Friday, May 28, 2010

Museum Exhibit: Carson McCullers

About a month ago, I visited Carson McCullers' childhood home in Columbus, Georgia. In my post, I mentioned that I'd learned that Fayetteville, NC, had used McCullers' The Heart is a Lonely Hunter for its National Endowment for the Arts The Big Read selection for 2010. The Museum of the Cape Fear has a McCullers exhibit that I got to see just before it ends on May 30.
The exhibit, though small, paired nicely with what I learned in Columbus. It focused on McCullers' time in Fayetteville where she wrote much of her debut novel, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, from this second story front porch at 119 North Cool Spring Street in downtown Fayetteville. The home is one of the oldest in town.

As you can see, the house is still beautiful. Today it in home to an appraisal company but thankfully, it looks much as it did in the photo of it at the museum taken while McCullers lived there in 1938 and 1939. McCullers and her husband, Reeves McCullers, also lived at 109 Rowan Street in Fayetteville, which today is a US mail facility.

The museum reported that McCullers described the book that she finished in Fayetteville as, "a story of five isolated, lonely people in their search for expression and spiritual integration with something greater than themselves." The book was published in 1940 and became very popular.
Additionally, the museum highlighted some of McCullers' friendships with other famous people such as Tennessee Williams, Richard Wright, Marilyn Monroe, John Huston and others. She once occupied a house in Brooklyn Heights, New York, with other writers, and it is described in a book I've just added to my Goodreads list called February House: The Story of W.H. Auden, Carson McCullers, Jane and Paul Bowles, and Gypsy Rose Lee, Under One Roof in Brooklyn by Sherill Tippins.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Author Reading: Dara Torres

Yesterday I finished listening to Dara Torres' book, Age is Just a Number. You may recall that I attended her appearance at The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum in Atlanta last year when she was promoting her book (read about that by clicking here). During that talk, Torres said that she wanted to write her book in a way that incorporated anecdotes of good times and bad, her victories and challenges.

Obviously, it was a while before I got around to reading her book (or rather, listening to it), but I found this to be true, and also this balance to be what made Torres very real. The wisdom that she has gained both in her life as a swimmer, as well as all other parts of her life truly made her seem like a down-to-earth athlete who has dealt with things that many of the rest of us have too: disappointment, infertility, sickness and death of loved ones, parenthood, and growing older gracefully. She tackles all of these things in her book, interwoven with many stories about her life as a swimmer.

I found her to be a fascinating person during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, but even more so now that I know a lot more about her. I definitely have my fingers crossed that she'll participate as a 45 year-old in the 2012 Summer Olympics. If that's the case, I think nearly the whole world will be cheering her on.

Thomas Wolfe's Angel

My husband and I were passing through Hendersonville, NC, last weekend on our way back to Atlanta from a wedding in Asheville, NC. Of course I consulted by guidebook, Literary Trails of the North Carolina Mountains before the trip to see what we could check out while we were in the area. We were in luck. The Wolfe Angel is located in Oakdale Cemetery in Hendersonville. The historical marker and the statue are pictured below:

This angel inspired the title of Thomas Wolfe's first novel, Look Homeward, Angel. The marble statue was imported from Italy and sold by Wolfe's father (a monument dealer) to the Johnson family for use on their family plot. It's beautiful, and is surrounded by the rest of the cemetery, which is on a beautiful piece of land.
For more information about my visit to Thomas Wolfe's mother's boarding house in Asheville last fall, click here.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

My new library

My husband recently finished building a library for me in a closet under the stairs in our house that got little use. Here are some pictures during the process and in its finished state. I am so excited to have a great place to store and display my books. Luckily, the shelving allows plenty of room for me to add to my collection.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Books into Art

The Gwinnett County Library System (Georgia) has sponsored a contest for turning old books into new art. Twenty-three entries were selected for display at The Jacqueline Casey Hudgens Center for the Arts, 6400 Sugarloaf Pkwy., Building 300 in Duluth. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for students, seniors and children (free for children under age two). The exhibit runs through May 27, and a closing reception will be held that day at 6 p.m. The reception is free and open to the public. To read the story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, click here.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Children's Book Week

Happy International Children's Book Week, celebrated today through May 16. Children's literature was where it all began for me. A few of my favorites still are:

Time of Wonder by Robert McCloskey
The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
Morris' Disappearing Bag by Rosemary Wells
Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

and many, many others. To celebrate, consider purchasing children's books at one of my new favorite places to buy books online: Better World Books. They are running a sale all week.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Montgomery, Alabama

Our last stop on the way back to Atlanta was in Montgomery, Alabama, where we had a few things on our agenda. The first was another stop on the Southern Literary Trail at the Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum at 919 Felder Avenue. Zelda was a Montgomery native and met Scott in 1918 at a country club dance while he was stationed there with the U.S. Army. We passed the site of this country club (now a Sonic) on our way to lunch afterwards.

The home remains the only of the Fitzgeralds' many residences to still be in existence. The couple and their daughter, Scottie, rented the home from September 1931 to February 1932. Zelda wrote her first draft of her only novel, Save Me the Waltz, while they lived here. Scott started writing Tender is the Night.

