Cover To Cover is the anchor program for GPB’s literary coverage. Cover To Cover features a collection of distinctive Southern voices interviewing Georgia writers, Southern writers, and writers dealing with the South. The GPB Southern Lit Cadre will provide you with a varied, weekly glimpse at fiction, non-fiction, history, poetry, and even the occasional ‘old school’ nod to Flannery O’Connor or William Faulkner.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Cover to Cover Goes Weekly!

It seems as though 2008 will start on a high note for lovers of Georgia literature...and for me.

Beginning in January, Cover to Cover will become a weekly show. It will still air at 8PM Sunday evenings but will be heard each week rather than just the last Sunday of the month.

Since the show debuted in January 1998, it has always been a monthly production. Now, GPB is increasing its commitment to arts and cultural coverage across the state with this expansion of Cover to Cover.

The show will be essentially the same as it has always been; each week a Georgia author will join me live in the studio to talk and take listener calls about one of his or her books. Given the increased frequency of the broadcast, I will be expanding the show’s remit slightly.

One thing that has been clear over the last ten years of Cover to Cover is that there are many people across the state who listen to the show because they themselves are writers, whether amateur or professional. We often get calls from listeners asking the authors about how they write, how to go about finding an agent, or how to get their book published; with a weekly show I will now be able to devote time to discussing the craft and mechanics of writing.

You can also expect to see Cover to Cover out and about more often in the future. From time to time in the past we have recorded shows in front of an audience at venues in different parts of the state. We’ve been to Columbus, Macon, Hawkinsville and Augusta, and these traveling shows have proved a great way for us to get out and meet Cover to Cover listeners and raise GPB’s profile in the community. Obviously the opportunity to do this more often is very welcome.

If you would like to see Cover to Cover come to your community, email me at the address at the end of this blog entry.

We will continue to videotape each show and archive them on the GPB website for on-demand viewing. The Cover to Cover podcast will also continue, as will this blog.

Another new feature you’ll see come January is a daily 5-minute segment airing at 12:54PM each weekday called the Cover to Cover Footnote.

Designed to increase our cultural coverage and promote each weekly show, the Cover to Cover Footnote will be a literary daybook with segments focusing on a wide range of topics all concerned with Georgia writing and writers.

I know what you’re thinking, how can St.John do all this on top of everything else he does at GPB?

Well, I no longer have the management responsibilities I had before and so have the opportunity to devote myself almost exclusively to the show which was my brainchild all those years ago and which I have nurtured like a child. I could not be happier than spending my energies in a more creative way and immersing myself in the readers and writers of this state.

Here is the Cover to Cover schedule for January:

January 6: Terry Kay, The Book of Marie (Mercer University Press, 2007)
January 13: Julie L. Cannon, The Romance Readers’ Book Club (Plume, 2007)
January 20: Steve Berry, The Venetian Betrayal (Ballantine Books, 2007)
January 27: Man Martin, Days of the Endless Corvette (Carroll & Graf, 2007)

I hope you’ll make Sunday evenings at 8 a time to sit down and listen to Cover to Cover on your radio or at your computer (the GPB broadcast signal is streamed live at, and don’t forget to catch the Cover to Cover Footnote weekdays at 12:54PM.

More Cover to Cover, more great books, more great authors. It’s all on your GPB station. I hope you’ll tune in.

[Comments and questions? Email me at]

Monday, December 17, 2007

We'll Always Have Paris

Those who know me well know that one of my dreams is to move to Paris.

I lived in France for two years before coming to the U.S. to attend graduate school at UGA. I taught English for a year in a middle school in the small town of Cluses in Haute Savoie, about 30 miles southeast of Geneva. The second year I was teaching in the English department at the Université de Nancy in the northeast, close to Strasbourg and the German border.

I had recently completed my B.A. in French at the University of Liverpool and so spoke the language with a certain fluency. Armed with my spoken French, I was able to make the most of my two years among the natives, and they were two of the happiest years of my life.

Although I never lived in Paris during my Gallic sojourn, I made a point of visiting often. This was a relatively easy thing to do since the French have a marvelous national rail system, the SNCF, and the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse), a high-speed train that flies cross-country and delivers you in just a few hours to the City of Lights.

Paris has always held a certain fascination for me. In 1969, when I was seven, my sister and I were sent by our parents to spend a couple of weeks with my aunt and uncle who were then living in the northern Paris suburbs (Enghien-les-Bains). It was during this visit that I first went up the Eiffel Tower, first saw Sacré Coeur, and learned my first words of French.

Since then, I have been back to Paris on many occasions and each time my feet touch Parisian soil, I feel as if I’ve just walked through the gates of Heaven. I become Baudelaire’s flâneur walking the streets of my city taking in the sights, the sounds and the smells. It is indeed a special city and one which I would love to call home.

This paean to the French capital is my way of introducing a book that was brought to my attention recently.

You will remember from a recent blog entry that a couple of weeks ago I narrated the Nativity story from the Gospel of Luke at the Christmas Candlelight Celebration held in Rome, Ga. Afterwards I was approached by a lady who did something I dread; she thrust a book into my hand.

Now you have to understand that, given what I do, one of the hazards of going out in public is that people give me books they think I should feature on Cover to Cover. I can attend an event and come away with an armful of books given to me by their authors who would love to be on the show.

While I admire these authors’ passion, I usually cannot consider most of the books for a number of reasons: they are self-published; they are poetry; they are of very limited appeal; or they are not of the necessary quality to recommend to the Cover to Cover audience.

The book I was given at the Rome event, however, was different. It’s about Paris!

Nancy Griffin, the lady who put the book in my hand, is not its author. She was simply bringing a book to my attention she thought I would be interested in. It’s by a Georgia author and concerns a city I know well.

The book is Tea with Sister Anna: A Paris Journal, (Golden Apple Press, 2005) by Rome visual and performance artist Susan Gilbert Harvey.

When their mother died in the 1990s, Susan and her siblings were faced with the task of disposing of their parents’ accumulated possessions. In the attic Susan had to unpack the last unopened container: Sister Anna’s steamer trunk. Sister Anna was Susan’s great aunt, sister to her maternal grandmother.

Anna McNulty Lester was born in Conway, SC, in 1862. The family moved to Rome, Ga., in 1868. Anna studied art and in 1887 she became head of the art department at Rome’s Shorter College. In 1897 she left for Paris where she studied art before returning to Rome in December 1898. She died of tuberculosis in Rome on October 17, 1900 at the age of 37.

In the journal and letters of her great aunt, Susan finds a kindred spirit. As she points out in the book’s first pages,

Anna taught art in women’s colleges, and her oils, watercolors, and painted china are family heirlooms. I construct art from junkyard objects, but despite our different media, Anna and I have things in common. We left Rome, Georgia, to attend colleges in Virginia, and sixty years after Anna packed this trunk to study life drawing in Paris, I enrolled in the Hollins Abroad-Paris program.
Susan was an undergraduate at Hollins College in Virginia from where she graduated with a degree in art history in 1959. In 1957 she had traveled to Paris on the college study abroad program, and 50 years later, to mark the anniversary of the founding of that program, Susan published Tea with Sister Anna.

In 1998, having poured over Sister Anna’s journal and letters, Susan returned to Paris, in part to relive her year on the Hollins Abroad-Paris program, but also to retrace her great-aunt’s steps through Montparnasse, find her boarding houses and studios, and thus connect with her spirit.

In Tea with Sister Anna, which Susan points out is a work of creative non-fiction, she interlaces her life and experience of Paris in the late 20th century with those of Sister Anna almost a century before. She uses many of Sister Anna’s letters in the book as well as many of her own, written home in 1957, which her mother had kept.

Sister Anna’s letters paint a wonderful picture of fin-de-siècle Paris, and Susan Harvey’s story is a paean not just to the eternal enchantment of Paris, but also to the creative spirit and the women who possess it.

[I always welcome your comments and questions at]

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Lindberg Award in Photos

As I mentioned in a recent blog entry (Tuesday, November 20), the Stanley W. Lindberg Award was presented Saturday, December 1st at the Georgia Museum of Art on the University of Georgia campus in Athens.

