Novelist Elin Hilderbrand to headline 2023 Southern Voices Festival – Hoover Sun


November 15, 2022
10:07 PM
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Photos courtesy of Hoover Public Library, Celestial Studios, Laura Foote Photography, Phil Art Studio, Chris Gillett and Luis Noble.
Elin Hilderbrand, top right, is the keynote speaker for the 2023 Southern Voices Festival at the Hoover Public Library in Hoover, Alabama. Other authors scheduled to speak include, from top left, Vanessa Riley, Sarah Penner, Will Leitch, Ben Raines, Kristin Harmel, Robin Peguero and Ashley Winstead.
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Photo courtesy of Hoover Public Library
Elin Hilderbrand
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Photo courtesy of Phil Art Studio
Kristin Harmel
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Photo courtesy of Hoover Public Library
Will Leitch
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Photo courtesy of Chris Gillett
Robin Peguero
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Photo courtesy of Laure Foote Photography
Sarah Penner
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Photo courtesy of Hoover Public Library
Ben Raines
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Photo courtesy of Celestial Studios
Vanessa Riley
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Photo courtesy of Luis Noble
Ashley Winstead
Novelist Elin Hilderbrand will be the keynote speaker for the 2023 Southern Voices Festival at the Hoover Public Library, library officials announced Tuesday night.
The New York Times bestselling author of 28 novels is scheduled to speak in the Hoover Library Theatre on Friday, Feb. 24.
Seven other authors will follow her at the authors conference the next day, Saturday, Feb. 25. The lineup includes Kristin Harmel, Will Leitch, Robin Peguero, Sarah Penner, Ben Raines, Vanessa Riley and Ashley Winstead, library officials shared with the Hoover Library Board Tuesday night.
The authors cover a variety of genres, from historical fiction to romance, mystery, legal fiction, thrillers, suspense and nonfiction.
The festival kicks off on Tuesday, Feb. 21, with a reception for visual artist Sarah Garden Armstrong, and the musical act on Thursday, Feb. 23, is Miko Marks, who sings a mix of country, blues, soul and roots music.
Tickets go on sale Jan. 12.
Photo courtesy of Hoover Public Library
Elin Hilderbrand
Patrons at the Hoover Public Library love reading Hilderbrand’s books, said Theresa Davis, the fiction coordinator at the library who is a co-chairwoman for the Southern Voices Festival.
“As many books as she has, there’s not that much on the shelves because they’re all checked out,” Davis said.
There is always a hold for her books when they first come out, and then everybody wants to go back and read her older books, Davis said.
Hilderbrand is a 1991 graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in writing seminars. In her senior year at Johns Hopkins, she had her first short story, “Misdirection,” accepted for publication in Seventeen Magazine.
After a short stint working in publishing and teaching in New York City, she moved to Nantucket permanently in 1994. She attended the University of Iowa writers workshop and earned her master’s degree in 1998 and then published her first novel, “The Beach Club,” in the summer of 2000.
Hilderbrand has three children, loves riding her Peleton, cooking and going to the beach.
Her 2019 novel, “Summer of ’69,” was her first novel to debut at No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list.
Her latest novel, “The Hotel Nantucket,” came out in June of 2022 and tells the story of Lizbet Keaton, the new general manager of the Hotel Nantucket who hopes her expertise and charismatic staff can win the favor of their new London billionaire owner and a popular Instagram influencer. But there’s a lot of drama at the hotel. The staff and guests have complicated pasts, and the hotel is haunted by the ghost of a 19-year-old chambermaid killed in a fire in 1922.
Hilderbrand, according to her website, plans to retire with a final book release in the summer of 2024.
Hilderbrand is the only author coming to the 2023 Southern Voices Festival who is not from the South.
Also, this will be the first time in the 30-year history of the Southern Voices Festival that the organizers have not heard any of the authors speak in person, chairwoman Carrie Steinmehl said.
Usually, the organizers go hear most authors speak in person before inviting them to come to Hoover, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been less opportunity to do so because travel has been more limited and many book festivals are much smaller than before, Steinmehl said.
So for the 2023 festival, organizers invited authors they have read and enjoyed and some authors who were recommended by other staff or past authors who spoke at Southern Voices, Steinmehl said.
The organizers have at least seen the 2023 invited authors speak on videos from other appearances to make sure they present well, but “it’ll be a nice surprise” to see how they do in person, Steinmehl said.
“Even though we haven’t seen these authors live, I have a good feeling about all of them,” she said.
