Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Active voice

- Steve Straessle Steve Straessle is the Head of School at Little Rock Catholic High School for Boys. You can reach him at Find him on X, formerly Twitter: @steve_straessle. “Oh, Little Rock” appears every other Monday.

The Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) is a Little Rock jewel. Libraries can easily become passive repositori­es of books, places that just wait for residents to get a hankering for a good read. That’s not a terrible thing by any measure, but it does stand in contrast to Little Rock’s library system.

CALS operates in full-throated, active voice.

One such contrast is the annual Six Bridges Book Festival that takes place today through Oct. 1. I’ll write more about this in Saturday’s column as the festival is a great way to meet authors and hear the stories behind the stories.

This year I’ll have the opportunit­y to moderate three different authors starting Tuesday with Arkansas’ own Eli Cranor. We’re heading to the Clinton Presidenti­al Library to visit on stage with the Downtown Rotary Club.

Eli is an Arkansas gem. A former football star at Russellvil­le High and Ouachita Baptist University, he started a teaching and coaching career in local schools. There, he’d spend prep periods with a yellow legal pad and pen, writing stories that would become award-winning books.

Last spring, I invited him to visit with juniors and seniors at Catholic

High. It seemed like a great fit for our all-boys school as Eli could blend stories from his athletic career with his triumphs as a writer.

Young men need to see this; they need to see smart talent achieving goals by doing the necessary work. They need to see artistic impulses woven into intelligen­ce and drive.

I introduced Eli and invited him to the stage where the boys gave him a raucous standing ovation.

Yes, they love guest speakers. This ovation, however, was an acclamatio­n praising a homegrown artist who sounded a lot like them.

Eli started the talk by reading from his award-winning “Don’t Know Tough.” He didn’t just read the opening passages, he performed them. This drew in his young crowd more and they again leapt to their feet in praise. I’ll be asking him to read again when we visit tomorrow; it’s so powerful.

Yes, teenage boys sense something special here, but Eli writes for a wide audience, for sure.

Now Eli is on tour highlighti­ng his new work, “Ozark Dogs.” Again, it’s a dark Southern crime novel that moves a lot of pieces in a suspensefu­l, surprising way. The fact that his books take place in Arkansas is also strangely fulfilling to those of us who think local writers who use our beautifull­y faulted state as a backdrop don’t get enough national attention. I’m looking forward to our discussion and how his role as author has changed his life.

The Six Bridges Book Festival has a trove of writers coming virtually and in person. This Saturday, I’ll be at the Ron Robinson Theater moderating a discussion with Arkansas native Monica Potts and Tennessee’s Rachel Louise Martin about their small Southern town nonfiction books. More to come on that in my next column.

CALS operates in the active voice. Little Rock reaps the benefits.

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