken word artists, romance novelists, song writers and dramatists,” she said. “Visual artists, fiber artists, dancers and singers also participated. The fact that so many felt welcome and felt free to try something new…this made me so happy.”

Plans for 2020

But she is not resting on happy moments in 2019 but moving ahead into the new year, including with her hard work to bring “Pause for Poetry” to Red River Radio, beginning in the spring of 2020. This will be a regular weekly segment highlighting poets living in the Red River Radio listening area. Inspired by “The Writer’s Almanac,” with Garrison Keillor, each poem is read by a local professional actor.

She’s also helped line up 2020 writers in residence in the KAT: Katie Bickham of Shreveport and Genaro Ky Ly Smith of Ruston. And Havird will continue coordinating three writers/readers in the Eaves Room of the Main Branch of Shreve Memorial Library for certain Downtown Shreveport Artwalks. She also hopes to initiate more group readings in conjunction with openings at Artspace and other galleries.

And, of course, Havird will continue to fulfill her official duties as Poet Laureate, which include creating a new poem commemorating an event, issue or policy provided by the Caddo Parish Commission; presenting poems or invocations at designated Commission meetings; representing Caddo Parish at regional, statewide or national conferences by presenting a poem, as requested; and presenting a 30-minute poetry reading at the Artbreak Festival.

And she is at work on a new novel, a complete departure from her historical coming-of-age novel, “Lightningstruck.” “I am a ridiculously plodding writer,” she said, “so I’m reluctant to disclose much about the project apart from its setting, 400 years in the future, a landscape acutely transformed by climate change.”


Havird lives in Shreveport with her husband, poet David Havird, whose poetry collection, “Weathering: Poems and Recollections,” comes out on March 2.

Please join me in congratulating and thanking Ashley Mace Havird, our 2019 Book Lover of the Year.

20th annual Pulpwood Queen Girlfriends Weekend ahead

Kathy L. Murphy, who founded and reigns over the Pulpwood Queen’s Book Club, has put together another large group of readers and writers in Jefferson, Texas, for her 20th annual book festival, a book gathering like no other. A creative force, Murphy continually changes her program and raises money for community causes. I’ll speak on Jan. 18 about my new nonfiction book, “Before And After,” written with bestselling author Lisa Wingate, at a luncheon and vintage fashion show at the Jefferson convention center. Luncheon tickets are only $15, and all proceeds go to the Jesse Allen Wise Garden Club. The event is open to the public, so consider driving over to visit. For ticket information, call: 903-665-2515. For a complete list of authors and events for the weekend, please see www.thepulpwoodqueens.com.

***

Book columnist Judy Christie is the author of 18 books, including 10 novels and the new nonfiction “Before and After: The Incredible Real-Life Stories of Orphans Who Survived the Tennessee Children’s Home Society,” published by Penguin Random House. For a free tip sheet on saving family stories, see: www.judychristie.com.

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