Here’s a rundown on the authors speaking Saturday, according to information provided by the Hoover Public Library and their websites:
Photo courtesy of Phil Art Studio
Kristin Harmel
Harmel writes historical fiction, mostly set around World War II. She has penned more than a dozen novels, including “The Forest of Vanishing Stars,” “The Book of Lost Names,” “The Room on Rue Amélie” and “The Sweetness of Forgetting.”
She has been published in more than 30 languages and is a cofounder and cohost of the “Friends & Fiction” web series and podcast. Her cohosts — Mary Kay Andrews, Kristi Woodson Harvey and Patti Callahan Henry — all have been speakers at Southern Voices in past years.
Harmel has been writing professionally since the age of 16, when she began her career as a sportswriter, covering Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League for a magazine in Tampa Bay in the late 1990s.
Her magazine writing career primarily was with People Magazine, but she also had articles published in American Baby, Men’s Health, Woman’s Day, Travel + Leisure, Ladies Home Journal and more and was a frequent contributor to the national television morning show “The Daily Buzz.”
She was born in Massachusetts and spent her childhood there and in Ohio and Florida. After earning a journalism degree from the University of Florida, she lived for a while in Paris and Los Angeles before settling in Orlando with her husband and son.
Photo courtesy of Hoover Public Library
Will Leitch
Leitch is a contributing editor at New York Magazine and the founder of the late sports website Deadspin. He is the author of six books, including “How Lucky” and “The Time Has Come,” which is scheduled to be released by Harper Books in May 2023.
He also has written regularly for, Medium, The New York Times and Washington Post and writes a free weekly newsletter at He lives in Athens, Georgia, with his wife and two sons.
Steinmehl said “How Lucky” was one of the best books she has read in a long time, describing it as “a mystery, but not in the traditional sense.” Stephen King called it a “fantastic novel.” The main character, who suffers from a debilitating illness and can communicate only through a computer, witnesses a kidnapping and tries to solve the mystery.
Photo courtesy of Chris Gillett
Robin Peguero
Peguero is a lawyer who writes legal fiction thrillers, but he likes to say he is a writer role-playing as a lawyer.
He was born to interracial immigrant parents — a mother from Ecuador and a father from the Dominican Republic. He started out in a cramped New York apartment but moved to south Florida when he was 5 as his parents sought a middle-class life.
He attended Harvard College, became editor of the Harvard Crimson and spent a summer writing stories for The Miami Herald. After graduation, he served in Washington D.C. as a press spokesman for Congressman Charles Rangel of Harlem and speechwriter for Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
He then attended Harvard Law School, served as editor of the Harvard Law Review and published three pieces on stop-and-frisk policies, criminal immigration consequences and the intersection of jury nullification and the death penalty. He spent seven years storytelling to juries for a living, most recently as a homicide prosecutor in Miami. He now is an investigative counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives, working on domestic terrorism.
His first book, called “With Prejudice,” tells the story of a murder trial as seen through the eyes of the jurors and explores the prejudices that jurors carry into courtrooms.
Photo courtesy of Laure Foote Photography
Sarah Penner
Penner is the author of a historical fiction murder mystery called “The Lost Apothecary,” which is a New York Times and international bestseller that is scheduled to be translated into 40 languages and turned into a drama series by Fox.
The book is described as “a subversive and intoxicating debut novel of secrets, vengeance and the remarkable ways women can save each other despite the barrier of time.”
Her second book, “The London Séance Society,” is due out in March 2023 and described as “a spellbinding gothic whodunit” about two enigmatic women who set out to solve an unusual mystery. The tale explores the blurred lines between truth and illusion and reveals the grave risks women will take to avenge the ones they love.
Penner grew up in a small log cabin deep in the woods of northeast Kansas. She graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in finance but started writing seriously in 2015 after attending a lecture by Elizabeth Gilbert and enrolling in an online creative writing class. She left the world of corporate finance in 2021 after 13 years and now writes full-time. She and her husband live in Florida.
Photo courtesy of Hoover Public Library
Ben Raines
Raines is the only nonfiction writer scheduled to speak at Southern Voices in 2023. He is an environmental journalist and filmmaker. In 2018, he discovered the wreck of the Clotilda, the last ship carrying enslaved Africans to arrive in the United States.
His newest book is “The Last Slave Ship – The True Story of How Clotilda Was Found, Her Descendants, and an Extraordinary Reckoning.”