This year, the biennial award, which recognizes outstanding contributions to the literary life of Georgia, went to Terry Kay, author of some of the finest Georgia novels ever written such as To Dance With The White Dog, The Valley of Light and The Book of Marie.

Making the presentation to Kay in front of a crowd of over 100 fans and literati was his longtime friend and fellow novelist Anne Rivers Siddons.

I was the M.C. for the event which was followed by a buffet reception.

Here are some photos from the evening as proof that we all had a good time!

Anne Rivers Siddons (center) and Terry Kay (right) talk to one of the guests after the award ceremony

Terry Kay poses with some of his fans after the ceremony. (The man on the right in the background is one of Terry's brothers).

William Starr (Executive Director of the Georgia Center for the Book) and I discuss who has the nicer red tie. (I do!)

At the reception, Dr. Pearl McHaney (English professor at Georgia State University and a Eudora Welty specialist) and I discuss the symbolism of animals in the works of Terry Kay! (In the background, wearing the tuxedo and bowtie, is Tom Bell, co-founder of the Decatur Book Festival).

Judy Long (center), Editor-in-Chief at Hill Street Press in Athens, swoons after I pay her a particularly nice compliment. Terry Kay (right) looks at me thinking "I don't believe he just said that!"

Myself with Judy Long (left) and Pearl McHaney (center), the co-chairs of my international fan club!

I have no idea what I've just said here. I obviously thought it was very funny, but neither Judy Long nor Terry Kay thought so. Oh well!

(All photos: JB Belonio)

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

A Roman Christmas

One of the things I like best about my job is the opportunity to travel around the state and meet folks who listen to one of our stations or watch GPB TV. It’s humbling to hear how much people enjoy GPB’s programming and how important it is to their lives. And as I technically work for the members of GPB (since they provide the funding for our programming), these opportunities remind me of what my priorities should be.

I have one such opportunity tonight. I will be in Rome (Georgia, not Italy!) to take part in a new community-wide event the city’s organizing for the first time.

The Christmas Candlelight Concert takes place tonight at 6:30PM in Historic Downtown Rome. It features a 300-voice community choir comprised of community, church, and school groups accompanied by a large orchestra.

The choir will process by candlelight from City Hall down Broad Street and into The Forum Civic Center where it will join the orchestra and narrators for traditional Christmas music and the reading of the Christmas story.

I will be narrating the Nativity story from the King James version of the Gospel of Luke.

This first ever Christmas Candlelight Concert in Rome is, of course, free and open to all comers.

You can watch the processional along Broad Street beginning at 6:30PM before entering The Forum for the concert. Alternatively, you can go straight to The Forum early where the orchestra will present a selection of Christmas music. The performance by the combined choirs, orchestra, and narration begins at 7:00PM inside The Forum.

The massed choir includes the following groups: Three Rivers Singers; Shorter College; Armuchee Middle School; First Baptist Church of Rome; First United Methodist Church of Rome; Second Avenue Methodist Church; St. Peters Episcopal Church Youth Choir; Trinity United Methodist Church; Pepperrell Middle School; Pepperell High School; Model Middle School & Model High School; and Westminster Presbyterian Church. They will all be under the direction of Kam Malone.

The orchestra, under the direction of Sam Baltzer is comprised of the Northwest Georgia Winds & New Horizons Band.

Also taking part will be the First Baptist Church Handbell Choir under the direction of Keith Reaves; the Unity Christian School Steel Drum Band under the direction of Bill King; and soloist Dr. Regina Zona, Assistant Professor of Music at Shorter College.

This Christmas Candlelight Concert promises to be a spectacular event and the start of a wonderful tradition in Floyd County.

I’m grateful to have been asked to participate and look forward to meeting lots of GPB listeners while I’m there. The GPB station in Rome, WGPB/97.7FM, is the newest in the GPB radio network of 16 stations across the state, and this event gives me the chance to reinforce our presence in Northwest Georgia and meet new listeners.

If you live in Northwest Georgia I hope you’ll come along this evening. The Holiday season is upon us and tonight’s concert should put everyone in the mood for a joyous Christmastime.

See you tonight maybe?

[I always welcome your comments and questions at]

Friday, November 30, 2007

Georgia Review Included in Anthology

If you read this blog regularly you know that one subject I come back to with monotonous regularity is The Georgia Review, the award-winning literary journal published by the University of Georgia.

I am a huge fan of the Review and the small but extremely talented staff that are the force behind the publication’s success. Within the last 21 years the Review has taken home two National Magazine Awards, the industry equivalents of the Oscars©—a phenomenal feat when one considers that the little old Review is perennially up against such behemoths as The New Yorker, Esquire, Harper’s and The Atlantic.

Recently, while reading my copy of Columns, the UGA newspaper for faculty and staff, I came across a small article about another success for the Review.

Here is that article, from the November 19 (Vol. 35, No. 17) Columns:

The Georgia Review, the internationally distributed literary quarterly published at UGA since 1947, has been honored by inclusion in The Best American Magazine Writing 2007 anthology, compiled by the American Society of Magazine Editors and published by Columbia University Press.

The Georgia Review’s contribution to this volume is Michael Donohue’s “Russell and Mary,” which won the 2007 National Magazine Award in the essays category—beating out entries from The New Yorker, Smithsonian, Foreign Affairs and New Letters by such well-known authors as Paul Theroux, Thomas Friedman and Calvin Trillin.

“Russell and Mary” is an account of a Brooklyn renter who attempts to piece together the lives of his elderly landlady and her long-deceased husband using a box of personal effects the couple left behind. The essay was originally published in the Review’s special 60th-anniversary double issue (fall/winter 2006).

Best American Magazine Writing will be published in December, and is available for pre-order and purchase from Columbia University Press and all major retail and online booksellers.
--Reprinted with permission
It seems as though The Georgia Review is to be congratulated yet again on another feather in its cap. How much more of this can we take?

Seriously though, the Review is a shining beacon for Georgia letters; not because it publishes Georgia writers (although it certainly does feature many), but rather because it continues to bear testimony to the fact that Georgia is a place where letters are celebrated, encouraged, and even revered.

If you get the opportunity to see The Best American Magazine Writing 2007 (pictured above), take a look at Michael Donohue’s essay and let me know what you think. I welcome your feedback at

Monday, November 26, 2007

Cassandra King & I

Last night’s Cover to Cover with Cassandra King [pictured left with me in the studio after the show] was a great show; I hope you were able to listen. The topic of discussion was Cassandra's new novel, Queen of Broken Hearts (Hyperion, 2007)

What made it a great show? Well, Cassandra is a wonderfully warm and friendly person so it was an easy delight to be in her company and we had good conversations before and after the show.

We also had an awful lot of callers, which of course is one of the most significant indications of a good show (it is after all a call-in!). In fact we still had a screen full of calls at the end of the show that we didn’t have time to get to. My thanks and apologies to those who called and waited patiently on the phone but didn’t make it to air.

One of the first things Cassandra said to me when we were given the all clear by the director at the end of the show was how good the questions that came in were. I was pleased that Cassandra was pleased because one of the aspects of a call-in that makes it interesting from a programming point of view is that it’s the callers who determine the direction the discussion goes in.

I always have a list of questions to ask the Cover to Cover author should there be a lull in the phone calls, and those questions will focus on the things that I found important in the book: themes, motifs, characters etc. However, rarely do I get to ask any of them; listeners have their own questions and comments and to Hell with what St.John thinks is important!

But seriously, Cover to Cover is, and has always been, a listener-driven show because my goal is to put readers in touch with the authors they read. I believe this interaction enhances the reading experience and encourages more reading and hopefully greater recognition for our homegrown authors.

I first met Cassandra King in 2005 when she came to our studios for an interview when her third novel, The Same Sweet Girls, was published. She mentioned to me then that she’d love to be on Cover to Cover and I filed that information away in my brain. It was only earlier this year, at the Dahlonega Literary Festival back in February, that I remembered the information I had stored away. Cassandra was one of the featured authors and as soon as I saw her at one of the festival readings I recalled our earlier conversation.

