Each year, Spoleto Festival USA brings an array of productions from all over the world to Charleston, South Carolina. Want to familiarize yourself ahead of the festival? Continue reading for our 2023 Spoleto Festival Reading List to deepen yourself with this years themes and performances.

Whether you’re a seasoned Spoleto supporter or new to the Festival, join me as we delve deeper into the richness and diversity of the musicians, composers, actors, dancers, artists, and more coming to Charleston this month in the Spoleto Festival USA Reading List!

May 26-June 11. Get your tickets now!


Now, let’s dive in to the Spoleto Festival USA Reading List:

Spoleto Festival USA History

Spoleto Festival USA Reading List

Spoleto 40 by Allan Kozinn

To start the Spoleto Festival Reading List: Written by classical music critic, journalist and author Allan Kozinn — Spoleto 40 illuminates the history of the extraordinary Spoleto Festival USA, from its inaugural offerings in 1977 to this year’s wide-ranging celebration. This book is a must-read for anyone who has an appreciation of the festival itself, its performers, and producers as well as what it means to the remarkable city that has been its host for now over 40 years.

Ahead of Ayodele Casel: Chasing Magic

Tap Dancing America: A Cultural History by Constance Valis Hill

In Tap Dancing America, Constance Valis Hill, herself an accomplished jazz tap dancer, choreographer, and performance scholar, begins with a dramatic account of a buck dance challenge between Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and Harry Swinton at Brooklyn’s Bijou Theatre, on March 30, 1900, and proceeds decade by decade through the 20th century to the present day.

She vividly describes tap’s musical styles and steps — from buck-and-wing and ragtime stepping at the turn of the century; jazz tapping to the rhythms of hot jazz, swing, and bebop in the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s; to hip-hop-inflected hitting and hoofing in heels (high and low) from the 1990s right up to today. Tap was long considered “a man’s game,” and Hill’s is the first history to highlight such outstanding female dancers as Ada Overton Walker, Kitty O’Neill, and Alice Whitman, at the turn of the 20th century, as well as the pioneering women composers of the tap renaissance, in the 70s and 80s, and the hard-hitting rhythm-tapping women of the millennium such as Chloe Arnold, Ayodele Casel, Michelle Dorrance, and Dormeshia Sumbry Edwards.

Written with uncanny foresight, the book features dancers who have become international touring artists and have performed on Broadway, won Emmy and Tony Awards, and received the prestigious Dance Magazine, Adele and Fred Astaire, and Jacob’s Pillow Dance awards. Presented with all the verve and grace of tap itself and drawing on eyewitness accounts of early performances as well as interviews with today’s greatest tappers, Tap Dancing America fills a major gap in American dance history and places tap firmly center stage.

Ahead of The Sacrafice: Dada Masilo & The Rite of Spring: John Kennedy

The Lost Right by Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer

The story of how the legendary lost ballet, The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du Printemps) was recreated by Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer, including a Spectator’s Guide with stop-frame photographs by Shira Klasmer of the Polish National Ballet on stage, together with quotes by observers from the time so that readers can ‘see’ the ballet as they ‘hear’ the voices of 1913.

Ahead of The Crucible: The Scottish Ballet

The Crucible by Arthur Miller

Based on historical people and real events, Arthur Miller’s play uses the destructive power of socially sanctioned violence unleashed by the rumors of witchcraft as a powerful parable about McCarthyism.

One of the true masterpieces of twentieth-century American theater, The Crucible brilliantly explores the threshold between individual guilt and mass hysteria, personal spite and collective evil. It is a play that is not only relentlessly suspenseful and vastly moving, but that compels readers to fathom their hearts and consciences in ways that only the greatest theatre can.

Ahead of An Iliad

The Iliad by Homer

The Iliad is the first and the greatest literary achievement of Greek civilization—the cornerstone of Western culture and an epic poem without rival in world literature. The story centers on the critical events in the last year of the Trojan War, which lead to Achilleus’s killing of Hektor and the fall of Troy. But Homer’s theme is not simply war or heroism. With compassion and humanity, he presents a universal and tragic view of the world: human life lived under the shadow of suffering and death set against a vast and largely unpitying divine background.

Ahead of Only an Octave Apart

Spoleto Festival USA Reading List

Tango: My Childhood, Backwards and in High Heels by Justin Vivian Bond

Bond recalls in vivid detail how it looked and felt to first discover Mom’s lipstick (Iced Watermelon by Revlon), and how dreary it could be for a trans/queer kid to join the Cub Scouts. Always haunted by the knowledge of being “different,” Bond began to create intimate friendships with girls, and to feel increasingly at risk with boys. But when the bully next door wanted to meet secretly, Bond couldn’t resist. Their trysts went on for years, making Bond acutely aware of how sexual power and vulnerability can be experienced at the same time. With inimitable style, Bond raises issues about LBGTQ adolescence, parenting trans/queer children, and bullying, while being utterly entertaining.

