Steve Colyer, 69, Book Lover and Literary Festival Co-Founder
There was this one moment at the end of a Caesar Cone Elementary School assembly. A Black second grader raised her hand and told author Tilda Balsley something magical: Today, she learned that she, too, could write a book.
That moment. That shared joy of reading and storytelling. That moment of inspiration.
Those kinds of moments are exactly what Steve Colyer was imagining when he walked into Greensboro’s independent bookstore, Scuppernong Books, and asked, “Have you ever considered a book fair?”
Steve is the treasurer and one of the founding members of Greensboro Bound, a nonprofit organization that hosts an annual book festival and brings authors into Guilford County Schools as part of its mission to share a love of reading.
This year’s all-virtual, free Greensboro Bound Festival will feature “21 Conversations” where North Carolina authors are partnered with authors from around the globe May 13-16. Learn more about the festival, plus two writing workshops, at the Greensboro Bound website.
Steve is a South Carolina native and life-long book lover.
“I was an only child. Only children spend lots of time by themselves. You’ve got to find something to do. Reading was a thing that I enjoyed,” he says. Steve’s still the kind of avid reader who has six, seven books going at once. Business book. History books. Poetry anthologies. You name it.
Steve had a career as a telecom executive that took him around the world. He eventually landed in Miami. That was where he came to learn about the literary festival business, as a volunteer at the Miami Book Fair, the largest book fair in the United States.
The festival draws 100,000 visitors for free presentations across the downtown.
“That gave me an idea of how cool it is to listen to authors and learn from them and discover that, Oh my God, they are nice people too,” Steve says. “To learn the stories of how they create stories or how they created the work, that was really engaging.”
Steve and his wife relocated to the Triad a few years back (they picked their Jamestown home, in part, because of its ample built-in bookshelves). Steve quickly became a regular at Scuppernong Books in downtown Greensboro, owned by Brian Lampkin and Steve Mitchell. (“You’ve got to have an indie book store around. They are just the coolest places.”)
In fall 2016, Scuppernong was mobbed with hundreds of people for an event featuring North Carolina chef Vivian Howard, then selling her book “Deep Run Roots.” It made Steve wonder if his medium-sized city could support a fair like Miami.
Within a few months, Greensboro Bound was up and running, spurred by dozens of people who thought it was a pretty great idea. Steve, quoting Glenn Perkins from the Greensboro History Museum, who said, “Steve might have been the spark, but “there was a lot of tinder lying around.” Steve agrees. “I’ve never seen a community get around an idea…so quickly,” he says.
For his part, Steve used his business background to help plan Greensboro Bound.
“We determined our audience. What was our value proposition? What did we intend to do? What did we intend to provide people? What were the things we physically needed to do? Who were our partners in doing this?” Steve says.
He studied and sought advice from other book fairs, including Miami. All that preparation helped win over partners from across the community, including the Armfield Foundation, which continues to be a major Greensboro Bound funder.
Organizers discovered pretty quickly that they could lure great authors to Greensboro. The first year in 2018, they got Daniel Pink, then on tour for his New York Times best-selling science book “When,” and poet, writer, activist and educator Nikki Giovanni.
Steve says the festival is focused on being inclusive of all communities, and sets goals for including authors and moderators who are people of color. Forty-seven percent of this year’s authors will be people of color.
“We’ve managed to create an environment, I think, where people who really love reading get to go dabble with the things they love. That to me is just marvelous,” Steve says.
Greensboro Bound now has a year-round Program Manager, Jessica Beamon, who was able to shift presentations to an online format to keep it going despite the pandemic.
The shift to virtual allowed the nonprofit to greatly expand another segment of its work – bringing authors into classrooms. The festival has brought more than 100 authors to meet with Guilford County school children and donated more than 3,000 books to school libraries and classrooms. The shift to virtual learning has allowed the festival to connect with many more students and has also given writers the flexibility to participate from anywhere in the world.
Greensboro Bound focuses on bringing authors of color so that students can see themselves in these writers. Students get to hear about how many writers started as children and had to undergo a lot of rejection before they found success. From picture book authors to Nobel laureates, they all tell a tale of perseverance.
After the writer visits, schools have seen more than a 450% increase in book check-out rates.
“We will not be teaching children how to read. But we will provide access.” Steve says. “We are hoping to instill a desire to read by linking kids to authors. Students will say, “Wow, I love this!”