What makes a literary city?

“We’ve assembled a unique group of writers that will help all participants understand the meaning of our turbulent times.”


Southern Methodist University (SMU) will present the Dallas Literary Festival March 26-28 with a theme appropriate for the times—turbulence. Find the full schedule and register at dallasliteraryfestival.org for the free, virtual program.


The festival begins at 5:30 p.m. Friday, 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 MathSaturday and Sunday, March 27-28, will be devoted to panels, readings, and author interviews featuring these headliners: 


  • Charles M. BlowNew York Times columnist, author of The Devil You Know: A Black Power Manifesto 
  • Joy Harjo, the first Native American Poet Laureate of the United States, author of the memoir Crazy Brave 
  • Tyehimba Jess, winner of Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, author of Leadbelly and Olio 
  • Yiyun Li, author of Where Reasons End and Must I Go 
  • Ben Moser, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography Sontag: Her Life and Work


Other guests include Trevor Pryce, former NFL player; 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 eighty 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 says. “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 fourteen-eighteen have the opportunity to win $250 and read their work at the festival if they win the Young Writers contest, in partnership with Sam’s Club, Dallas Area Writer’s Group, the Writer’s Garrett, and Writing Workshops Dallas. Submission deadline for the fiction contest is March 1. See  dallasliteraryfestival.org for details.


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?’” says Smith, “The reply is, ‘Yes.’”


Festival partners include the city of Dallas, Sam’s Club, the Dallas Museum of Art, PEN America/DFW, Whiting Foundation, and Hurston/Wright Foundation.