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Atlanta according to Daren Wang

The Decatur Book Festival’s executive director has got your hot tips on secret chicken

Photo by Heather Gibbons
Photo credit: Heather Gibbons
Daren Wang

Ten years ago, Daren Wang and writer Tom Bell founded the Decatur Book Festival because when you want a book festival that will attract tens of thousands of attendees and some of contemporary literature’s most prominent names to your adopted hometown every Labor Day Weekend done right, you do it yourself. Wang, a longtime public radio host, editor, and publisher, has overseen DBF’s growth over the past decade into one of the nation’s largest literary events, with keynote appearances by Jonathan Franzen, former U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey, and Congressman John Lewis. Roxane Gay will host a conversation with Erica Jong to kick off the 2015 fest a little over a month from now. Here, Wang reveals where to find “the best thing to happen to fowl since Edna Lewis,” some stellar inspiration for inspiration, and more.

The first 3 words that come to mind when I think of Atlanta are “Succeeds Despite Itself.”

Sitting in the top row of the $1 Skyline seats at Turner Field is my favorite view in Atlanta.

The Highland Tap is my favorite place in Atlanta to go when it’s crazy hot, because the blazing sun makes me want to sit in a dark basement with scotch. And prime rib.

Something I know about Atlanta that nobody else knows is where you can find palm trees growing on the street.

MARBL at Emory’s Woodruff Library is the best place to find inspiration in Atlanta. Just go up to the counter, request a box of Flannery O’Connor’s letters. Or Seamus Heaney’s. Or Rushdie’s. You get to sit there and flip through the original documents and get a sense of these people in ways no book will give you. That kind of access usually requires letters and approval, but it’s open to the public at Emory.

My favorite nature spot in Atlanta is paddling a kayak down the Chattahoochee from Azalea Park to Morgan Falls. In the midst of everything else, it feels like a miracle of calm. After school starts, you can float for an hour or two and see almost nobody.

Snowmaggeddon 2 is my favorite Atlanta event. I know that’s not the kind of event you meant, but I’m sticking with it. Watching a major city collapse under an inch of snow instilled this native Buffalonian with the worst kind of schadenfreude.

My favorite Atlanta building is the Martin Luther King Jr. birthplace. It reminds us that Atlanta was once a walkable city of human-scaled homes and that great things come from such places.

Decatur is my favorite neighborhood. Did you really ask me that? Do you have any idea what would happen to me if I gave a different answer?

The rotisserie chicken at Pijiu Belly is the city’s best kept secret, and the best thing to happen to fowl since Edna Lewis.

Please take me to Fat Matt’s Rib Shack on my birthday. I lived just down the street for years, and went there to celebrate all kinds of things. Feels a little touristy to me these days, but still love those ribs and peanuts.

The Brick Store is the best place to have beers in Atlanta. Fifty million Brick Store fans can’t be wrong.

Three Atlanta writers I follow are Natasha Trethewey, Maryn McKenna, Thomas Mullen. Thomas just got a major multi-book deal for a series set in Atlanta, and his three previous were all knockouts. Maryn writes about food and how we’re all about to die. It’s a great combination. Natasha is Natasha. Whether she’s reviving poetry in the pages of the New York Times, defining the conversation about Harper Lee in the Washington Post, or reading her own poetry, you can’t not pay attention.

Grocery on Home is the best place to spot up-and-coming musicians. If you’re talking about up and coming writers, it’s got to be the DBF. It’s one part of the festival I’m most proud of.

Guinea-worm stompin’, Nobel-prize winnin’, Mid-east peace negotiatin’ Jimmy Carter is my favorite living Atlantan. He did some other stuff, too.

The city’s bizarre obsession with the Varsity is the weirdest thing about Atlanta. It’s just not very good. Go see Jim Stacy if you want a hot dog.

My favorite place to eat and drink too much is Leon’s Full Service. It’s the closest bar to my house, and it’s one of the best ever. Great food and I get to walk home. There’s no better deal.

The lack of infrastructure for up and coming artists is my biggest pet peeve about Atlanta. We are spending an embarrassing amount of money on sports venues in the region, when the real way to ensure this city is world class is by building its culture from the bottom up.

The Atlanta of the future includes a statue of Ryan Gravel. Because the Atlanta of the future will be defined by his work.

I decided to make Atlanta/Decatur home because I ran out of gas on my way out of town.

The best advice I could give an Atlanta visitor is to avoid July.