In June at the Margaret Mitchell House Cassandra did a reading for an audience which was obviously familiar with her writing, and afterwards I talked to her about doing the show later in the year. November was the chosen month and, voilà, Ms. King was last night’s guest.

I mentioned that we had good questions. One caller from Tennessee was in search of some divorce counseling (bad relations between the former and current wives) and neither I nor Cassandra is a qualified therapist so we had to dance around his question and suggested that reading Queen of Broken Hearts might help!

Another caller, a student at Shorter College in Rome, GA, has chosen Queen of Broken Hearts for a drama assignment in which each student has to select a book and discuss its presentation of Southern society. The caller wanted to know why to this day there still seems to be a huge stigma associated with divorce in the South, unlike in other areas of the U.S. Great question and an interesting assignment.

A caller from Anniston, AL, asked if Cassandra King was the author’s real name or a nom de plume. The answer: it is indeed her real name, although her married name is Cassandra King Conroy (which explains the address of her website). The domain name "" was already taken when Cassandra was setting up her website, as was "," so she added her married name for the web address.

Cassandra is married to author Pat Conroy, and I asked her about the dynamics of living with another writer; do they share ideas, use each other as a sounding board, have each other read over their drafts etc.? The answer was no. Cassandra added that she doesn’t like to talk about a book while she’s working on it.

All in all a very satisfying experience. The show was videotaped, so look for that to be posted to the Cover to Cover pages of the GPB website within the next few weeks (there’s a good deal of post-production that goes into each taping), and don’t forget that the show will rebroadcast on GPB Sunday, December 9 at 10AM.

[If you have comments or questions about this, or any other, Cover to Cover blog entry, please email me at Thank you.]

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

November's Cover to Cover

The next edition of Cover to Cover airs this Sunday evening, November 25, at 8PM. Joining me in the studio to talk and take questions about her new novel, Queen of Broken Hearts (Hyperion, 2007), will be South Carolina author Cassandra King.

Queen of Broken Hearts is the story of Clare Ballenger, an Alabama divorce therapist who works wonders for her clients but can’t seem to work the same magic for herself or those closest to her.

From the book jacket:
"It’s not easy being the Queen of Broken Hearts. Just ask Clare, who has willingly assumed the mantle while her career as a divorce coach thrives. Now she’s preparing to open a permanent home for the retreats she leads, on a slice of breathtaking property on the Alabama coast owned by her mother-in-law. Make that former mother-in-law, a colorful eccentric who teaches Clare much about love and sacrifice and living freely.

When Clare’s marriage ends in tragedy, her work becomes the sole focus of her life. While Clare has no problem helping the hundreds of men and women who seek her advice to mend their broken hearts, healing her own is another matter entirely. Falling in love again is the last thing she wants.

So when Lex -- a charismatic, charming, burly sea captain -- moves to town to run the marina, Clare insists they remain friends and nothing more. But even though she fights it, she begins to fall for him -- and then finds she has a rival, his estranged wife Annalee.

A story infused with all the flavors, textures, and intrigues of a small Southern town, with a rich, resonant center, Queen of Broken Hearts is a bold step forward for Cassandra King."

Now, I hear some people objecting to, or at least questioning, my choice of Cassandra King for November’s show. Not because she’s not a good writer (which, of course, she is), but because she’s not a Georgia writer.

My answer is “Quite correct.” However, she was born in Alabama, lives in South Carolina, has spent a lot of time in Georgia, and is married to a Georgian. Furthermore, there are readers all over Georgia who love her books, and (and this is the crucial one) she really wanted to be on the show!

Now, when an author as accomplished and as popular as Ms. King wants to spend an hour in the Cover to Cover studio taking listener questions, who am I to say “no”? Add to that the fact that she’s married to another famous Southern author by the name of Pat Conroy, and you can see how difficult it would have been for me to refuse.

Truth be told there have been other “non-Georgian but Southern” authors on the show in its 10-year history; Elizabeth Cox (Night Talk) and Tommy Hays (In the Family Way) to name just two. So there is ample precedent for inviting Cassandra King to join us Sunday evening at 8PM. [Pictured right: Cassandra King. Photo credit: Andy Anderson]

I’ve heard King read from Queen of Broken Hearts on several occasions this year. She was one of the featured authors at the Dahlonega Literary Festival back in February, and I then attended an event she did at the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum in June. I was thrilled when she signed my copy of Queen of Broken Hearts for me and wrote “It’s such an honor to sign a book for you!” Flattery, Cassandra, will get you everywhere!!

King is the author of three previous novels, Making Waves (2004), The Sunday Wife (2002), and The Same Sweet Girls (2005), as well as numerous short stories. She lives in the South Carolina Low country with her husband, Pat Conroy.

Here’s what reviewers have said about Queen of Broken Hearts:

• “King delivers what her fans want—strong bonds, strong women characters and triumph over tragedy.”—Publishers Weekly
• “King's vivid and charming portrayal of southern small-town life enriches this moving and genuine story of midlife revelations.”—Booklist
• “Cassandra King has written a wonderful and uplifting tale, about women helping other women in a small Alabama town. Full of romance and surprises along the way.”—Fannie Flagg, author of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe
• “Queen of Broken Hearts is an absolutely fabulous story of healing and hope, filled with irresistible characters that are beautifully drawn and have great insights into life. I laughed and cried, and you will, too… I absolutely adored this book.”—Dorothea Benton Frank, author of The Land of Mango Sunsets
I know Sunday’s program will be a good one, and I hope that, wherever you may be in the world, you’ll tune in to listen and maybe even call in. We always use a toll-free number, 1-866-RADIO GA (1-866-723-4642), and the show is streamed live on the GPB website.

So join Cassandra King and myself on the radio or online Sunday evening at 8 for an hour that will focus on Queen of Broken Hearts.

Hope to hear from you.

[If you have comments or questions about this, or any other, Cover to Cover blog entry, please email me at Thank you.]

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Winner of 2007 Stanley W. Lindberg Award Announced

One of the most important events in the Georgia literary calendar takes place December 1 in Athens.

The Stanley W. Lindberg Award is presented every two years “in acknowledgment and celebration of an individual’s contribution to the rich literary arts in Georgia.” As such it is a “lifetime achievement” award given to someone judged to have made a significant contribution to Georgia letters. That person may be an author, but may also be a teacher, an editor, a publisher, or even a public radio host ;-).

Stanley Lindberg was, from 1977 until his premature death in 2000, the editor of The Georgia Review, and a UGA professor of English. Under his guidance, the Review became one of the nation's most respected literary magazines; its circulation jumped 250 percent during his first 10 years as editor, and today stands at nearly 6,000 worldwide.

In the 23 years of his editorship, the journal received numerous awards, including a prestigious National Magazine Award for Fiction in 1986. It has won widespread praise for publishing fine writing by famous authors and promising newcomers.

The Lindberg Award was established in the late 1990s by a group of noted writers and members of the Athens literary community who wanted to honor Lindberg's superb editing skills and keen eye for literary talent. The first award was presented in 1999 to author Pat Conroy.

Other recipients of the award include longtime UGA English professor and writer Marion Montgomery (2001), former Georgia Poet Laureate Bettie Sellers (2003), and acclaimed novelist and Macon native Tina McElroy Ansa (2005).

Now, I know you’re all waiting for this year’s recipient to be revealed, so in order to tease you, here are a few clues:

1. Georgia novelist
2. Former newspaper theater critic
3. Several of his books have been turned into TV movies
4. He has been my guest on Cover to Cover on four different occasions
5. In an earlier posting to this blog, I described him as “arguablyGeorgia’s greatest living writer”

The 2007 winner of the Stanley W. Lindberg Award is Terry Kay (pictured above with myself in the Cover to Cover studio).

Kay has published ten novels, a book of essays, and a children’s book; he was a 2006 inductee into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame; he won the 2004 Townsend Prize, Georgia’s highest fiction award, for The Valley of Light; and he is a readers’ favorite all across this state and beyond.

One thing about Terry Kay that the average reader doesn’t know is that he is a firm believer in the community of writers and will go to great lengths to encourage emerging writers and support others in their craft.

