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.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Bonfire: The Siege and Burning of Atlanta by Marc Wortman

2009 marks the 145th anniversary of the fall of Atlanta during the Civil War, so Mark Wortman's book is a timely look at this fascinating chapter (some would say dark chapter) in Georgia's history. Wortman has a journalist's flair for keen insight and detail, and above all he tells a good story.

Like most of my interviews, 30 minutes proved all too short to ask the author everything I was interested in. Some of the ones I posed to Marc Wortman: How does a guy with a Ph.D. in comparative literature from Princeton get interested in Atlanta and the Civil War?

One of the things in his book that most intrigued me was the fact that we now take it for granted that Atlanta is an important city, that it's the Gateway to the New South, the home of Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, the Atlanta Braves, Home Depot, CNN, Coca-Cola, etc., but the Atlanta he describes wasn't all that big or seemingly all that important as a city. Wortman writes, "Few people in the North or among Union military officials had heard of Atlanta before the outbreak of the rebellion." How then did two great armies find themselves in and around Atlanta in the summer of 1864? And why is Atlanta's fall directly credited with paving the way for Lincoln's re-election the following November?

A book like this is full of fascinating characters, among them of course William Tecumseh Sherman. He obviously plays a very prominent role in this book, and in fact Wortman gives him the very last word. Even today, his name evokes fierce passions and emotions in Georgia. And yet, when he returned to Atlanta in 1879, Wortman writes that "few people in Atlanta remained ill disposed toward Sherman." How is that possible? I'm quite certain that wouldn't be the case now, 145 years later. Last year the Georgia Historical Society had a public program about Sherman, and we received numerous letters and emails from people across Georgia (and the rest of the country) vehemently denouncing him. How was it possible that "few" of the Atlantans who actually lived through Sherman's siege were so forgiving in 1879?

Finally, with the Civil War's 150th anniversary fast approaching, there will be commemorative events across the country. One of the questions I like to pose to writers of Civil War history: What do the events in your book still have to teach us in the 21st century?

by Stan Deaton

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Back to the Future (And to Wilcox County)

We featured James Braziel on Cover to Cover about eighteen months ago when we switched to the new format. We talked about his elegiac debut novel Birmingham, 35 Miles. He’s recently published a follow-up novel, Snakeskin Road, and we thought it would be nice to do a follow-up interview, of sorts.

Again, the setting is the near future wasteland of the U.S., roughly forty years after an environmental disaster brought about by the nation’s consumptive tendencies. The ozone layer has been ripped asunder and the inhabitants of the scorched earth fight for survival in what becomes a morbidly self-serving world. Mat Harrison was the hero of Birmingham, 25 Miles, but he didn’t survive for the sequel.

Instead, for most of Snakeskin, we follow his widow, Jennifer, and her reluctant charge, Mazy, as they try to make their way northward to the city-state of Chicago, where Jennifer’s mother lives and where life may or may not be more manageable. Braziel uses his future world as a canvas upon which to blend the hues of a handful of timely concerns, including human trafficking, the perils of dogmatic religious pursuit, and xenophobia. But chief among his foci is of course our stewardship of our natural resources.

Despite the poignant attention given the subject in each of the novels, I don’t think it really occurred to me until reading Braziel’s Southverve blog how much of a sacred space he gives to the environment in his life and in his writing. So maybe I should just direct you here:

But really, I want to direct you to his fine sophomore effort, Snakeskin Road, and to Cover to Cover this Sunday on the GPB Radio network. Remember, we’re on at 6 PM in the Athens area and at 8 PM in most other parts of the state. Please join us. (Oh, and if you’re from Wilcox County, where Braziel grew up, make doubly sure to tune in. During the interview James wondered aloud if anyone there read his books!)

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Former AJC Reporter Tells Tale of Murder, Bridge and the Great Depression

Gary Pomerantz honed his skills as a reporter at the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and it was while he still lived in Atlanta that he wrote what is widely considered one of the best and most important books ever authored about the city: Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn: A Saga of Race and Family. With the same narrative skills that gave that work, and subsequent others, such vividness, Pomerantz, who now teaches at Stanford University, earlier this year published The Devil's Tickets: A Night of Bridge, A Fatal Hand, and a New American Age.
This latest work focuses on a once notorious Kansas City murder case. But, with the attorney for the defense being one-time presidential candidate Jim Reed, and the killing having taken place after a game of Bridge, a craze that would captivate the country during the ensuing decade of the Great Depression--thanks in large part to a larger-than-life impressario named Ely Culbertson, Pomerantz's tale is truly a panorama of the era, full of wonderfully colorful characters, significant historic detail and astute social commentary.
Like in his writing, Pomerantz in conversation is brimming with energy and finds intrigue and excitement in whatever subject he immerses himself. He is the sort of fellow with whom you could talk for hours. Alas, Cover to Cover only last 30 minutes. For a little more of Pomerantz, however, he will speak about his book at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library in Atlanta on Thursday, September 24 at 7 p.m.

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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Incomparable Voice of Pat Conroy

Pat Conroy's South of Broad, the Atlanta-born author's first novel in 14 years, raced to the top of the New York Times Bestseller List almost immediately upon its August publication, showing the enduring popularity of Conroy's distinctive Southern voice, lush prose, and inevitably wounded characters.

Despite his immense popularity, Conroy is as affable and self-effacing as any interview subject I've had the pleasure of hosting on Cover to Cover.

Deadpanning that his popularity was based on how "shallow" his stories are but also claiming that his editor, Nan Talese, destroys the magnificent 1000-page manuscripts he turns in ("she writes the checks"), Conroy understands the kind of writer he is--and how he connects with his audience--and the kind of writer he is not.

South of Broad is, as most Conroy novels are, many books in one. Primarily Conroy describes it as a "love letter" to Charleston, South Carolina. In the novel, though, Conroy takes his characters out to another favorite city of his--San Francisco--where the focus is the early years of the AIDS epidemic, which Conroy experienced first-hand. Another theme of the book is the power and workings of life-long friendships, and of course, he writes of dysfunctional families, abuse, mental illness, racial and class injustice and, the meaning of being Southern.

Ultimately, though, fans of Conroy cherish his books for his incomparable prose style, which he still renders in long-hand, and which, as he discusses in the interview, he plans to put to work next in a book focused on his long-time home of Atlanta.

And, he's pledging to try and finish that sooner than 14 more years.

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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Raven Lover, Poet, Novelist

I had the pleasure of first meeting George Dawes Green at The Moth in Savannah, Georgia. This one of a kind story-telling ensemble, was founded by Green back in 1997. It mimics evenings spent on his friend Wanda's porch in St. Simons Island. Green and his friends would gather there to drink and tell stories. Moths would find a way into the porch and flutter around the light. The Moth travels all over bringing story telling to life like never before. It has become such a popular event, that most Moth slams are usually sold out. They attract raconteurs from all walks of life with an occasional celebrity or three thrown in for good measure.

Green has published three novels to date. The latest, Ravens, just hit bookstores this summer. It is a thriller set in Brunswick Georgia about a family who has just won millions, but whose fate takes a twist downhill when two drifters from up north show up and hold the family hostage. It is a gripping, humorous, under the covers kind of read.

His other novels, both highly acclaimed - The Caveman's Valentine (1994) which won an Edgar Award and The Juror (1995) were both made into major motion pictures.

When Green isn't writing he is bringing The Moth coast to coast and across the ocean. The story-telling not-for-profit group has become a -not to be missed- sensation.

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