Raines has won dozens of awards for his coverage of environmental issues and has coauthored several peer‐reviewed papers published in scientific journals. He wrote and directed “The Underwater Forest,” an award‐winning film about the exploration of a 70,000‐year‐old cypress forest found off the Alabama coast. Raines also wrote and produced the documentary “America’s Amazon,” which has aired on PBS stations around the country and been distributed to public schools across Alabama. His underwater film work has appeared in documentaries on the Discovery Channel and National Geographic TV.
Raines also wrote the award‐winning nature book, “Saving America’s Amazon,” and co‐authored the “Heart of a Patriot” book with U.S. Sen. Max Cleland, which chronicled Cleland’s journey from triple amputee after a grenade accident in Vietnam to the U.S. Senate.
Raines is a graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts with a degree in filmmaking and is a U.S. Coast Guard‐licensed captain, giving tours of the Mobile‐Tensaw Delta and Alabama’s barrier islands. He lives with his wife in Fairhope and aboard the Suzanne, an 82-year-old riverboat moored on the Tensaw River.
Photo courtesy of Celestial Studios
Vanessa Riley
Riley writes historical romance, mystery and fiction novels that “showcase the hidden histories of Black women and women of color, emphasizing strong sisterhoods and dazzling multicultural communities,” according to her website.
She holds a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and doctorate in mechanical engineering and a master’s degree in industrial engineering and engineering management, but her love of history and lattes overwhelmed her love of math and led to the publication of more than 20 books., many of which focus on the Regency and early Victorian eras. Her latest releases are “Island Queen,” “An Earl,” “The Girl” and “A Toddler.”
Riley is a former president of Regency Fiction Writers, a member of the board of directors for the Christian Book Lovers Retreat and a member of the Georgia Writers Association, Historical Novel Society and Crime Writers of Color.
She is a frequent speaker at literary, women’s and STEM events, and she lives in Atlanta with her military husband and teenage child.
Photo courtesy of Luis Noble
Ashley Winstead
Winstead is an academic turned novelist with a doctorate in contemporary American literature from Southern Methodist University and bachelor’s degree in English and art history from Vanderbilt University. She writes thrillers, romantic comedies and upmarket fiction centering on strong women.
She has had three novels published: “In My Dreams I Hold a Knife,” “Fool Me Once” and “The Last Housewife,” which came out in August.
Author Rosie Danan called “Fool Me Once” a “romance for anyone who’s ever felt too messy to be loved,” while author Rachel Lynn Solomon described it as “a hilariously sharp-tongued romance with an unforgettable, unapologetic heroine.”
Winstead lives in Houston with her husband.
Photo from Sara Garden Armstrong website
Sara Garden Armstrong
Sara Garden Armstrong is a visual artist whose decades-long practice embraces a wide range of scales and techniques, such as site-specific sculptures, works on paper and artist books.
A recent recipient of a Joan Mitchell Foundation grant, Armstrong has exhibited nationally nationally and internationally for more than 40 years, and her work can be found in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. The monograph “Sara Garden Armstrong: Threads and Layers,” published in 2020, coincides with a traveling exhibition
currently touring the southeastern United States that incorporates site-specific art for each location.
Photo courtesy of Trevor Traynor
Miko Marks is scheduled to perform at the Hoover Library Theatre in Hoover, Alabama, on Feb. 23, 2023.
Miko Marks made her way to Music City in 2003 and earned accolades such as “Nashville’s Hottest New Country Star” by People Magazine and “Best New Country Artist” by New Music Weekly.
She won Country Album of the Year from the Independent Music Awards for “Freeway Bound” in 2006 and again for “It Feels Good” in 2008. She also won Country Song of the Year for “Freeway Bound” in 2007 and “It Feels Good” in 2008.
But despite playing the Country Music Association’s CMA Fest year after year, she never felt fully embraced by the country music industry.
After more than a decade without a new release, she came back with a new album in 2021, “Our Country,” which stretches outside a strict country box and includes blues, soul and roots music. She said she hopes the new album evokes a sense of urgency around systemic racism, injustice and economic disparity that she said plagues the underprivileged in the United States.
The lead single off her newest album was “We Are Here.”
2023 Southern Voices Schedule
Feb. 21: Artist reception for Sara Garden Armstrong; 5:30 p.m.; free and open to the public
Feb. 23: Concert by Miko Marks, 7 p.m.; already sold out
Feb. 24: An Evening with Elin Hilderbrand, 7 p.m.; $40
Feb. 25: Authors conference, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., $45
Tickets go on sale Thursday, Jan. 12, at 10 a.m. online at, by phone at 205-444-7888 or in person at the Library Theatre box office 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday.
November 15, 2022
10:07 PM
Hoover Sun LLC