Kay was one of the Lindberg Award directors when I joined the board back in 2000. Besides him, the other directors included such literary luminaries as James Kilgo, Philip Lee Williams, Judy Long, editor-in-chief at Hill Street Press in Athens, and Charlotte Mealor who was for many years the business manager of The Georgia Review.

The discussions we would have about potential nominees were fascinating, and the communal knowledge of Georgia letters collected in whatever room we met in was incredible.

Terry Kay is no longer a Lindberg Award director. One of our stipulations has always been that no director can be nominated; that would (rightly) seem incestuous.

I can think of no other person in this state who deserves this award than Terry Kay. His contribution to the literature and literary life of this state is almost immeasurable, and I stand by my earlier statement that he is as “arguably Georgia’s greatest living writer.”

The 2007 Stanley W. Lindberg Award will be presented to Terry Kay at a celebration at the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens on Saturday, December 1 at 8PM. I will be hosting the event, and Terry Kay will be introduced by his old friend Anne Rivers Siddons.

The event is open to the public, and tickets may be purchased through the Georgia Center for the Book, co-sponsor of the Award. Click here for details.

This is sure to be a great occasion and I hope you’ll be able to join us for a very special evening.

And finally, congratulations to Terry Kay!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Introducing Will Parker

I said in a recent blog entry (“William C. Harris Returns,” 10/31/07) that I have a special admiration for “gentleman authors,” those for whom writing is an avocation. Among Georgia gentleman authors are William C. Harris, William Rawlings, Jr., and, of course, the granddaddy of them all, Ferrol Sams.

Now there’s a new one to add to the list: Andy Harp.

Harp, who lives in Columbus, GA, is a civil trial attorney in a practice built around the representation of injured railroad workers. Prior to entering private practice, he worked as a District Attorney in Cordele, GA. He earned his law degree from the Walter F. George School of Law at Mercer University in 1980.

Not only is Harp an attorney, he’s also a retired U.S. Marine Corps Reserve colonel. He graduated from American University (which he attended on an athletic scholarship) in 1973 and signed up with the Marines.

As a young officer, he served with both the artillery and a small mountain warfare/arctic instructor survival group. He was a Regimental Battery Commander with the 11th Marines, and became Instructor in Charge of the Instructor Group at the Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, California. He also trained in the Arctic Circle and at Fort Greely, Alaska, where a typical day was 44˚ below zero. While in the Arctic and at Bridgeport, he lived in ice caves, rappelled off cliffs and out of helicopters, taught military cross country skiing, and taught both mountain and cold weather survival.

Once his legal career began, Harp continued to serve in the Marine Corps Reserves, rising through the ranks to become a colonel.

As a logistics officer he served in South Korea, Central America, the Persian Gulf, Europe, and at the Pentagon where he was assigned to the Secretary of Defense’s Executive Support Center and to Reserve Affairs.

His final posting before retiring saw him serve as the Officer in Charge of the Crisis Action Team for Marine Forces Central Command and Marine Forces Pacific.

In 1997, he was elected National President of the Marine Corps Reserve Officer’s Association. His decorations include the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, and Navy Commendation Medal.

Now I don’t know much about military service, but I can tell that Harp’s time in the USMCR was action-packed and extraordinary. His bio reads like that of an action hero such as Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan or Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne.

It should come as no surprise then to learn that Andy Harp, gentleman author, has just published his first novel and it’s a military/techno thriller titled A Northern Thunder (Bancroft Press, 2007).

In his debut, Harp introduces Will Parker, a Marine reservist plucked from retirement with a mission to infiltrate North Korea and identify the communist country’s leading military scientist, a former roommate of Parker's, who’s developing missile technology to undermine other countries’ satellite surveillance systems.

Parker’s mission is made all the more difficult when the North Koreans dispatch their top assassin to eliminate any international competitors or obstacles that might hinder their deadly project.

Now, Will Parker is not just a retired USMC reservist, he’s also a small-town Georgia lawyer. Who else do we know with such a résumé? Mr. Harp himself of course!

Although I have not yet read A Northern Thunder, I suspect that Harp’s bio gives Will Parker an authenticity that will resonate with readers, particularly those with a military background.

Harp’s plot is well chosen with the North Korean nuclear threat currently looming in the American psyche. The terrifying possibility of North Korea firing a preemptive nuclear strike against the U.S. has been played out in the international media for the last few years and international diplomacy has so far failed to come up with a permanent resolution to such a threat. A Northern Thunder has an eerie timeliness about it.

The release of A Northern Thunder will be tomorrow, November 15, at 7PM, at a book signing at Barnes & Noble, 2900 Peachtree Road, in Atlanta’s Buckhead.

In conjunction with the release, Harp has launched the book on the web at, and also with a video book trailer, produced by Hollywood filmmaker Jordan Bloch, on YouTube.

As Harp says in the media press release,
“We wanted to release this book in a big way. While it is fiction, A Northern Thunder exposes some mind-blowing military satellite and other technology that is little known, but certainly in existence…. Even more than being a page-turner, I wanted this book to be realistic.”
Publishers Weekly has said of A Northern Thunder:

“The secondary characters aren’t nearly as convincing as Harp’s descriptions of satellite technology, submersible suits, and the like. But Parker has resilience, foresight, and fortitude to spare, and North Korea’s repressive regime and rugged terrain make for deadly opponents.”
I’m not qualified at this point to offer an opinion as to whether or not Harp has achieved what he set out to. I am just impressed by another “gentleman author” who has, by dint of sheer force of will, written and published a book that may turn out to be a huge seller.

Congratulations to another emerging Georgia author.

[I welcome your comments and questions about this or any other Cover to Cover blog entry. Email me at I look forward to hearing from you.]

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A Little Salvation

A question for you: who is Georgia’s greatest living poet?

Regular readers of this blog will remember my August 28 post titled “Three Women Poets from Georgia.” One of the three, Natasha Trethewey, won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for poetry for her third collection Native Guard (Houghton Mifflin, 2006).

A graduate of the University of Georgia and now on the faculty at Emory University in Atlanta, Natasha Trethewey might therefore be considered Georgia’s greatest living poet.

Since 2000, when he was appointed by Governor Roy Barnes, David Bottoms has been the Georgia’s Poet Laureate. The Georgia State University professor garnered national attention when his first book of poetry, Shooting Rats at the Bibb County Dump, was chosen by Robert Penn Warren from a pool of more than 1,300 as the winner of the 1979 Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets.

Bottoms has published a further five collections of poems and two novels. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, and was awarded the Levinson Prize from Poetry magazine. His poems have appeared in such publications as Harper’s, the New Yorker, the Atlantic and Poetry.

David Bottoms, therefore, might be considered Georgia’s greatest living poet.

And let’s not forget Bettie Sellers, poet of the North Georgia Mountains, who for many years taught at Young Harris College. She received a Governor’s Award in the Humanities in 1987, and in 1997 she was named Poet Laureate of Georgia by then Governor Zell Miller. In 2003 she received the Stanley W. Lindberg Award which recognizes outstanding contributions to the literary life of Georgia.

Sellers has published four collections of poems and a study of the life of Byron Herbert Reece, another North Georgia poet who taught at Young Harris until his suicide in 1958. Now in her early 80’s, Sellers has been a longtime influence on the poetic life of this state.

Bettie Sellers might then be considered Georgia’s greatest living poet.

But now I’d like you to consider another name, one you might be familiar with as a novelist rather than a poet.

Judson Mitcham is the only Georgia novelist to have won the Townsend Prize, Georgia’s top fiction award, twice; in 1998 for The Sweet Everlasting and again in 2006 for Sabbath Creek.
Recognized as a superb fiction writer, Mitcham is actually primarily a poet. His first collection, Somewhere in Ecclesiastes, was published by the University of Missouri Press in 1991 and won the Devins Award. In 2003, This April Day came out from Anhinga Press.

His poems have appeared in such publications as Harper’s, the Georgia Review, the Chattahoochee Review, the Gettysburg Review, Poetry and the Southern Review.

Mitcham, who for thirty years taught psychology at Fort Valley State University before retiring in 2004, now has a third collection to his name.

