Lily Belle Poling, Contributing Photographer

The music of a Caribbean steel band flowed from the entrance of The Dixwell Community Center, known as the Q-House, cuing the start of the Elm City Lit Fest. 

The band and the authors inside the auditorium celebrated the fourth annual Elm City Lit Fest. The festival welcomes authors of comic books, memoirs and children’s books. The theme for 2023 was Literature of Hope, and the celebration culminated in the announcement of the 2023 Elm City Poet Laureate: Sharmont Influence-Little.

I believe that when people in New Haven get to read these stories, it will make a difference [in] their lives in a positive way,” author Yvette Phillips told the News. “What difference can I make in my community from the stories that I’ve read?” 

The event at the Q-House was held in conjunction with the Stetson Branch Library, a public library that hosts events year-round. Attendees at Saturday’s festival pointed to Stetson as being the epicenter for the Dixwell neighborhood, bringing people of all ages and backgrounds together. 

In the month ahead, Stetson will be hosting several events for community members including Stay and Play for children, the Fair Haven Book Club and a Headshots and Networking event. 

Following the day’s events at Q-House and the Stetson Branch Library, a keynote conversation and author signings was held at Yale Humanities Quadrangle featuring authors Roxanne Gay ’96 and Beverly Jenkins.

Samantha Corr, a high school English teacher, told the News that, after hearing one of the talks at the festival, she hopes to bring what she has learned back to the classroom.

The Lit Fest featured activities for attendees of all ages. Several families attended the festival with their children, enjoying a session called “Children’s Storytime and Youth Art” with artists Marshun Art and Isaac Bloodworth in addition to live music, food trucks, book signings, panels and workshops.

Many of the authors at the festival spoke about how they want to inspire the next generation. 

“If someone hadn’t encouraged me to read, I would not be anywhere…So whenever I see a young person, I’m gonna encourage [them] as much as I can because someone certainly encouraged me,” William H. Foster III, a professor at Naugatuck Valley Community College, told the News. 

Tangular Irby, author of children’s book “Pearl and Her Gee’s Bend Quilt” and program manager of content for the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, explained how she takes a different approach to inspiring the next generation through her writing. 

Irby spoke about how her grandmother was skilled at creating the renowned and iconic Alabamian Gee’s Bend quilts, which are regarded as some of the most important pieces of art in United States history. The quilting tradition has been passed down through generations of Black women in the U.S. as people who were formerly enslaved developed a distinct, simple geometric style that differs from other American quilting. Irby, who never learned her grandmother’s unique quilting style, said she now appreciates the importance of recognizing family traditions and passing them down to future generations.

“Every family has a story, so what is it about your family that makes you special? There’s always something – whether it’s someone in your family, whether it’s a friend – there’s something that should inspire you to be better,” Irby said. 

Through her storytelling, Irby said she hopes to bridge generational gaps within families and encourage young readers to preserve their heritage. 

As stated on the KulurallyLit website, The Lit Fest’s mission is to “cultivate awareness around the Arts within the African Diaspora” and “honor and celebrate the African Diaspora and the communities we create.” 

Like Irby, Dale Napolin Bratter, author of “In Their Presence: Untold Stories of Women and Children During the AIDS Epidemic,” spoke about safeguarding history through literature. 

 “When I left [Fort Lauderdale, Florida], I took their stories with me in my head and in my heart and told myself one day, when you can, you will write their stories. I am not their voice,” Bratter told the News. “But I am speaking truth to power on their behalf and I’m extremely proud of this book because it gives them a voice.” 

The Lit Fest also featured the Literacy Volunteers of Greater New Haven, an organization whose mission is to provide every adult with the opportunity to learn English or improve their literacy. 

Robert J. Sodaro, a comic book author applauded the event for its impact on the New Haven community, saying that “anything that gets people reading is a good idea.” 

T.C. Ford, publisher and editor of United Comics spoke with the News about the importance of diversity in literature.

“People talk about diversity and inclusion as if it’s a new thing; it’s not,” Ford said. “Diversity used to be that you had not just all different types of people, but all different types of stories, all different types of adventures and that kind of thing. So by creating comics that are not just superhero adventures we’re reminding people that comics are for everybody.”

The first comic book was published in Waterbury, Connecticut.

Chloe Edwards is a Photography Editor, as well as a Beat Reporter covering Arts in New Haven at the University. Originally from North Carolina, she is currently a sophomore in Branford College majoring in English.
Lily Belle Poling covers climate and the environment. Originally from Montgomery, Alabama, she is a first year in Branford College majoring in Global Affairs and English.