Singing and Imagination: A Human Approach to a Great Musical Tradition by Thomas Hemsley

This book is written on the belief that the essential basic principles underlying good singing are in themselves rather few, and very simple, but that their application is amazingly varied in light of the individual’s needs. It is not intended as a manual of voice production, and does not concern itself with medical matters, nor directly with anatomy, physiology, and acoustics.

While not belittling the value of appropriate scientific investigation, Thomas Hemsley believes that modern methods of training have gone too far in the direction of the materialistic approach; that singing in all its aspects and at all times should be guided by the imagination, the feelings, and the intuition; that we have become so pre-occupied by voice per se and the vocal function since the advent of vocal science, that we too easily forget that singing is not voice, but modification of voice – “not only a language through which we understand the emotions of others, but also a means of exciting our sympathy with such emotions,” (H. Spencer). This book can be seen as an attempt to redress the balance.

In an interview with NPR, Anthony Roth Costanzo details his experience in the title role of the Metropolitan Opera House production of the Philip Glass opera “Akhenaten,” his ability to control muscles in your chest and throat to do the coloratura style of sining, and his bout with thyroid cancer threatening his voice. He mentions Singing and Imagination as a guide to using imagination to control the involuntary muscle groups required to sing at his level.

Ahead of A Poet’s Love with local Charleston poets

Spoleto Festival USA Reading List

Hold What Makes You Whole by Marcus Amaker

Charleston’s first Poet Laureate Marcus Amaker’s tenth book, Hold What Makes You Whole, is a pocket-sized full-color collection of new and selected works from an award-winning opera librettist, musician, and graphic designer. Hold What Makes You Whole is a 200-page compilation of jazz, Blackness, self care, fatherhood, Star Wars, social justice, music, and memory.

Spoleto Festival USA Reading List

oxygen by AsiahMae

A Scorpio’s humor with a Virgo’s logic, AsiahMae brings a bit of sunshine to the darkness in her first poetry collection. Journaling her three years spent living underwater, oxygen teaches us all how to breathe again and reminds us that the shore is just a short swim away. Charleston’s current Poet Laureate, AsiahMae is an activist, a community maker, and a creative.

Spoleto Festival USA Reading List

Out of Darkness by Jammie Huynh

Jammie Huynh is a queer Vietnamese-Ecuadorian poet living in Charleston, SC. Her poetry centers around her family and identity. She writes through the traumas of childhood and uses poetry to navigate and understand what she has been through. Poetry is where she can make sense of who she is and where she can confront her father on a stage of her choosing. Jammie’s poetry is about being honest and telling the story of family that so many people decide to ignore.

Ahead of Tell Your Story

Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

Felix Love has never been in love—and, yes, he’s painfully aware of the irony. He desperately wants to know what it’s like and why it seems so easy for everyone but him to find someone. What’s worse is that, even though he is proud of his identity, Felix also secretly fears that he’s one marginalization too many—Black, queer, and transgender—to ever get his own happily-ever-after.

When an anonymous student begins sending him transphobic messages—after publicly posting Felix’s deadname alongside images of him before he transitioned—Felix comes up with a plan for revenge. What he didn’t count on: his catfish scenario landing him in a quasi–love triangle….

But as he navigates his complicated feelings, Felix begins a journey of questioning and self-discovery that helps redefine his most important relationship: how he feels about himself.

Felix Ever After is an honest and layered story about identity, falling in love, and recognizing the love you deserve.

Recommended by event partner We Are Family, a Southern Grassroots non-profit organization is to provide affirming spaces for LGBTQI+ and ally youth up to the age of 24 through direct support, leadership development, and community engagement. Their vision is that LGBTQI+ and ally youth feel empowered to find their places in the world, in their families, and in their communities.

Ahead of Quentin Baxter Quintet

Gullah Cultural Legacies: A Synopsis of Gullah Traditions, Customary Beliefs, Art forms and Speech on Hilton Head Island and vicinal Sea Islands in South Carolina and Georgia by Dr. Emory Campbell

This book contains significant cultural words and terms of the Gullah Culture. It is an attempt to promote a better understanding of past traditions and present day practices in preventing permanent loss of memory of those terms that are truly Gullah. Most of the terms are currently used in the everyday vocabulary of Gullah speakers, while others have fallen into disuse but have been recalled for inclusion in the work. The content of this book is based entirely on my experience of growing up Gullah on Hilton Head Island in the mid 20th century before the Island was connected by a bridge to the mainland.