The University of Georgia Press has just published A Little Salvation: Poems Old and New.
The “old” poems are from his previous two collections, but the “new” poems refer to forty-two new pieces, each with one-word titles and arranged alphabetically from “Art” to “Zero,” in the book’s first section Oblique Lexicon.

There follow twenty-three pieces from Somewhere in Ecclesiastes in section two and thirty-two from This April Day in section three.

Writing in The New Georgia Encyclopedia Companion to Georgia Literature, UGA English professor Hugh Ruppersburg encapsulates Mitcham’s writing in the following way:

Examining basic human themes within the specific landscape of Georgia, Judson Mitcham’s writing is both poignant and powerful…. In both his novels and his poetry, Mitcham’s elegiac voice looks backwards with fondness and discernment on a personal and regional past slipping rapidly beyond reach.
That sense of loss Ruppersburg identifies, a sense that what has passed meant something but what is to come has no meaning, is easily noted in poems in Oblique Lexicon such as “Never,” “Lyric,” and “Dead.”

The press materials accompanying the review copy of A Little Salvation, describe the collection with these words:

Wise, witty, and deceptively plainspoken, Mitcham’s poems show how the moments that truly save us—that make us human—are necessarily the most fleeting. It is up to us, he reminds us, to create meaning from those moments, and in doing so to create our own salvation.
The transitory nature of human experience is both the boon and the bane of the existence of the speakers in these poems, and every poem seems to recognize its own temporality, trying to find meaning rather than a definitive answer to the questions it raises. The tone of these poems combines a strong sense of humor with a pervasive feeling of loss, both celebrating and mourning that “a true note is still so hard to hit.” These voices revel in the human condition even as they are often saddened by it.
Mitcham, who now teaches creative writing at Mercer University in Macon, is one of those rare birds who has never had any formal literary training. His degrees are in psychology and he spent thirty odd years as a college professor teaching in his area. His writing has been nothing more than an avocation, all be it a fairly serious one.

Now, with the publication of A Little Salvation, I offer you Judson Mitcham as a potential candidate for the accolade of Georgia’s greatest living poet.

The competition is stiff. You decide.

[Comments and questions about all these blog entries are encouraged. Email me at I look forward to hearing from you.]

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

I Never Knew There Was So Much In It!

They say that good things come in little parcels. That certainly is true for a book that came in the mail back in September. I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to write a blog entry about it since it arrived, and now I guess is the time.

Museums of Atlanta: A Guide for Residents and Visitors (Westholme Publishing, 2006) details a surprising 68 museums located in Metro Atlanta. Written by Scott W. Hawley and Kevin L. Crowe, this pocket-sized book lists complete contact information, hours of operation and admission charges, and even has a listing of museums by type.

Listed in the Appendix are the Ten Museums for Children, for Teenagers, for Art and Architecture, for the Civil War, and for Science and Technology, to name just a few.

The Top Ten “Essential” Museums listed will come as no surprise: The High, Atlanta Cyclorama, Fernbank Museum of Natural History, the Margaret Mitchell House etc. Some of the lesser known places, however, are in some ways more fascinating than the “big boys.”

For example, the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art is the only institution in the U.S. to specialize in works “by and about women of the African diaspora.” The museum traces its origins back to 1899.

Georgia Tech is home to a very unusual museum that sounds absolutely fascinating. The Robert C. Williams American Museum of Papermaking is located in Tech’s Institute of Paper Science and Technology.

Invented in AD 105 by a Chinese government official, paper is one of the most basic elements in our daily lives. The museum documents the origins and global spread of paper from China to Korea, Japan and on to Europe, and also focuses on the history of the first paper mill in Georgia built at Scull Shoals on the Oconee River by Zachariah Sims in 1811.

The Museum of Design Atlanta (MODA) in Downtown is “one of only a handful of museums in the United States dedicated exclusively to design.” An affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, MODA’s mission is to “explore the impact of design on our daily lives.”

Emory University’s Michael C. Carlos Museum was founded in 1920. Filled with works of art from Egypt, Greece, Rome, the Near East and Pre-Columbian America, the museum houses the largest collection of ancient art in the Southeast. The Carlos also holds collections of sub-Saharan African art and European and American woodcuttings and sketches.

For Civil War enthusiasts there’s the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield, the Southern Museum of the Civil War & Locomotive History and the Marietta Museum of History.
If you prefer your Civil War fictionalized there are three museums devoted to Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind: the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum in Midtown, the Marietta Gone With the Wind Museum: Scarlett on the Square, and the Road to Tara Museum in Jonesboro.

Authors Scott Hawley and Kevin Crow have produced an invaluable resource for residents and travelers alike, and this little book (140 pp) should do wonders for Atlanta’s cultural tourism.

When I was growing up in Britain, one of the magazines that could regularly be found in our house was the TV Times, the British equivalent of TV Guide if you like. I remember one of the magazine’s ad campaigns on TV that included the slogan “I never knew there was so much in it!”

The same can be said both for Hawley and Crow’s Museums of Atlanta, and indeed for Atlanta itself.

[I always welcome feedback to my blog entries. If you have comments or questions about this entry, please email me at]

Monday, November 5, 2007

Georgia Reviews

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you will remember that at the beginning of August I posted an entry about the latest issue of The Georgia Review (August 8, 2007). I sang its praises, describing it as “one of this country’s outstanding literary magazines.” Deserved praise this was.

I recently received the fall 2007 issue in the mail and it is as exciting and as cutting edge as ever.

“Cutting edge” is not a phrase many would think of attributing to the journal. It has always maintained a somewhat staid persona, but this has always been deceptive. The contents have always brought new, bold and progressive authors and artists to the attention of the literati. The current issue is no different. The cover is a striking image that, with a casual glance, you might think is a Vermeer painting. In fact it’s a photo image by the photojournalists Kael Alford and Thorne Anderson whose work is the featured art in this issue.

When the U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003, the two photojournalists traveled to the country and began a project to document the other side of the conflict: the effect of the war on the lives of Iraqi citizens.

In 2005 both Alford and Thorne, along with two other photojournalists, produced a book that includes some of the photos that appear in The Georgia Review. The book, published by Chelsea Green Publishing, is called Unembedded: Four Independent Journalists on the War in Iraq.

It’s not just the Review’s art that is “edgy.” The literary stuff is too. For me, one of the highlights of this issue is the first published fiction of Georgia author Janisse Ray.

Ray has made an impression with such nonfiction works as Ecology of a Cracker Childhood and Wild Card Quilt: Taking a Chance on Home. She has appeared on Cover to Cover, March 2000, and certainly made an impression on me.

Her contribution to the Review is a fiction piece entitled Pilgrimage. Ray proves that she’s a literary heavyweight by conquering both literary nonfiction and now fiction. She’s a Georgia author to watch and to read.

Ray is not the only Georgia author represented in this issue. Kennesaw State University creative writing professor Greg Johnson also appears. Johnson is the author of twelve volumes of fiction, poetry, criticism and biography. He was my guest on Cover to Cover in March 1999 when we talked and took calls about his short story collection Distant Friends.

In the Review, Johnson contributes an extended critique of five recently published short story anthologies entitled The Best and the Briefest.

The issue contains the usual mix of fiction, essay, art, poetry and reviews, and it also marks a milestone. For thirty years, Gerald Weales has contributed his annual fall American Theater Watch. Weales is an octogenarian who completed his Ph.D. at Columbia and has devoted his life to teaching and reviewing drama.

I noticed on the title page of this issue that there’s a new member of the Review’s editorial board. Sarah Spence is a professor of Classics at UGA. Her research interests focus primarily on Vergil’s Aeneid, but she is also an expert on the literature of Medieval France. (She was also my major professor when I was working on my Ph.D. at UGA. I’m embarrassed to say that I never completed my dissertation and I know this must have been a great disappointment to her).

For eight years Spence was the founding editor of Literary Imagination, the official journal of the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics. Both the ALSC and Literary Imagination began as a reaction to the trend in American literary studies away from the beauty of the text itself to the social contexts of such art.

Spence is one of those critics who believes in the primacy of the literary text above all else. Her addition to the editorial board of The Georgia Review can only mean good things.