Today the home is subdivided into several apartments, and the first one on the right downstairs is the museum. About three rooms are on display and have furniture both of the period and that the Fitzgeralds owned. The museum's director, Michael McCreedy, showed us around and provided lots of helpful information. As it turns out, the Southern Literary Trail was born out of a meeting held in one of the museum's rooms. Ten of Zelda's paintings are on display at the museum, and more will be exhibited this fall at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts to coincide with a Eudora Welty photography exhibit. There's a good chance I'll need to go back to Montgomery for all of that!

One interesting fact that McCreedy shared is that Zelda's family, the Sayres, was the owner of the home that became the First White House of the Confederacy, and the family sold the home to the CSA to house Jefferson Davis and his family in 1861 before they relocated to Richmond, Virginia. So that meant that after we met up with an old friend for lunch, we had to check it out for ourselves.

The home is furnished beautifully with period pieces, including some from the Sayre family. It contains many items from the Davis family as well, and there is also information about the home's preservation.

All in all, pretty interesting stuff. The trip was a huge success. Now I guess it's time to start planning the next one!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Monroeville: Literary Capital of Alabama and Home of To Kill a Mockingbird

It feels like I have been waiting forever to get the chance to visit Monroeville, Alabama, while the annual production of To Kill a Mockingbird is going on. Finally, finally I got my chance. Monroeville was our next stop after Columbus, Georgia, last week on the literary road trip. Monroeville has a population of about 6800 people, and it was declared in 1997 "The Literary Capital of Alabama." This was a good year for me to visit, as we arrived in town the day after author Harper Lee's 84th birthday, it was the 50th anniversary of the novel's publication, and the 20th anniversary of the play production. The town had rolled out the red carpet, so to speak, in celebration in and around the courthouse in the center of town.

Monument for Atticus Finch, "Lawyer, Hero" given by the Alabama State Bar Association.

Birdhouses in honor of the book's 50th year.

The set for the first act of the play on the lawn of the courthouse. The second act was inside the historic courtroom.

A mural of Scout, Jem and Dill and the tree in front of the Radley home. This is painted on the side of the jewelry store on the square across the street from the courthouse.

On our way back to the hotel, we passed the cite where Harper Lee's childhood home once stood, and it is now Mel's Dairy Dream.

Next door is the cite where the Faulk home stood. Truman Capote visited his relatives here many times as a child, and throughout his adult life. The house burned years ago, but some of the foundation remains, and a marker has been placed there to mark the spot. I wonder why there's no marker for Harper Lee at Mel's?

Here's where we ate dinner on the way to the play, Radley's Fountain Grille.

When the evening came, we attended the anniversary production of To Kill a Mockingbird, performed by actors who were local volunteers. You'd never know it though. They were fine actors, and made the book absolutely come to life in a magical way. Bob Ewell, the most despicable character in the novel was spot-on by a man who, for his day job, is a district attorney! All the other actors had a variety of other professions and lives outside the three weeks the perform To Kill a Mockingbird 20 times. Some of the cast members are in the two photos below.

The three children are standing together here.
And, Atticus Finch (in the cardigan) and Heck Tate (in the vest and hat).

Saturday, May 1, 2010

House Museum: Carson McCullers

This week, my mom and I traveled to Columbus, Georgia, and Monroeville and Montgomery, Alabama, to see three Southern Literary Trail sites. I mentioned here recently that I read Carson McCullers' The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, and her childhood home in Columbus was our first stop.

We had arranged for a tour ahead of time, and we were met at on the front porch by the director of The Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians, Cathy Fussell. The home is a beautiful example of a Craftsman-style house, and was occupied by McCullers' family, the Smiths, from 1925 until 1944. Today the home is owned and managed by Columbus State University, but remains accessible to the community as events, readings, meetings, and other gatherings are regularly held here. The University has an active creative writing program, and its students have the benefit of having The Carson McCullers Center available to them.

McCullers described this home and her hometown in numerous places in her stories, and according to Fussell, McCullers felt crowded in Columbus, but comfortable in her family's home. McCullers' bedroom was on the front of the house and in it she wrote The Member of the Wedding sitting at a desk next to this dresser.

Fussell told us an interesting tidbit that tied in well with the rest of our trip. McCuller's sister, Rita Smith, was an editor in New York and the first person to publish Truman Capote.

McCullers wrote The Heart is a Lonely Hunter in Fayetteville, NC, while she lived there with her Army husband. Currently, Fayetteville's The Museum of the Cape Fear has a McCullers exhibit on display through May 30. So, for those of you reading from North Carolina, be sure to check this out sometime this month. I, myself, am going to see if I can swing a visit.

Fussell was a wonderful, knowledgeable tour guide. You can read more about The Carson McCullers Center on her blog.

After we left the McCullers home, we headed for downtown Columbus to get lunch and see Broadway, the main drag that McCullers described in her work.

We realized on the way that Columbus should get an award for repurposing old buildings. This house is now a Burger King (note the playground to the left), and this barbeque restaurant where we ate lunch was once a bus station.