Neighborhood Leader: IfeMichelle Gardin

After years of enjoying the annual Harlem Book Fair and other similar events in New York City, IfeMichelle Gardin decided New Haven needed a literary festival of its own.

Elm City LIT Fest founder Ife Michelle Gardin. Photo by BlaqPearl Photography.

New Haven native IfeMichelle Gardin developed the idea for Elm City LIT Fest while participating in the Neighborhood Leader program. Now in its second year, the LIT Fest is becoming a destination event celebrating the literary arts and artists of the African diaspora over several days of readings, discussions, author signings and music.

Read about 2021 LIT Fest in the Arts Paper

Where did you get the idea for the Elm City Lit Fest?

I started it out of my own passion for literature, particularly for African American Literature. When I moved back to New Haven in 2018, I met a lot of writers who were promoting their own work. I thought the LIT Fest would be a great way to celebrate their work and help them get it out there.

I had been living for several years in New York and Brooklyn where I attended a lot of literary events and festivals like the Harlem Book Fair. I traveled to the Boston Book Festival. I thought New Haven needed one. New Haven was experiencing a cultural renaissance, but it didn’t’ have a book festival.

How did you get the idea off the ground?

When I came to the Neighborhood Leadership Program, it was just an idea. Through the program it became reality. The Neighborhood Leadership Program helped me nurture the seed.

I started planning the festival in tandem with two friends of mine who were opening the bookstore, People Get Ready. They have been strategic partners.

We were fortunate that with the contribution from the Neighborhood Leadership Program, we could leverage for more funding in other places and spaces.

Why does the Lit Fest focus on artists of the African Diaspora?

The LIT Fest is for everyone. People generally are not exposed to this work unless someone has had a specific teacher. It should be part of the fabric of America.

A lot of people grow up in spaces that are segregated, especially in New England. So, they don’t have a lot of interaction.

Through stories, literature, books theater and music, we can learn more about each other and ourselves and put down misconceptions of other people.

Where does your love of literature come from?

I have always written and always loved books. My maternal grandmother would quote poems she memorized as a child and I had two aunts who were teachers, always giving me books. I always liked reading from as far back as I can remember, but I did not discover African American writers until I was in high school.

Then I fell in love with Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovani, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer and the writers of the Harlem Renaissance.

I’m excited to have this platform to enjoy one of my first loves, reading

How are you still involved with the Neighborhood Leadership Program?

After my participation in 2019, I became a co-facilitator to pay it forward for other folks within the Greater New Haven community who have a dream for their community to build and see it grow. When we are facilitating, I hope to inspire people to see their vision.

Do you have an idea for your community? Make it a reality through The Neighborhood Leadership Program.

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