Literary Festival starts with a duel

J. Grahame Long examines guns from the Charleston Museum's weapons collection.

Zach Marschall

The 2013 Piccolo Spoleto Literary Festival begins with a bang.

J. Grahame Long, a curator of history at the Charleston Museum, discusses his 2012 book “Dueling in Charleston: Violence Refined in the Holy City” on Monday. He is the first of six writers speaking at the Literary Festival, which runs through Saturday at the Charleston Library Society.

Long’s book covers the history of dueling in Charleston from the colonial era through its abolition in 1880. He said the museum’s weapons collection, particularly the dueling pistols, piqued his interest in the topic.

“I found myself staring down the barrel of these things wondering what was going on here,” Long said. “Where could two people’s argument go so completely wrong that they were willing to kill each other?”

One of the duels Long includes in the book occurred in 1833 between A. Govan Roach and James G. Adams, who were friends at South Carolina College. Roach killed Adams over a disputed plate of fish in the dining hall.

Robert Salvo, the Library Society’s assistant librarian for research and reference/media, said this year’s Literary Festival primarily focuses on non-fiction writers. Tuesday features David Gleeson, a reader of history at Northumbria University in the U.K. and the second writer this year to discuss regional history.

Gleeson will present “England and the Antebellum South,” research based on an unpublished work for the Locating the Hidden Diaspora Project. The organization is a research initiative led by Gleeson and his colleagues Don MacRaild and Tanja Bueltmann that examines English ethnicity in North America.

Gleeson, who taught history at the College of Charleston from 2002 to 2009, explained in an interview that Charleston has retained many English legacies. Examples include the names of King and Queen streets, as well as extant organizations such as Saint George’s Society.

“There’s still that cultural link with the language, literature, and is particularly strong in the South,” Gleeson said. “That’s the image people have, that the South is created in the image of England.”

Gleeson has an international resume to accompany his interest in American history. He was born in Ireland and received his doctorate from Mississippi State University in 1997. He has taught 19th-century American history at Northumbria since 2009.

The Literary Festival concludes on Saturday with John Avlon, whose event already is close to selling out. Avlon is a senior columnist and political director of Newsweek, which is affiliated with The Daily Beast website.

His book is the second volume in the Deadline Artists series, a journalism anthology he first edited in 2011 with Jesse Angelo and Errol Louis. Avlon and his colleagues categorized the second volume’s collection of newspaper columns by scandals, tragedies and triumphs.

According to Avlon, the best columnists combined “the urgency of news with the precision of poetry.” The columnists’ subjects range from Abraham Lincoln’s assassination to sports, war and politics.

“(The best) remind us how high the bar can be,” said Avlon.

The other three writers are: Dorothea Benton Frank, Terry Helwig and Joshua C. Kendall.

Zach Marschall is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.