Sunday, September 27, 2009

Alice Walker Exhibit

“People are known by the records they keep. If it isn’t in the records, it will be said it didn’t happen. That is what history is: a keeping of records.” – Alice Walker

In 2007, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Alice Walker chose Atlanta’s Emory University to house her papers, photographs and other items. It is all part of the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library’s (MARBL) African American Collection. To highlight Walker’s gift, the Robert W. Woodruff Library at Emory displayed an exhibit called “A Keeping of Records: The Art and Life of Alice Walker,” which ended September 27. The exhibit highlights Walker as a poet, short story writer, novelist, activist, essayist, children’s book writer, and lover of African American art and literature (especially by Zora Neale Hurston). Such items are exhibited as enlarged pages from a draft of The Color Purple, playbills from the Tony Award-winning musical, props and a directors clapboard from the film production, photographs of Walker at all ages, letters from Quincy Jones, Steven Spielberg and Langston Hughes, and pages from her Spelman College scrapbook.

I was happy to have done the Alice Walker Driving Tour in Eatonton, Georgia, prior to visiting the exhibit because it answered a couple of my questions. For instance, Walker’s mother, Minnie Lou Grant Walker was photographed standing in front of their simple church, Wards Chapel A.M.E. Church, and the church was whitewashed and in great condition, so unlike its current state. Also, there were two pictures of Walker’s childhood home, which I can say must no longer exist on the property¸ where it seems picnic grounds of some sort are now.

It is truly a wonderful gift that Walker chose to house her archives at Emory University. Though the exhibit is now closed, Walker’s materials are open to the public and are housed on the 10th floor of Emory’s Woodruff Library, “a place,” Walker said, “where my archive can rest with joy in the company it keeps.”

Here are a few more links of interest to admirers of Walker’s work:

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Celebrating Banned Books Week

The American Library Association is celebrating Banned Books Week from September 26 to October 3. Most of my favorite books have either been banned or challenged at some time somewhere in the United States. Some of my banned book favorites include:

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (my all-time favorite)
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor
Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe
O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
My Antonia by Willa Cather

To learn more about Banned Books Week and to see a full list of challenged and banned classics, visit the ALA web site.

Which banned book is your favorite?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Thomas Wolfe and Pat Conroy

Much of the time I make my reading coincide with travel I’ll be doing or that I’m just back from, and movies or books about to be released. I read Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons and Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice immediately after my return from Italy a few years ago. I read Brad Gooch’s Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor on my trip to Savannah earlier this year and just before a trip to her farm, Andalusia. Recently, I read Devil in the White City during my trip to Chicago.

However, I’ve just recently enjoyed a serendipitous combination of two writers, a trip and a book release. It has all fit so nicely together and I didn’t even plan it!

I read Pat Conroy’s Prince of Tides two summers ago. When I began hearing buzz about his latest novel, South of Broad (I’ve read numerous reviews of South of Broad and two of the magazines I subscribe to, Garden & Gun and Southern Living, have also promoted the highly anticipated novel.), I promptly got on the waiting list for it at the library (I’m currently number 142 in line – it will be a while) and started reading Beach Music which as it turns out, is the most perfectly crafted novel that I can remember reading in a very long time. Beach Music is 800 pages long. Even though I read all the time, it took me a few weeks to get through it. I was about a third of the way through when I camped over Labor Day weekend near Asheville, N.C., hometown of Thomas Wolfe. All of it fit together so nicely, and I was pleased to know that Thomas Wolfe is one of Conroy’s favorite writers. Even Jack McCall, the main character in Beach Music sings Wolfe’s praises when he says,

“Taking out Look Homeward, Angel, I read the magnificent first page and remembered when I had been a sixteen-year-old boy and those same words had set me ablaze with the sheer inhuman beauty of language as a cry for mercy, incantation, and a great river roaring through the darkness. ‘Hello, Eugene. Hello, Ben Gant,’ I said quietly, for I knew these characters as well as I knew anyone in the world. Literature was where the world made sense to me.”

I read Look Homeward, Angel about 10 years ago, but it was as though I had just read it before visiting the Old Kentucky Home, the Asheville boarding house where Tom, the youngest of eight children, was raised by his mother, Julia, a businesswoman far ahead of her time. Scenes that I remembered reading in Look Homeward, Angel came to life for me during the tour of the 29-room house (all but just a handful were bedrooms for the boarders). The tour guide did a wonderful job of telling all about Tom’s childhood there (he based much of Look Homeward, Angel on growing up in the boarding house and his college years at the University of North Carolina). The tour guide balanced stories of Tom and his family with tidbits about what life was like in a Southern boardinghouse. It was really fascinating. Photos inside were permitted, so I took full advantage both there and outside the house.

52 North Market Street, Asheville

A pair of Tom's shoes have been bronzed and are between the house and the street.

Tom's favorite place to sleep at the Old Kentucky Home, the upstairs sleeping porch.

The bed where Tom and his seven brothers and sisters were all born to Julia.

The dining room, which was heavily damaged in a fire in 1998.

I bought another of Wolfe’s famous novels, You Can’t Go Home Again, in the gift shop. I’m looking forward to reading it just as much as I’m looking forward to getting my turn with a copy of South of Broad from the library (if I bought every book I wanted to read, I’d be more than broke). I’m particularly excited to read it as Charleston, S.C. is one of my favorite places in the whole world. Here is a picture taken by me from a boat in the Charleston Harbor a few summers ago.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Carl Sandburg's Connemara

I like to think of myself as an organized person. I’m an obsessive list maker. I plan things so far ahead that my husband, who prefers the “fly by the seat of your pants” method most of the time, can’t help but shake his head. I always have Plan A, but Plans B and C are ready to go in case A falls through.

I have my own way of organizing things. To me, it’s more important that a particular thing has a specific place where it lives, so I can always find it when it’s needed. It’s less important to me what the thing and all the things with it look like together in their place. If it happens to look orderly, that’s a bonus. If it looks like a jumbled mess to the untrained eye (anyone who’s not me), that’s OK too. The bookshelf at our house looks atrocious (99.9 percent of them are mine). My husband questions me all the time about the state of the bulletin board in our office (“Do you really need that hotel receipt from a wedding we went to three years ago?” YES!).

There are books I bought years ago, newspaper clippings and magazines all over the upstairs of our house that I need to look at. My intentions are always good, but sometimes the clippings get recycled or the National Geographic gets passed on down the line before I’ve read it.

Over Labor Day weekend, I visited Connemara, Carl Sandburg’s home in Flat Rock, N.C. When Sandburg and his family moved there in 1945, he had already published poetry, nonfiction, and six volumes of his Abraham Lincoln biography, and won the Pulitzer Prize for history and various other awards. Yet, Sandburg chose to live simply in this old house with his family. His wife, Lilian established her own successful goat dairy on the property as well.

With the tour group, I entered the house’s living room first. To my amazement and delight there were books everywhere! Then, we moved into Sandburg’s business office where there were – gasp – piles of National Geographics! There were bookshelves on every wall filled completely with volumes and other knick-knacks. Then, upstairs in Sandburg’s bedroom was perhaps the best part: newspaper clippings were tacked directly to the wall! No need for a bulletin board there. Room after room contained books, magazines and newspaper clippings. Our tour guide told us that when the Sandburgs moved here, they brought with them 17,000 books. Today 13,000 remain. They subscribed to 50 magazines, and the issues were all over the house. I don’t mean for it to sound messy. Though reading material was everywhere, it was in an orderly fashion (just as it is at my house).

I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the home and peaceful grounds where Sandburg penned a third of his writings. Here are a few photos from my visit.