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Check It Out

Courier Article by Pam Locker
Sunday, October 30, 2005

Lots of Good Writing Comes from Southerly Direction

Three full days of authors talking about their works – in delicious Southern drawls, no less – a book lover's dream! Each year early in October, the Tennessee Humanities Council graciously presents the Southern Festival of Books. On October 7th three friends and I, pencil-marked programs in hand, made our way to Nashville.

Authors of note included Ernest Gaines (Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman), Kaye Gibbons (Ellen Foster), Winston Groom (Forrest Gump), Parnell Hall (the crossword puzzle mysteries), Silas House (Clay's Quilt), Award-winning mystery writer Sharyn McCrumb (Appalachian ballad novels), and children's author Mike Thaler (Black Lagoon series) all touting their latest works. Three Oprah winners (Bret Lott, Connie May Fowler, and Gwyn Hyman Rubio) added their cachet to the event.

This year's experience began with singer Tanya Tucker talking about 100 Ways to Beat the Blues (Simon & Schuster, 2005). Over an hour late, the mini-skirted Tanya, running down the aisle to the rowdy applause of a group of local signature school boys, made an impression with her brassy personality, big heart, and even bigger speaking voice. She urged the surprisingly small audience -- I guess she's old-hat in Nashville -- to watch her new TLC reality show, Tuckerville.

Native Floridian Connie Lee Fowler, best known for Before Women Had Wings, shared passages from The Problem With Murmur Lee (Doubleday, 2005). Having never read her books, I am delighted to report that I have discovered a new author. "Murmur" is filled with delightful characters and rich seaside scenes.

Humorist author and NPR commentator Roy Blount Jr. read from his pre-Katrina collection of short essays entitled Feet on the Street: Rambles Around New Orleans (Crown, 2005). Saying he hates to think of New Orleans smelling bad, since its wonderful cuisine always made it smell so good, he bemoaned that the city has always been situated like an "oyster on a half shell." Another author later observed that the book, which was a travelogue, has now sadly become a work of history.

The Widow of the South (Warner Books, 2005) is the masterful fictional retelling of the Civil War Battle of Franklin and its aftermath. Music publisher and manager Robert Hicks, who has long been involved in Nashville area historic preservation efforts, told of becoming captivated by Carrie McGavock, who went from seclusion to intense involvement when her plantation was turned into a field hospital for some of the 7,000 Confederate casualties. In this novel he explores the bloody tragedy from all angles.

James Howard Kunstler, author of several books on urban planning and a regular contributor to "Rolling Stone" and the "New York Times," warned of The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2005). Saying that the age of abundant cheap petroleum products will soon be history, he predicted a period of crisis during which we will all have to downsize. Suburbia, a major part of our economy, is doomed, and small cities and towns will fare much better than larger ones.

It was obvious listening to Kentuckian Bobbie Ann Mason's new novel, An Atomic Romance (Random House, 2005) that she views one major energy alternative – nuclear power – with distaste. Based on her research for a "New Yorker" article about the Paducah (KY) Gaseous Diffusion Plant, this novel gives us an inside look at the production of low-enriched uranium fuel. Amid a flurry of investigations into toxic wastes, protaganist Reed Futrell finds that his job in the plant is interfering with his relationship with a too-savvy biologist. Mason's earlier works included In Country and one of my all-time favorites, Feather Crowns.

Bret Lott, reading from Before We Get Started: a Practical Memoir of the Writer's Life (Ballantine, 2005) wrapped up my weekend by providing an insider's look at being picked by Oprah. Tongue in cheek, he recounted his five steps toward re-achieving humility after his novel Jewel, was selected by The Force in 1999. He concluded by saying that "getting yourself out of the way is the most important thing in writing."

If you missed the Southern Festival of Books and yesterday's Western Kentucky Book Expo, you can still listen to a real live successful writer this Tuesday evening at Central Library. Michael Z. Lewin, author of numerous mysteries, short stories, and other works – including the Albert Samson mysteries set in Indianapolis -- will read an original short mystery story and let the audience decide the ending.

If You Go
Author Michael Z. Lewin
Tuesday November 1st, 7:00pm

Central Library Browning Events Room

Pam Locker is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.