Published March 4, 2022

In the lead-up to the 2022 Virginia Festival of the Book, we appreciate the support of our major sponsors, including Dominion Energy. Each year, our sponsors’ support helps us to continue to improve the Festival in a multitude of ways, from increasing the diversity of our speakers, to making programs more accessible for all. 

In this Sponsor Spotlight, we invite you to get to know Iris E. Holliday, Principal, IE Holliday, and retired Director of Corporate Philanthropy and Community Partnerships, Dominion Energy.

Festival: What is a book that you’d recommend and why? 

Holliday: First, I live in a library-museum home among a collection of ephemera, art, a gazillion magazines and a loving dog named Mar-Vell. My books range from classics to comics, Alexander Dumas to Ntozake Shange. While all my books speak to me intermittently, Gayle Jessup White’s Reclamation is reverberating now. Reclamation: Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson, and a Descendent’s Search for Her Family’s Lasting Legacy is beyond poignant. While the subject, Sally Hemings, enslaved and supposedly enamored by Thomas Jefferson, one of our nation’s Founding Fathers, is not new to me, having read author-artist Barbara Chase-Riboud’s book, Sally Hemings, in 1979, Gayle’s intensely personal search for her ancestral link, gives a remarkable intimacy and revealing complexity. She brings all her journalistic acumen as well as reserved humor to the arduous search. Reminded that oral tradition has weight and connectivity, the author candidly reveals her family’s personalities, and we connect with them, as well as follow the four decades of search, affirmation, validation and healing. Identity is a potent driver of those longing not only for closure but the promise of new beginnings. 

Describe an insight from the book that you’ve incorporated into your work? 

I cannot confine myself to just one insight, sorry, apologies. The author’s determination, tenacity and revelatory documentation and ultimate place in history as a direct descendent of Sally Hemings (Robinson) and a descendent of Thomas Jefferson is major. Oral tradition as one of the oldest forms of human communication through generations deserves more respect. For centuries storytellers, poets, historians, genealogists and musicians have kept information alive. History has been passed down and its relevance has remained for generations. Without the stories of the elders, close and extended family members, much would be lost. As a public relations practitioner, I respect the power of storytelling. Reclamation makes a convincing case for memory and record. This book was a reminder of its power. 

Have you found creative ways to incorporate reading within your work? 

It helps that the Virginia Festival of the Book and Virginia Humanities were part of my “work” at Dominion Energy and why I continue to be engaged now that I’m “retired.” Frankly, I believe that I could not exist without my books, whether inspirational or reference. When I cannot read, I listen to audiobooks or view readings. I am a fan of spoken word and really jazzed about the continued marriage of books (literary tradition) and performance arts. It keeps my mind engaged and keeps me connected to the world. 

Why are you glad to see Dominion Energy invest in the Virginia Festival of the Book? 

Dominion Energy has a long and storied relationship with arts and culture, and has been a leader in supporting a wide range of organizations that have grown from aspirational organizations into diverse cultural pacesetters. The Virginia Festival of the Book is a reveal of authors, celebration, discovery, education and exchange. If you look at the calendar, you have a mosaic of writers representing every genre of literature from activist authors to young adult, historians to musicians and philosophers to poets. It is an amazing representation as well as respect to see familiar names among rising stars. The energy is always electrifying and facilitated expertly for lively discourse. 

Besides the Festival, what is another cultural organization that you support and why? 

For the most part, I give anonymously and as a member of the board of Virginia Humanities, I am a donor. I know that Dominion Energy supports many other cultural organizations throughout its footprint like the Black History Museum, ChinaFest, ART 180, CultureWorks, and The Valentine, along with smaller arts organizations from all across Virginia with Dominion Energy ArtStars. Supporting such a broad range of organizations creates an irreplaceable dynamic and collaboration throughout communities. What do these organizations contribute to us: they spark imagination and conversation as well as debate, stimulate all our senses with public art and provide a forum, context and documentation in the widest range of forms that civilization indeed carries on. This is us in the twenty-first century. 

What else would you like Festival attendees to know about you and/or Dominion Energy? 

I grew up with readers—my parents—and received books regularly. In addition, I was no stranger to the Brentwood Library. In my home, novels were commingled with cookbooks, accounting texts, and fiction novels abutted encyclopedias. In fact, it was the Encyclopedia Britannica! Magazines were in the classic cherry rack. We are so fortunate to be bibliophiles and have a great variety of books available in our homes, libraries, independent bookstores, and other venues for free or purchase. Not all of us were raised as readers. It is so important to share our love for the written word whether spoken or performed or signed or in braille. Let’s impart this passion freely and frequently. Literacy is life changing and early literacy is imperative. Keep putting those books in Little Free Libraries, donating to book banks and friends of the public library, and buy duplicates of your favs at every chance you get. As far as Dominion Energy goes, it was a great place to work, and now that I’m retired from the company, I’m proud to know that they have only increased their commitments to the community while they endeavor to become the most sustainable energy company in the United States. I’m particularly excited to see the way in which they’ve committed to advancing social justice causes and supporting underrepresented minority students through the HBCU PromiseSM and Dominion Energy Educational Equity Scholarship Program. 

To learn more about how you can support the Festival, visit VaBook.org/Give.

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With generous support from Michelle and David Baldacci

Cornell NEH Virginia Public Media - NPR & PBS Charlottesville Albemarle UVA CHO
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