The Chattahoochee Review is published by Georgia Perimeter College, part of the University System of Georgia. The editor is the young and dynamic Marc Fitten, a man who is totally immersed in all things literary. Marc is an acquaintance and I can vouch for his literariness, or is that literarality?

The spring/summer 2007 issue of The Chattahoochee Review features a special focus section on Georgia author Byron Herbert Reece. Included are poems by Reece as well as some previously unpublished writing by him.

The special section also includes articles by Hugh Ruppersburg and Terry Kay. Ruppersburg is the Senior Associate Dean in the College of Arts and Sciences at UGA and also a professor of English specializing in Southern Literature. His article is titled “Ralph McGill, Jesse Stuart and the Rise of Byron Herbert Reece.”

Terry Kay’s contribution is “Some Thoughts on Reece, Religion and the Dramatic Moment.” While unusual to see a critical rather than literary piece from Kay, no one is more familiar with or more qualified to comment on Reece’s work. Both authors share a common heritage and a developed literary vision, and both come from North Georgia farming stock.

Mildred Greear, a member of the Byron Herbert Reece Memorial Advisory Board and resident of Helen, Georgia, contributes “Emma’s Lullaby,” a poem prefaced by the dedication “In memoriam Emma Law, mother of Byron Herbert Reece.”

There are other Georgia contributors to this volume of The Chattahoochee Review. Thomas Lux, who holds the Bourne Chair in Poetry at Georgia Tech where he directs the McEver Visiting Writers Program, has four poems in the volume, and David Ingle, assistant editor of The Georgia Review, has one.

There are also poems by two faculty members teaching literature and creative writing at the University of West Georgia: Chad Davidson ("American Cheerleader" and "Nostos") and Gregory Fraser ("Blood" and "Stubble").

Robert Parham, Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences at Augusta State University and editor of the Southern Poetry Review, also has a poem, "A Mother’s Laugh," published in this issue.

Even though The Chattahoochee Review is a national, even international, review, this issue is well-represented by Georgia authors. Thank you Marc Fitten and these Georgia poets and critics.

I hope the preceding shows you the breadth and depth of the literature that is published in this state and spurs you to rejoice in Georgia’s literary legacy. We are fortunate to be surrounded by such creativity and quality. Thank you Georgia!

[Comments? Questions? Email me at I look forward to hearing from you.]

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

William C. Harris Returns

Yesterday my heart rejoiced when I opened a package that I knew from the address label had been sent by a publisher. Inside was the Advanced Readers Copy (ARC) of the new novel from William C. Harris, Jr. [pictured left].

This is something I know many people around the state have been waiting for. Harris’s first two novels, Delirium of the Brave (1998) and No Enemy But Time (2002) were both exceedingly popular; but for the last five years there’s been nothing, nada, rien, niente!

But now the drought is over…well it will be in March 2008 when Wassaw Sound is published by Frederic C. Beil of Savannah (the original publisher of Delirium of the Brave).

Harris has appeared on Cover to Cover twice before. In April 2000 the show focused on Delirium of the Brave, and in October 2002, No Enemy But Time was the topic of conversation.

Harris is a wonderful man. Savannah born and bred, he sets his books in that fair city and along the Georgia coast that he loves dearly. He enjoys nothing more than cranking up the Admiral Graf Spee, his boat, and sailing along the waterways and inlets that feature prominently in his books.

Harris is the type of author that I admire in a special way. He, and Sandersville’s William Rawlings, are what I would call “gentleman authors"; their writing is an avocation and they have a “real” job which takes up most of their time. Both Harris and Rawlings are doctors-the former a podiatrist, the latter an internist-and might therefore be compared to the doyen of Georgia physician/gentlemen authors, Ferrol Sams.

In fact, Harris retired from medecine several years ago, and Rawlings has as many different occupations as there are gators in the Okeefenokee: physician, author, historic preservationist, estate manager, world traveler, to name those that I know about.

I remember the first time I met Harris. I was interviewing him at our studios here in Atlanta when Delirium came out. He told me that writing a novel was something he just decided to do one day when he’d become bored with a succession of hobbies and his wife warned him it wasn’t healthy for him to sit around in front of the TV every night without anything to do. So, having grown tired of clay pigeon shooting, painting model soldiers, and researching local history, he sat down at his computer and began what was to become Delirium of the Brave.

What Harris writes are not so much novels as sagas. His narratives range over decades and centuries as he tells the stories of the Irish-Catholic families who have been leading lights in Savannah for so long.

Delirium for example begins during the Civil War and concludes in the present, while No Enemy opens during World War II and travels up to the present.

Wassaw Sound spans almost 60 years of Savannah history, from the 1950’s to the present. At the center of the story is an historical event; a hydrogen bomb was jettisoned into Wassaw Sound in February 1958 by a damaged B-47 bomber. Despite an exhaustive search by the military, the bomb, nicknamed the “Tybee Bomb,” was never found.

Once again this story is structured around historical fact. As Harris says in the book’s Prologue,
Although it is fiction, Wassaw Sound is historically and technically correct; the locations in the story are all real and accessible. Most of the characters are, at least to some degree, based on actual people I have known. With some of the lesser characters, I have used their real names.
As with Harris’s previous books, Wassaw Sound may revolve around the story of the Tybee Bomb, but it’s about much more than just that; as the publisher’s letter that accompanied the ARC states, the book is about “the power of lifelong friendships, the pain of unrequited love, the fruitlessness of unfettered hatred, and the magnificence of faith and its power to overcome.”

As I mentioned earlier, the Georgia coast in the environs of Savannah has a special place in Harris’s heart. In his earlier books, readers are treated to vistas of the built environment of Georgia’s First City. Now in Wassaw Sound he reveals the beauty and splendor of the marshes, rivers, and islands that lie to the east of the city.

So be prepared for March 2008 and the publication of Wassaw Sound, William C. Harris’s new and much-anticipated novel. He is a masterful storyteller, and another three hundred plus pages of his writing are sure to please readers both in Savannah and elsewhere.

[As always, if you have comments or questions about this blog entry, please email me at Thank you for your feedback.]

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

October's Cover to Cover: The Sacred Place

Anyone who listened to Sunday’s Cover to Cover on GPB Radio will know that the show was recorded earlier in the week before an audience at the historic Douglass Theatre in Macon, Georgia.

My guest was Clark Atlanta University professor and novelist Daniel Black and we talked and took audience questions about Black’s second novel, The Sacred Place (St. Martin’s Press, 2007).

Black first appeared on Cover to Cover in July 2006 when we took listener calls about his debut novel They Tell Me of a Home (St. Martin’s Press, 2005), the story of a young man's return to and reconciliation with his roots in rural Arkansas.

The Sacred Place tells a different kind of story, one that focuses on a community rather than an individual.

Set in Money, Mississippi, in 1955, the book is based on the murder of Emmett Till, an event that became one of the catalysts for the Civil Rights’ Movement.

The Cover to Cover taping at the Douglass Theatre was well attended by a diverse audience whose members were eager to ask questions. Given the nature of the subject matter, it was no surprise to me that the conversation that ensued between Daniel, myself and the audience was substantive and therefore refreshing; it was satisfying to hear race talked about with honesty and respect, something that Daniel commented is desperately needed in America.

The Sacred Place fictionalizes the Emmett Till murder and dramatizes its impact on the black community in Money. But don’t think that this book is a mere retelling of this tragic episode in American history.

What Black has given us in The Sacred Place is a text that is at once a powerful story told with conviction and nuance, and a sociological study of how attitudes within black communities all across the South toward their oppression began to change as society changed in the wake of the Second World War and events like the murder of Emmett Till.

Black weaves his story together by focusing on three different but equally important relationships; the delicately balanced status quo that exists between blacks and whites in Money; the sometimes fractured relations between members of the black community; and the relationship between black folks and God.

Jeremiah Johnson, patriarch of the family under siege by racist whites, is forced to consider closely what different courses of action might mean to himself and to his family as he strives to protect them. He knows violence will be visited upon them when members of the white community seek revenge for the perceived insult Jeremiah’s grandson, Clement, gave to a white store attendant.