Recommended by Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor on Johns Island. The Gullah-Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor is a federal National Heritage Area in the United States, representing the significant story of the Gullah-Geechee people for maintaining their cultural traditions, and for being a reflection of the values of ingenuity, pride, and perseverance.

Ahead of Henry Threadgill Zooid

Spoleto Festival USA Reading List

Easily Slip into Another World: A Life in Music by Henry Threadgill and Brent Hayes Edwards

An autobiography of one of the towering figures of contemporary American music and a powerful meditation on history, race, capitalism, and art.

Henry Threadgill has had a singular life in music. At 79, the saxophonist, flautist, and celebrated composer is one of three jazz artists (along with Ornette Coleman and Wynton Marsalis) to have won a Pulitzer Prize. In Easily Slip into Another World, Threadgill recalls his childhood and upbringing in Chicago, his family life and education, and his brilliant career in music.

Here are riveting recollections of the music scene in Chicago in the early 1960s, when Threadgill developed his craft among friends and schoolmates who would go on to form the core of the highly influential Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM); the year and a half he spent touring with an evangelical preacher in the mid-1960s; his military service in Vietnam—a riveting tale in itself, but also representative of an under-recognized aspect of jazz history, given the number of musicians in Threadgill’s generation who served in the armed forces.

Ahead of Kris Davis Diatom Ribbons

Spoleto Festival USA Reading List

Three of a Kind – The Allen Carrington Spalding Trio by Terri Lyne Carrington

This non-fiction illustrated poem is about three women who became musical companions through their love of jazz. Geri Allen, Terri Lyne Carrington and Esperanza Spalding toured the world, sharing their love for each other and their listeners, while igniting imaginations and challenging perceptions of gender roles in their beloved art form. This poem is written and illustrated to encourage young girls from all over to play instruments and dream big.

Drummer, composer, producer and educator Terri Lyne Carrington (performing with Kris Davis) is a three-time Grammy winner and a NEA Jazz Master.

Ahead of Leyla McCalla

Spoleto Festival USA Reading List

A Day for the Hunter, a Day for the Prey: Popular Music and Power in Haiti by Gage Averill 

The history of Haiti throughout the twentieth century has been marked by oppression at the hands of colonial and dictatorial overlords. But set against this “day for the hunter” has been a “day for the prey,” a history of resistance, and sometimes of triumph. With keen cultural and historical awareness, Gage Averill shows that Haiti’s vibrant and expressive music has been one of the most highly charged instruments in this struggle—one in which power, politics, and resistance are inextricably fused.With firsthand accounts by musicians, photos, song texts, and ethnographic descriptions, this book explores the profound manifestations of power and song in the day-to-day efforts of ordinary Haitians to rise above political repression.

Leyla McCalla’s album A Day For The Hunter, A Day For The Prey, takes it’s title from the book that the singer and cellist read while pregnant with her first daughter. Taking it’s title in turn from a Haitian proverb, the book analyzes the intersection of politics, power and music in Haiti.

Ahead of Alisa Amador

Spoleto Festival USA Reading List

Mango, Abuela, and Me by Meg Medina.

Audio book narration by Alisa Amador and her family through their family business, Amador Bilingual Voiceovers.

Mia’s abuela has left her sunny house with parrots and palm trees to live with Mia and her parents in the city. While they cook, Mia helps Abuela learn English, and Mia learns some Spanish, too, but it’s still hard for Abuela to learn enough words to tell Mia her stories. Then Mia sees a parrot in the pet-shop window and has the perfecto idea for how to help them all communicate a little better. Here is an endearing tale that speaks loud and clear about the love that binds families across the generations.

Alisa Amador and her family voice the audio book version of this beautiful story. Since she was a teenager, she has worked as a bilingual voiceover actor from her family’s professional studio: Amador Bilingual Voiceovers.

Ahead of the Finale featuring Tank and the Bangas

Spoleto Festival USA Reading List

Vulnerable AF by Tarriona ‘Tank’ Ball 

The real-life story of a relationship in the author’s past told in verse and short prose pieces. Relatable and honest, with Tank’s signature mix of whimsy and realness, Vulnerable AF is about the difference between love and infatuation, the danger and confusion of losing yourself in the idea of someone else, and coming out on the other side of heartbreak with your sense of self-worth—and your sense of humor—stronger for it.