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southern writers

Oct 26 2012

Bless Her Heart

by Veronica W

In the movie Steel Magnolias, two middle aged southern women, Clairee and Truvy, are at a wedding reception, watching one of their peers dance. Her “form fitting” dress shows all her curves and extras, in rolling, gyrating splendor.

Truvy: Clairee, you know I’d rather walk on my lips than criticize  anybody…but…Janice Van Meer…

Clairee: I know…

Truvy: I bet you money she’s paid $500 for that dress and doesn’t even bother to wear a girdle.

Clairee: It’s like two pigs fighting under a blanket.

Truvy: Well, I haven’t left the house without Lycra on these thighs since I was 14.

Clairee: You were brought up right.

This movie remains one of my favorites. It gave me an insight into a type of womanhood which I, growing up in my Yankee environment, would never have experienced otherwise. Although my mother was from Richmond, Virginia, there was little, if any, venom in her and she would have considered the above conversation in questionable taste. Then again, she had spent much of her adult life in the icy north.

There are so many books with southern women as main characters that I will only give you books or authors with whom I am personally familiar.  One of my favorite authors is Anne Rivers Siddons, whose Homeplace and Low Country delve into the lives of women returning to their southern roots.  The Secret Life of Bees, Cold Sassy Tree and Saving Grace are also good choices if you want to explore the hearts and minds of Dixie women. For pure fun, read the Miss Julia series by Ann B. Ross.

One of the most intriguing books I ever read was Kindred by Octavia Butler. In the story, a modern day, young African American woman goes back in time to live on a post civil war plantation. Without much warning, the young woman disappears from her current surroundings and reappears on the plantation. Only extreme, life threatening danger brings her back to her current time. On one such trip her husband, who is white, manages to hold onto her and he goes back with her, which causes all kinds of other problems. The premise is a fascinating one and a lot of insight is given into the relationship between black and white southern women.

For non-fiction fans, Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Bragg’s All Over But the Shoutin’ is an incredible paean to his Alabama mother, who “went eighteen years without a new dress so that her sons could have school clothes and picked other people’s cotton so that her children wouldn’t have to live on welfare.” It is the story of the “steel” that is not always evident beneath the slow, southern cadence or the often slower, rather deliberate movements of southern women. While I confess that much of my reading involves escapist fiction, I was enthralled by this book.

Two middle aged women sit in the crowded waiting room, their soft, honeyed drawls in big contrast to the litany of faults they obviously found in a mutual acquaintance. I unashamedly eavesdrop, my unread book in my hands.

“Poor thing,” one says with a sigh. “She just can’t seem to get her life straight.” Shaking her head, the other lady tacks onto this final assessment, the benediction “Bless her heart.” I smile to myself. Magnolias in full bloom.

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Mar 14 2011

Willie Morris

by Greg H

I picked up Willie Morris’ book New York Days in a local thrift store some months ago and finally got around to reading it, mostly so that I could then free up space on my shelves.  I expected the book to be a writer’s love story about the New York City of Morris’ youth since so many books of that type have been written (I have a Dan Wakefield book of the same kind that has also been waiting patiently for my attention!), but before I began reading I knew only that Willie Morris was a Southern writer who had written My Dog SkipNew York Days, however, has added significantly and pleasantly to my understanding of Morris and his importance as a Southern literary figure.

Morris hailed from Yazoo City, Mississippi, was a Rhodes Scholar and, at age 32, the youngest editor-in-chief at Harper’s magazine, guiding that venerable publication through the most turbulent years of the Sixties and, in the process, making it more relevant than it had been in some time.  He gathered together a staff of excellent young writers, among them David Halberstam, Marshall Frady, and Larry L. King (NOT the elderly guy with the suspenders and talk show) and made Harper’s a magazine in which many of the greatest writers of the day wanted their work to appear.

As editor-in-chief, Morris moved among Manhattan’s elite, becoming good friends with James Jones, Truman Capote and George Plimpton; but he also saw the underside of fame.  He recounts how he once stopped in a nondescript bar and thought he recognized the woman who was bar tending from somewhere. She allowed that he probably did.  He later found out that his server has been Veronica Lake, once one of Hollywood’s most glamorous stars.

Willie Morris experienced great success and great disappointment during his tenure in New York but he remained a transplant from Yazoo City and, when he left New York, the South again became his home as well as the focus of his work.   He died of a heart attack in 1999 but not before he has written much that celebrated and explicated the South that he knew.  His friend and colleague  Larry L. King honored him with his book In Search of Willie Morris: The Mercurial Life of a Legendary Writer and Editor. This book and several others by Willie Morris are available through the Library.

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Jun 18 2010

Share Reads – Try A Local Author

by ShareReads

ShareReads appears on the DCPLive blog on Fridays. Each week, a different person will share a little about what they’re currently reading, and why they like or don’t like it.  The heart of ShareReads will be responses from blog readers, and the window of opportunity here is wide. Feel free to respond and discuss the book or author being mentioned, ask or answer a question, or even take the conversation in a different direction: mention what you are currently reading, and how you feel about it.  The point of ShareReads is to have an ongoing discussion about books and reading.  Remember: posting a response also counts as an activity for the Summer Reading for Adults program.

