Deputy director Karen Beach and director of individual giving Teleia White are the two extraordinary masterminds and master planners of Verse & Vino, an event that brings literature to life and has raised millions for the Library. As we reach a decade of bringing nationally acclaimed authors to Charlotte, we thought it fitting to share some of the secrets of their special sauce.
How do you pick the authors?
Teleia White: “We pick them by luck, pixie dust, and Karen’s magic. In all seriousness, our authors have to be New York Times bestsellers, have a book coming out in the fall, be a great speaker and willing to share the stage with other authors.
“Our Verse & Vino planning committee and Foundation Board members make [author] suggestions. We review book lists of fall publications. We attend online and in person author events. We read.
“Then Karen puts it all together to make a great author line up! Her ability to balance genres and find something for everyone is amazing. Fun Fact, our authors come for free. Book sales at the event help us attract great authors.”
Karen Beach: “That’s right. So be sure to purchase your books at the event. Plus, the authors are right there to personalize your book.”
How do you make it different every year?
TW: “Great question, we use our surveys from the previous year to help us make adjustments… that’s your hint to fill out your survey.”
KB: “Our Verse & Vino planning committee has a lot of input into what the event looks like and ways to make the event fun, unique and different each year. Our emcee Sheri Lynch also makes suggestions to help us make the program feel like a show and to be fun and entertaining.”
TW: “I try to keep everything on schedule. Another fun fact: Karen and I usually pace together during the event.”
KB: “Pacing helps us make sure all is going smoothly.”
Who’s been your favorite author and why?
TW: “This is a harder question than you think. This is like picking a favorite child. Instead, I will share some of my favorite author behind the scenes moments.
“My favorite year was 2017. The authors were all truly fans of each other and bought each other’s books. I just loved witnessing that moment. I loved seeing how delighted T.J. English was with his vignette in 2015. It had fake grass in the vignette and he took his shoes and socks off and walked on the grass.
KB: “I do think however that she’s remembering Gregory McGuire’s love of the fake grass in vignette in 2015, not T.J. English. At least that’s the grass and bare feet that I remember.”
TW: “Oh, you’re right. And in 2021, Library trustee Kimmery Martin and I went to Atlanta to interview debut author Wanda Morris. It was really wonderful to watch the two of them interact and talk about reading and writing. These Verse & Vino moments make me feel like I have a pretty special job.”
KB: “Like Teleia, I love behind the scenes when the authors are meeting with each other. They are fans just like us!
“And I love when they first get to see their vignettes. Too many favorite author moments to pick just one…Ross Gay, Adriana Trigiani, Nikki Giovanni, Kevin Wilson, Debbie Macomber are some that particularly stand out in my mind.”
Who designs the author vignettes?
TW: “This is a fun and collaborative process. Our planning committee read the featured author’s books. They select a scene which can be recreated as a vignette. Our event planner Todd Murphy Events builds the author vignettes in the room, and every year they are more creative and beautiful than the year before.”
KB: “My daughter Zoe has been a dead bride in one vignette and a dead body in a veterinarian’s office in another over the years. Last year, committee member Maddie Myers’s husband, Brian was a dead body in David Baldacci’s vignette. Several of our vignettes include props from our houses.”
How much wine is consumed each year?
KB: “It depends on the year but anywhere between 250 to 500 bottles. Our planning committee hand labels the wine for each table.”
TW: “Guess who drinks the least amount of wine? Karen and me, we can’t pace and drink!”