Earlier this month we attended the IWE Festival on the bluffs at Southern University A&M’s campus. An initiative of Councilwoman Erikah L. Green of District 5 to stimulate unity and economic growth within the North Baton Rouge community. This one day, urban, cultural fest hosted over 10 author plus featured authors, artists, dance groups and other cultural influencers of Baton Rouge and its surrounding areas, as well as out of state guests.
As performances by Sweet Southern Heat, Coppertop, and April Louise took place on the main stage set outside. Authors were located under a big tent to vend. The East Baton Rouge Library System’s book mobile provided activities for the children, and when they grew tired of that, they could enjoy all the open space along the yard. Baton Rouge author, Joy Williams, even read a chapter of her children’s book, “Olivia and the Land of the Extra-Ordinary” to a group of children who later interviewed her in front of the main stage, on the grass. Local business owner, Dee Hatch, of Cultural Canvas also conducted a painting session behind the Wade House, along the river. Meanwhile we conducted interviews with the featured authors, Brian W. Smith, Donney Rose, Lakeisha and Don Carey, Nicole Thomas, and Joy Williams as mentioned above. (See interviews below.)
Though a historical area due to the college, North Baton Rouge is known to be linked with crime and has experienced little economic growth, which is why this event is significant. “Everyone asked why not downtown, but I said because this is our environment. We want to be on our property to enjoy it, so I not only put it on the Bluff where you can watch the river, but we are sitting in the Wade house, who was one of the former Presidents of Southern University, “ Councilwoman Green explained as we spoke.
The Nigerian definition of IWE, is “to read”, so obviously books and authors played a big part in the event. Owner of Between the Lines Bookstore and book vendor, Kim Knight, helped to pull together authors for the event. “I am so proud of the love that was out here today through books and people, and the best of who we are here in Baton Rouge; it can’t get any better than that. At a historically Black university- it is so many pieces to this thing. I am proud to say that I was a part of it and on the bottom floor of getting this off the ground,” Knight shared.
Mayor Sharon Weston- Broome was also in attendance, and described the event as “a great event to galvanize families and galvanize the community focusing on books and literacy”. She went on to say, “Baton Rouge has a lot of beautiful sites, and the beloved Southern University is certainly one of the assets of our community.”
Aside from being one of the featured authors, Nicole Thomas and her business partner, Dr. Leah Cullins of the newly opened Louisiana Health Services family health clinic, the only local clinic, providing services seven days a week in the low income area, were also there to support.
Green as well as many of the participants and organizers are Southern alumni. When asked what’s next for the event, Green said, “I’m hoping to have more sustainable programs in my district. I don’t want to pop up and do events and then you never see them back, I want to make sure I maintain relationships with all my partners, so every event that I have I make sure that I bring one of the vendors back to the event, so you will definitely see something like this again.”
We certainly enjoyed the festival and the setting. With all the many elements of the arts and culture combined, we see it as the gumbo of North Baton Rouge. View our featured author interviews below.
Interview with Brian W. Smith
Interview with The Carey’s
Interview with Joy Williams
Interview with Donney Rose
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