Fourteen-year-old Clement was born and raised in Chicago. Visiting his grandparents in Money for the summer, he one day enters the general store to buy a soda. He makes the mistake of placing his money on the counter rather than in the woman attendant’s hand, and, when she insultingly demands he put the nickel in her hand, he walks out of the store, adding over his shoulder “Slavery been over.”

The Johnson’s know that white retribution is almost assured, and that Clement is in danger. In deliberating over what to do to protect his family from mob violence, Jeremiah visits a hidden glade in the nearby forest that had been the special place of his son older son Jerry.

Jerry had come across the glade by accident as a boy and had found in its lush green grass, wildflowers, butterflies, and scents something akin to the Garden of Eden. It came to be known as the “sacred place,” and had been a refuge, a source of inspiration and a place to commune with God for black folks.

It was also the place years before where Jerry had chosen to hang himself after seeking violent revenge on the white men who had raped and beaten his wife. He knew his violence would bring the white mob looking for him, and he took the preemptive strike of taking his own life before the mob could do it for him.

Now looking for guidance and answers in the sacred place, Jeremiah receives an epiphany that allows him to move forward and do what he needs to do.

He now understands that the only way the black residents of Money can overcome the oppression forced on them by the dominant white society is if the black community unites and acts together. That solidarity is the key to their freedom.

But perhaps more importantly, in the sacred place, Jeremiah also comes to see his relationship with God in a new way. The long-held belief that the Christian thing to do in the face of injustice is to turn the other cheek and pray, gives way to a faith embodied in action. He realizes that God can only act in the world through human agency and that the Lord is not calling his community to suffer in silence. They hold the key to their liberation: to rise up in the spirit of God and oppose those who seek to keep them down.

What Black dramatizes here is the changing zeitgeist within black communities that developed as a result of events such as the murder of Emmett Till. There was a theological transformation, think Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that gave black folks the wherewithal to face their oppressors and demand civil rights.

It is precisely this aspect of The Sacred Place, that encapsulation in story of how the Civil Rights Movement began out of horrors such as the brutal beating of Emmett Till, that makes this such an important book.

The Publishers Weekly review of the book is not exactly glowing. The concluding comments state

Unfortunately, Black...stocks his novel with stereotypes—from the downtrodden
blacks to the dumb, bigoted rednecks—who speak in phonetically rendered
dialogue.... The clumsy, heavy dose of Christianity and rudimentary portrayal of
racism will also limit appeal.
I don't think the reviewer has seen the subtleties in Black's text nor fully understood the force behind the story.

Black is to be congratulated and thanked for telling these truths and engendering the kind of discussions that took place at the Douglass Theatre last week.

If you missed the program, don’t worry, it will be rebroadcast this Sunday, November 4 at 10AM on GPB Radio. Tune in to your local GPB station (except WUGA/91.7FM in Athens), or listen online at The program will also be archived on the Cover to Cover pages of the GPB site.

[As always, if you have comments or questions about this blog entry, please email me at Thank you for your feedback.]

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Charles Edward Flynn, May 4th, 1934-September 27th, 2007

I apologize for not having posted a blog entry since the end of September. My father passed away September 27, and I left immediately for Britain to be with my family and help arrange the funeral.

[Pictured: The Flynn family at home in 2004. Caroline (my sister), me, Dad and Mum]

Life has been something of a whirl since the day my father died, and only now am I finally getting back to some sense of normality.

I hope you will indulge me. I gave the eulogy at my father's funeral and I'd like to share the text of what I said with you so that you may get some sense of the man he was.

Charles Edward Flynn
4th May 1934 to 27th September 2007
Delivered at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church
Sawston, Cambridge
Friday, October 5, 2007

There are things in life we pray we never have to do; important things we know will be beyond our capabilities, like resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for example; or little things we know will just disgust us too much, like shaking hands with a politician; or significant things that no sane person would agree to tackle because of the sheer complexity of the task at hand, like giving the eulogy at Charles Flynn’s funeral.

The only reason I’m doing this now is because I was in Atlanta last week when Dad died and they asked for volunteers to give his eulogy. I was the only person who didn’t take a step back.

My father was, to quote Winston Churchill, “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma,” and no one in their right mind wants to try to unravel and make sense of the layers of that puzzle in front of a church full of mourners.

However, as his only son, I feel it is my duty to talk to you about Charles Flynn because I loved him and that love drives me to bring understanding to a life that otherwise some might not appreciate.

There is an adjective used often in America to describe a certain type of person. That adjective is “ornery.” It might be used in the following way, “Boy, Charles sure is ornery today,” meaning “Charles sure is acting like a complete curmudgeon today.”

I was actually quite taken aback when I first heard “ornery” used in Georgia. I had never heard the word before and so, like the good literature graduate student I was, I went to look it up in the dictionary. Imagine my surprise when I turned to the appropriate page, traced my finger down the column of words and, when I got to “ornery,” saw a picture of Dad.

One of the things I want to tell you about my father today is that he was a fun person. Humor was something that was tremendously important to him. He loved classic English comedy, first on the radio and then on television. He soaked up The Goons, Tony Hancock, Morecombe & Wise, The Two Ronnies, and Dave Allen. He read the books of Spike Milligan; he had a fined-tuned appreciation for the piano playing of Les Dawson. And he never failed to laugh when Ernie told Eric about the latest play what he wrote.

A few years ago, in anticipation of this eulogy, and knowing that I would need proof to convince the congregation at his funeral that my father was not completely ornery, I put together a set of questions and asked him to write down his answers. You know the kind of thing, those celebrity Q & As you see in OK! or Hello!

Here are the questions and my father’s answers:

Q: Favorite music? A: Anything in plainchant. It used to be Madonna until I found out it wasn’t the Madonna I was thinking of
Q: Favorite drink: Gin? Beer? Wine? Whiskey? A: All of the above
Q: Favorite wine? A: Red
Q: Favorite pastimes or hobbies? A: Performing my ablutions
Q: Heroes? A: Benson & Hedges and Johnnie Walker
Q: If you could meet one famous person from history, who would it be? A: Sir Walter Raleigh
Q: Favorite sayings? A: Semper in excremento, sole profundum qui variat [I’m always in the crap, it’s just the depth that varies]
Q: Boxers or briefs? A: Neither. I go commando!
Despite what was a developed and heightened sense of humor, Dad was always inscrutable.

Inscrutable. You could never exactly pinpoint what was going through his mind at any given moment. He was not a man given to wearing his heart on his sleeve. His modus operandi was much more subdued; there were emotions he felt very comfortable with – humor and anger, for example – but others were rarely evidenced as they were feelings he found difficult to process.

I always wished he would be more demonstrative and I spent a long time lamenting what I saw as his deficiencies. But as I grew older and experienced my father in more detail, I came to understand why he was the way he was. And I came to appreciate that, like all of us, he was a man shaped by his environment. In his case, however, I think the environment that shaped him was not as gentle as it might have been.

Born in 1934, Charles Edward Flynn was the only child of old parents, both of whom were well into their 40s when he was born. He always spoke fondly of his years as a pupil with the Sisters of Mercy at Crackley Hall outside Kenilworth. As it was wartime, the school was evacuated to Stoneleigh Abbey and Dad often used to tell us of the time he and some of the other pupils and nuns were strafed by gunfire from a German plane as they ran to take cover.

He went on to be educated at Bablake School in Coventry (as all the best and brightest are!), and was then sent to boarding school at Sacred Heart College in Droitwich. He always had many great stories to tell about his time there, and how much trouble he got into, and the friends he made, and the priests who taught him.

These stories always spoke of a zest for life. Here was someone for whom the world was an oyster, someone who came from good working-class stock and would take the very best traits from his family and parlay them into a more comfortable existence.

That he did, although not necessarily easily. The difficulties he experienced, and there were many, came from within.

In order to understand my father we have to understand that he was someone that time left behind. He spent so much of his life looking backward at what had passed and hankering for the time it would return. He was not a great lover of change and he did not adapt to it well, and while not a Luddite, he clung to modes of being and thinking that he thought would preserve that past for him.

