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.

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Historical Novel of Transformation

Set in New Orleans in the years after the Civil War, A SEPARATE COUNTRY is a novel based on the incredible life of John Bell Hood, arguably one of the most controversial generals of the Confederate Army--and one of its most tragic figures. Robert E. Lee promoted him to major general after the Battle of Antietam. But the Civil War would mark him forever. At Gettysburg, he lost the use of his left arm. At the Battle of Chickamauga, his right leg was amputated. Starting fresh after the war, he married Anna Marie Hennen and fathered 11 children with her, including three sets of twins. But fate had other plans. Crippled by his war wounds and defeat, ravaged by financial misfortune, Hood had one last foe to battle: Yellow Fever.

A SEPARATE COUNTRY is the heartrending story of a decent and good man who struggled with his inability to admit his failures--and the story of those who taught him to love, and to be loved, and transformed him.

The book's author, Robert Hicks, came to fiction after a successful career in music publishing. His primary interest was to bring greater attention to his hometown of Franklin, TN, the scene of the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. The result was the bestselling THE WIDOW OF THE SOUTH. Hood's defeat at Franklin, and his controversial post-war reputation, made him an irresistible subject for Hicks' follow-up. As did Hood's ultimate home of New Orleans, a city with which Hicks has a long history and deep affection.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

How is this night different from All Other Nights?

Considering she’s already published three novels, it might surprise you to hear that Dara Horn is in her (very) early thirties. Perhaps even more surprising is that she has also earned a PhD in Comparative Literature from Harvard University. Add to that she’s raising three children, and well, you’ll just have to take my word that she’s a remarkable woman.

I can also attest that at least the latest of those three novels is a remarkable book. You might recognize All Other Nights from many of the ubiquitous year-end “Best Of…” lists. It certainly deserves to be there. The story follows Jacob Rappaport, a Union spy, through his travails from New Orleans to Richmond during the Civil War. Along the way he meets a whittling girl, a fetching pickpocket, a bloodthirsty Southern Belle and a child that speaks in palindromes…and that’s just in one family.

Some characters are actual historical figures. Perhaps the most enthralling of these is Judah Benjamin, Secretary of the State for the Confederacy. Horn brought a Confederate two-dollar bill to the interview, which features Benjamin’s profile, and we talked about Benjamin’s important but precarious place in the ill-fated Confederate nation. He was Jewish, and partly because of this, he drew the ire of both Northerners and Southerners. Of course, the idea of a man who was very much a minority holding high office in the CSA is rife for all sorts of literary exploration involving allegiance, identity and motivation. Horn does a remarkable job with this exploration by subsuming the discourse into a very captivating story line involving all sorts of espionage and intrigue.

Dara Horn’s work at Harvard focused on Hebrew and Yiddish literature, so she brings a wealth of understanding to the complexity of this subject. It’s a complexity germane to Southern literature and culture, I think, because it implores us to examine, through storytelling, who we are and why our history is important to us. And most of all, it’s a wonderful read.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Hand Me My Travelin' Shoes

Michael Gray’s Hand Me My Travelin’ Shoes: In Search of Blind Willie McTell (Chicago Review Press) is an exhaustive reconstruction of McTell’s life and times. It will surely stand as the definitive work on the man Michael Gray calls “the greatest blues singer Georgia has ever produced” and “The finest 12-string guitarist of his generation, barnone.”

Beginning in the 1990s, Gray made several trips to Georgia searching for information about McTell. His interest endured years of frustration. (He was even rousted by security officials while trying to photograph the Milledgeville state hospital where McTell died.) Nonetheless, he finally assembled a family tree which includes over 100 of McTell’s relatives, beginning with the singer’s white great-grandfather who fought in the Civil War under Robert E. Lee.

Hand Me My Travelin’ Shoes is the portrait of a self-sufficient man who was blind from birth, a gifted black musician who moved freely about the American South during the mean years of segregation. When he died in Atlanta at the age of 56, McTell was just short of the early 1960s folk revival, which most certainly would have embraced him as a major figure. Despite this historical mischance, recognition for McTell would begin to grow within a months of his death. In 1983, Bob Dylan stepped forward to say, “Nobody can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell.” McTell’s “Statesboro Blues” has become universally known as a Southern Rock anthem as played by the Allman Brothers. McTell was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1990.

Michael Gray writes for the UK Guardian and many other publications. He’s the author of several books, including The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia and The Elvis Atlas: A Journey through Elvis Presley’s America.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Motel of the Stars

The novel, The Motel of the Stars is set in Kentucky and North Carolina. It takes place on the eve of the tenth anniversary of the Harmonic Convergence, a new age event where the planets align signaling more peaceful times ahead.
The book tells the story of Jason Sanderson, a foreclosure expert working in the eastern part of Kentucky. He travels to a burned down motel in Kentucky to begin foreclosure proceedings. By chance he meets his son’s former girlfriend, Lory Llewellyn. The two of them are still dealing with the loss of Jason’s son and Lory’s boyfriend, Sam who died ten years earlier while in the military.
The book combines a sometimes satirical look at New Age philosophy with the very powerful emotion of grief and loss.
Author Karen McElmurray is on sabbatical from her job as a professor at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville. Her other books are, Strange Birds in the Tree of Heaven, which won the Thomas and Lillie D. Chafin Award for Appalachian writing in 2001, and Surrendered Child: A Birth Mothers Journey. The book is a moving memoir of McElmurray and her decision to place her son up for adoption.

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Don't Leave Hungry: 50 Years of Southern Poetry Review

The idea of Southern literature rankles some writers. There are those who rather would disassociate with the region, saying there's more to their writing that the place they were born. Other writers embrace a Southern identity to the point of caricature. And just what defines Southern literature, anyway? Writer, subject or both?

This question of Southern literature is frequently talked about in terms of fiction, but Southern poetry is rarely discussed. In this conversation for Cover to Cover, GPB's weekly program about books, Orlando Montoya talks with the editor of a new anthology chronicling 50 years of Southern Poetry Review.

James Smith, the editor of "Don't Leave Hungry" and the associate editor for the venerable journal, makes the case for a journal that has staunchly stuck to a founding -- and some might say, provocative -- vision of Southern poetry. Namely, it doesn't always have to be about the South.

Smith reads three poems, including one by U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins. He also talks about the journal's founder, Guy Owen, and what made him tick. And he explains how the journal has -- and hasn't -- changed over the years. Smith also teaches at Armstrong Atlantic State University. "Don't Leave Hungry: 50 Years of Southern Poetry Review" is published by the University of Arkansas Press.
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