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A matter of degree
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MOST OF us are familiar with the premise of six degrees of separation—the notion that, if two strangers meet anywhere in the world, they'll be able to make a common connection through a chain of acquaintance of no more than six people.

In Savannah, it feels at times that having as many as six links between me and a new acquaintance is a never-to-be-attained goal. Even with so many interesting people and so much to do, the greatest separation we can hope for here is probably three degrees at the most.

Last Saturday at the Savannah Book Festival, I was catching up with poet and novelist Judith Ortiz Cofer, our first visit since I took her creative writing class at the University of Georgia in 1986. In mid conversation, a church friend of mine joined us, with a greeting from her mother to pass on to Cofer. It turns out that my friend’s mom and Cofer are practically neighbors in Louisville, Georgia.

The fewer-than-six degrees separating our citizens apply to Savannah’s events and organizations as well. Authors Rose Rock (mother of comedian Chris) and Ysaye Barnwell (best known as a singer with Sweet Honey in the Rock) appeared at both the book festival and at the Black Heritage Festival last weekend. Similar connections among events in the coming weeks offer good news for fans of good writing living in fear of post-book festival literary withdrawal.

Spitfire Poetry Group, one of several local spoken word organizations, took part in the book festival’s late afternoon spoken word showcase as well as having a presence at the Black Heritage Festival. “It was kind of hectic running back and forth,” says Spitfire’s Clinton Powell. “It was a blessing to be able to do both.”

Powell and other Spitfire members are staying busy this winter as they plan the annual Spoken Word Festival scheduled for various local venues the first weekend of May.

The Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home was an exhibitor at the book festival on Saturday, doing a little advance work for their February 26 lecture by biographer Brad Gooch, and national book launch party for Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor (2009 Little, Brown). Gooch has written “the first major, comprehensive biography of her life,” says O’Connor board president Bill Dawers. “It’s what people have been waiting for forever.”

For impatient O’Connor-philes who can’t hold out for the next 15 days, this weekend’s Savannah Irish Festival at the Civic Center offers a different flavor of information about our city’s standard bearer of literature.

The unofficial launch of St. Patrick’s Day season, the Irish Festival is renowned for its breathless rotation of top notch Celtic musicians and local Irish dancers. Tucked away at the festival’s lesser known, intimate Cultural Stage are offerings of Irish related history, stories, and unplugged style music---including literary historian Bryan Giemza giving talks both Saturday and Sunday on O’Connor and the influence of Irish immigrants on American Southern literature.

For poetry lovers, Tuesday’s scheduled reading by Erica Dawson brings to town “the most exciting younger poet I’ve seen in years,” according to American poetry icon X.J. Kennedy. “Her dazzling wit ... [makes] each [poem] seem like a stiff drink with a dash of bitters.”

Dawson’s appearance is part of the Poetry Society of Georgia’s 2008–2009 Poetry Reading Series. The poetry society and Southern Poetry Review collaborated in bringing in readers for the Poetry venue at last week’s book festival.

The Tuesday reading moves the poetry series to a new venue, the Ola Wyeth Branch of Live Oak Public Libraries, immediately east of City Hall on Bay Street.

The decades-old library is a spot I know well, with its imposing portrait of Miss Wyeth and its floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Savannah River. For the past five years I’ve been a hit-and-miss member of the Tea Time at Ola’s Book Club that meets in the Wyeth Branch on the fourth Tuesday of each month at 1 p.m.

Everyone is welcome at Tea Time at Ola’s, so feel free to stop by for our next gathering on February 24. With so few degrees of separation in this town, you’re bound to run into someone you know. cs