Last week, DCPLive featured an interesting post about local, organic food. Part of the slow food movement involves buying food which is locally grown, thereby supporting local farmers. Considering this brought me to the notion that writers bring seeds of ideas to readers in much the same way that farmers grow vegetables. They keep returning to them over and over, nourishing them with patience and diligence until they’re ready for our consumption. No matter what you eat this summer, it’s the perfect time to enrich your reading diet by trying (and supporting) a local author.

We’re very fortunate that DeKalb County is the home of the Georgia Center for the Book. This organization has featured many Georgia authors in DeKalb libraries, including Terry Kay, Mary Kay Andrews, Karin Slaughter (who will be at the Decatur Library on July 1st), and Joshilyn Jackson (who will be at the Tucker-Reid H. Cofer Library on June 29th).

I’ve recently finished a wonderful new book by a local author who presented a GCFTB program back in May. David C. Tucker loves to write about movies and television, and his latest book, Lost Laughs of 50s and 60s Television: 30 Sitcoms That Faded Off Screen, is a wonderful tribute to some shows which got lost in the sands of TV history. Some actors featured in the book, like Harry Morgan (Colonel Potter on M.A.S.H.) Francis Bavier (Aunt Bee on The Andy Griffith Show), or Marion Ross (Richie’s mom on Happy Days), are much better known for their other work. Other actors have been largely forgotten. That’s a shame, and you’ll enjoy reading about them too.

Since it’s hard to see these shows today, I’m grateful that Lost Laughs includes many photos. This is truly a user friendly book, containing an appendix charting the shows in chronological order (I mention this because the shows are presented alphabetically). You can read the book in chapter order, or mix it up in any way you choose. My three favorite shows are Angel, Mrs. G Goes to College, and Wendy and Me. I’ll pique your curiosity by telling you that Angel was created by the man who brought us I Love Lucy, and Wendy and Me featured George Burns.  It’s hard for me to imagine why these three didn’t last longer, but I’m sure you’ll have your own wish list once you’ve picked up this book.

If you’d like another actor fix, I also recommend David’s other books, The Women Who Made Television Funny, and Shirley Booth: a Biography and Career Record. There’s another good dose of wit and entertainment to be found between those covers.

So, do you have a favorite Georgia author? There’s a lot of great writing to celebrate, and some of it is being created right now at a computer keyboard near you!

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This month kicks off TrailFest ’09 on the Southern Literary Trail. The Trail is a loose association of 18 southern towns in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi that celebrate famous writers and playwrights from the twentieth century and the hometowns that inspired them. Georgia trail sites include Atlanta’s own Joel Chandler Harris and Margaret Mitchell, Flannery O’Connor, Lillian Smith, Erskine Caldwell, Carson McCullers and Alice Walker. In Mississippi, they’re celebrating the Eudora Welty Centennial this year, a very big deal indeed; although I’m disappointed that there’s no field trip to the post office. I once got to wait in a hallway at the Algonquin Hotel with Ms. Welty when our magnetic cardkeys wouldn’t work. It turned out a lot of things in that hotel room didn’t work, but it was all worth it because I got to chat with Eudora Welty.

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Mar 24 2008

Georgia Writer Flannery O’Connor

by Nolan R

Flannery O’Connor’s fiction often is labeled as “Southern Gothic” or “Southern Grotesque.” In response to this, O’Connor once said that “anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.”

I grew up reading the stories of Flannery O’Connor, but I’m not sure that high school students these days ever study her work.   A friend of mine is currently taking a graduate class at Georgia College & State University on O’Connor’s work, and while I enjoy O’Connor’s dark sense of humor, I believe my friend is a braver woman than I am to attempt such a class!

O’Connor was born in Savannah, GA on March 25, 1925, and the family moved to Milledgeville, GA in 1938.  O’Connor attended Peabody High School, and later Georgia State College for Women (now GCSU) in Milledgeville.  In 1945 O’Connor received a scholarship in journalism from the State University of Iowa (now the University of Iowa).  After completing her M.F.A. in 1947, O’Connor won the Rinehart-Iowa Fiction Award and was accepted at Yaddo, an artists’ retreat in Saratoga Springs, New York. At Yaddo, she worked on her novel Wise Blood and became friends with the poet Robert Lowell.  After leaving Yaddo in 1949, O’Connor lived briefly in New York City and Connecticut.  In 1950, however, O’Connor was stricken with lupus and was forced to return to Milledgeville permanently. Remaining there from 1951 until 1964, O’Connor lived at Andalusia, the family farm, where she managed to continue to write despite her illness.  On August 3, 1964, however, after several days in a coma, she died from complications of lupus following surgery.  She is buried beside her father in Memory Hill Cemetery in Milledgeville.

In 1972, O’Connor was posthumously awarded the National Book Award for her collection The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor.

For more information on O’Connor:

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