You will have by now picked up on his love of Latin. To him this language of a long-gone age was the essence of the world he had once known and lived in comfortably. It was the language of the Church as he was growing up, and as such, it was the language of praise and worship. It was also a mystical entity, not understood by all and not appreciated by all; but for him it was the language that expressed the mysticism of faith and the nature of God. The Tridentine Mass was the rite of worship he had grown up in, and when, in the early 1960s, the Second Vatican Council promulgated a new form of mass celebrated in the vernacular, Dad was lost.

He stayed away from the Church for several years, and when he did return you could see in his bearing that he was yearning for the intimacy and refinement of the Latin Mass.

Latin continued as one of the threads of his life. When I was 11, I was one of the cast members of the Coventry Scouts’ Gang Show. Dad was away working in Scotland on opening night, but I remember arriving at the stage door before the show and being handed an envelope addressed to me. Inside was a telegram from Dad wishing me and the rest of the cast best wishes for opening night. He signed it “Pater Tuus,” “your father.”

There were other examples of his taste for the past. July of 1985 saw two family celebrations fall on consecutive days. July 16th was Mum and Dad’s 25th wedding anniversary and the 17th was my graduation from university.

At home Dad had been collecting 20 pence pieces. I can’t remember how long he’d been collecting the coins, but several weeks ahead of these celebrations, Dad said he thought we should cash in the coins and use the proceeds to buy bowler hats for each of us to wear at the anniversary and graduation.

The bowler hat had never been an integral part of my wardrobe, but it had for Dad. As a young, newly married accountant, he was working in Birmingham and took the train every morning to work. He wore the standard work uniform of the day: dark suit, white shirt with starched collar, furled umbrella, briefcase…and bowler hat. Of course, 25 years later the bowler hat had been eclipsed by, well, nothing. While I was not in the habit of wearing a bowler to lectures every day, I thought Dad’s idea was quaint.

He cashed in the coins and off we went to Dunn & Co. in the Coventry city centre. They had bowler hats and we selected the appropriate sizes. Dad then asked about getting them fitted. The young sales assistant looked at Dad like he was from Mars; he had absolutely no idea what Dad was on about. When the Manager came over and explained that there wasn’t much call for hat fitting these days, Dad was furious. He marched out of the shop, without the hats, and I was left to apologize.

We eventually bought the hats from a Dunn & Co. store in Birmingham.

Another of Dad’s throwbacks to the past was the pair of pince-nez he bought, presumably from an antiques shop or estate sale. For those who may not know, pince-nez were the precursor to spectacles as we know them today. Instead of two bars either side of your face that hooked over your ears, the nose grips were spring-loaded and could be pressed open and placed on the bridge of the nose where they sat. Pincer is the French verb meaning "to pinch," and le nez is the French for “nose”. This device literally “pinched your nose.”

The family went out for a meal at a restaurant one evening and Dad insisted on taking his new pince-nez with him. The frame and lenses were attached to a small gold chain which had an ear piece on the end so you could hook them over your ear and leave them dangling when they weren’t on your nose. When the waitress came to take our order, Dad took the dangling pince-nez and perched them on his nose and began to look at the menu. Not being used to wearing such an item, he couldn’t keep them on his nose, and the lenses weren’t his prescription either.

That waitress must have gone back to the kitchen with our order and said “You should see the guy at table 3. He thinks he’s Prince Albert or something.”

Dad was a faithful letter writer. He wrote to me very often when I was at university and then when I moved to the States. I still have his letters, and reading them over again I am struck by just how funny he could be, and also touched by his persistence; he would often begin by saying something like “Not that much has happened to your Mum and I since I last wrote but…” and he’d go on to mention anything he thought might interest or amuse me.

He often used to cut things out of The Times and include them in his letters. It might be a letter written to the Editor, or some piece of trivia, or an amusing anecdote. Here’s one that I’ve kept. It’s the text of a notice behind the bar at the Tan Hill Inn, the highest pub in England, on Tan Hill, Yorkshire. It reads:

“The landlord smokes, his wife smokes, all the staff smoke, most of the locals smoke, those that have made it up the hill need a smoke. If the wind is in the east the pub smokes. So if you want a smoke-free zone, go outside.”
There’s one Times cutting that really sticks in my mind because it seems to sum up so much about Dad, his love of Latin, his hankering for the past, and his strong sense of humor. The cutting reads:
Capsellarum magnetoscopicarum theca - the Latin for video rental store as given in the Vatican’s new Latin dictionary.”
Dad was notorious for his smoking. Whenever the telephone rang there was an almost Pavlovian response from Dad: he’d pick up his cigarettes, take one out, light it and then answer the phone. In a world that increasingly rejected smoking, Dad resolutely held out. He seemed to know half the Catholic Episcopal hierarchy in England because he met them after some celebration mass when they were outside having a smoke.

Dad would suddenly disappear from functions so he could go outside to smoke. He smoked for almost 60 years, and although he paid a physical price for it, he enjoyed it. So much so that when Mum, Caroline and myself went to see Dad at the funeral director’s earlier this week, we put a new pack of 20 Superkings in his jacket pocket in the coffin, so he’d have what he needed for the journey to Heaven or across the Styx.

In fact, it would not surprise me in the least if Dad were outside the church right now smoking a cigarette and thinking to himself “I never brought St.John up to be so prolix.” Would someone please check for me?

I’m just waiting to hear, through some divine prophecy or a Marian vision, about Dad’s reaction when he gets to the Pearly Gates and he’s waiting in line with his bowler hat and pince-nez and the ever-present cigarette between his fingers, and just as St. Peter opens the gate for Dad to enter, the Great Saint looks at Dad and points to a sign in Latin on the gate post which reads: Tibi gratias agimus quod nihil fumas, “Thank you for not smoking.”

I said earlier that Dad was a man that time forgot, and I think throughout his life he sought to recreate bygone eras as a way of once more getting to grips with a world he could know and understand. There were events in his life that I think left an emotional scar on him and destabilized the world as he understood it.

When he was 17 he was diagnosed with pleurisy and was confined to bed for 6 months. This obviously had an impact on his education, and perhaps on how he was treated by his parents, as there were great suspicions that “pleurisy” was a code word for tuberculosis.

Dad’s mother refused to attend his wedding to Mum. I can’t imagine what affect that must have had on him.

Several years later he found out that, despite all he’d been told, he was not an only child but indeed had a half-sister, someone he’d always been led to believe was his cousin.

These were things that shook his confidence in a world he’d been led to believe was his for the taking. The hurt he inevitably suffered he internalised, but he clung to those things that he felt could bear him up: the Church and its Latin, articles that had once been commonplace in his world such as the bowler hat or pince-nez, and of course his family.

He loved us in the best way he knew how. He wasn’t given to sentimentality, but he’d make us laugh, let us laugh at him, share in our sorrows and our celebrations, and do little things to put his stamp on things in our lives.

As a final tribute to this great man laid out before us in his coffin, I want to dig into the past to celebrate all that he was and all that he gave to me.

I know Dad was proud of the fact that I did so many years, too many years maybe, of Latin.

When I was preparing for Latin A-level, one of the prescribed texts we had to study was the poems of the first century B.C. Roman poet Catullus. To this day he remains one of my favorite poets. I have even taught him in translation to my undergraduates at the University of Georgia.

One Catullus poem has always stood out for me because of the depth of sorrow it expresses. Catullus’s brother had died while on a foreign civil service posting and his funeral had to be carried out in the absence of any family. Later Catullus himself takes a post in that same region and visits the grave where his brother’s ashes are buried.

Here is that short poem, in English translation:
Carried over many seas, and through many nations,
Brother, I come to these sad funeral rites,
to grant you the last gifts to the dead,
and speak in vain to your silent ashes,
since fortune has stolen from me your very self.
Ah alas, my brother, taken so shamefully from me.
Yet now, receive these sad gifts
which by the ancient custom of our fathers,
have been handed down as offerings to the dead,
take them, soaked deeply with a brother’s
tears, and forever, brother: ‘Hail and Farewell!’
We have come from far and wide to pay tribute to my father according to the long-established rites of the Church. And as a final goodbye to this great man, let me amend slightly Catullus’s last line and commend Charles Edward Flynn to the joys of Heaven as he would want, that is, in Latin.

And so I say to you Dad,

In perpetuum, pater, ave atque vale.