A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

You’d be hard-pressed to walk into any elementary school library and find a child who hasn’t heard the name Dav Pilkey. Author of the Captain Underpants, Dog Man, and the

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

You’d be hard-pressed to walk into any elementary school library and find a child who hasn’t heard the name Dav Pilkey. Author of the Captain Underpants, Dog Man, and the

One Page at a Time

You’d be hard-pressed to walk into any elementary school library and find a child who hasn’t heard the name Dav Pilkey. Author of the Captain Underpants, Dog Man, and the Cat Kid Comic Club series, “he’s probably the biggest rockstar of rockstar names in kids’ books,” says Jamie Southern.

She would know. As executive director for Bookmarks, a literary nonprofit in Winston-Salem, Southern brings renowned writers to Winston-Salem for its annual book festival and school events.

In 2018, she landed Pilkey. When the beloved author came to town, Bookmarks bussed six Title One schools into a minor-league stadium to hear him speak, and they gave away 2,500 copies of Dog Man.

Pilkey was a huge catch — but what followed was a home run. “This year, we got a call from Pilkey’s publisher saying that he wanted to donate $20,000 for Bookmarks to use with its nonprofit work and to provide books for Title One schools,” Southern says. “In May, we visited four schools and gave a book to every child in second through fifth grade to take home and enjoy over the summer. To us, that was really special, and a testament to the work we’re trying to do through Bookmarks.”


Bookmarks’ youth programs give local kids better access to books.  Photography courtesy of Bookmarks

Gathering Space

Bookmarks’ official mission is two-fold: Create access to books, and cultivate community through books. Across Winston-Salem, that plays out in different ways and encompasses all age groups. Fledgling bibliophiles may get a new book they’re excited about on the last day of school. Voracious readers may hear their favorite authors speak at the Bookmarks Festival of Books and Authors in September. Downtown shoppers may stumble into the independent bookstore, tucked in an alleyway behind Fourth Street.

Winston-Salem author Charlie Lovett was president of the Bookmarks’ Board of Directors at the time plans were made for the brick-and-mortar bookstore. “We wanted to be able to do the things the festival did, but do them 365 days a year,” he says. “And we felt strongly that it should be downtown — how can you call yourself a community gathering space if it isn’t somewhere the whole community can access with public transportation?”

Even the littlest readers can find something they love at Bookmarks. Photography courtesy of Bookmarks

Browse the stacks at Bookmarks. Photography courtesy of Bookmarks

Looking around the bookstore today, he’s proud of the signs that the shop came together as they planned. The bookshelves are on rollers, so they easily can shift around to accommodate speakers and book clubs. A group of children congregate in the sunlit back corner for story time. Peppered throughout the store, signed copies of books serve as reminders of the authors who’ve visited for intimate readings.

Several years ago, when Lovett attended a nonprofit management seminar, the speaker asked all the participants what they’d want their organizations to accomplish, if money were no object. Make Winston-Salem a book destination, Lovett jotted at the top of his notebook.

“I think we’ve done that,” he reflects today. “Last year, 20,000 people from 13 different states came to the Bookmarks literary festival. We regularly host sell-out events at the bookstore. And we give writers an opportunity to network and to create community — a beautiful side effect.”


The youth programs at Bookmarks help schools meet their literary goals.  Photography courtesy of Bookmarks

All About Access

Studies show that when children are exposed to books at home, they have increased academic success, vocabulary development, attention, and job attainment. “Success is not necessarily tied to how many books you’ve read — just access and the opportunity to read books you’re excited about,” Southern points out.

Rather than teaching children to read, Bookmarks wants to foster the excitement of reading. They begin by exposing children to authors. The Authors in School program began when Bookmarks hosted its first book festival on a fall Saturday in 2004. The writers came into town a day early. “We said, hey, we have all these authors in town, let’s take them to schools to meet with students,” Southern says.

Since then, Bookmarks’ Authors in Schools program has grown to host authors year-round. Last year, in addition to the 33 authors that visited schools the Friday before the festival, Bookmarks organizers planned 59 school visits and donated more than 6,600 books to schools.

“There’s something about kids getting to go to a library or a bookstore and pick out their own book that’s different from reading a book that’s been assigned,” Southern says. “It’s inspiring and empowering. We hear from teachers and librarians that, after author visits, check-out rates soar. They’ll find kids writing their own stories down in their notebooks.”

Southern knows that access doesn’t begin and end with children. Bookmarks reaches students and their family members through things like little free libraries stocked throughout the city, close to neighborhoods that can’t easily access the public library. “We have a lot of food deserts in Winston-Salem,” Southern says. “I can assure you that if a family is concerned about food security, they don’t have disposable income for books.”

The nonprofit works to bridge the book gap, not just through school donations but also by stocking Little Free Libraries and other entities throughout the city.

Last year, Bookmarks donated more than 8,000 books to community nonprofits and schools, and hosted 50 free author visits at schools, colleges, and universities. Photography courtesy of Bookmarks

When Southern moved from New York to Winston-Salem and began volunteering with Bookmarks in 2009, she was struck by the city’s collaborative nature. “We’re not perfect, and of course there are a lot of problems, but there are so many great people working on those problems,” she says.

In its most recent annual report, Bookmarks revealed partnering with 54 Winston-Salem organizations, including Foothills Brewing, the Arts Council of Winston-Salem & Forsyth County, and Salemtowne — one of the organization’s longest-running supporters. “Being the city of arts and innovation, Winston-Salem understands how important a role the arts and access to literature plays. People want to find solutions together, and I love that Bookmarks is in the trenches.”

Note: This year’s Bookmarks Festival of Books & Authors will be held on September 23 in downtown Winston-Salem.

This story was published on Aug 25, 2023

Robin Sutton Anders

Robin Sutton Anders is a writer based in Greensboro.