Archive for May, 2014

Oklahoma raves over Clifton Taulbert’s The Invitation

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014 by Savannah Szabo

The Invitation by Clifton TaulbertIn his new book The Invitation, best-selling author and inspirational speaker Clifton Taulbert describes the transformative experience he had in accepting a professional invitation to supper in Allendale, South Carolina. Accompanied by haunting childhood memories of segregation in the form of “Little Cliff,” Taulbert courageously faces the feelings that have come to the surface (and the table) in this captivating memoir that returns to the themes of his award-winning book Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored. A feast of reviews and interviews in Taulbert’s current hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, has been set in preparation for the book’s debut as well.

The Tulsa World’s James D. Watts described the memoir as “a journey that would make Taulbert confront his own past in profoundly unsettling ways.” Watts claims that in The Invitation, Taulbert “atomizes his ever-changing reactions to what is going on around him, examining every situation from the standpoint of the present, his memories and learned history.”

In an interview on the Writing Out Loud program with Teresa Miller of the Oklahoma Center for Poets and Writers, Taulbert discusses the deep-rooted feelings that he had stowed away and which ultimately inspired him to write The Invitation. Miller asked if it had taken him this long to come to grips with those feelings and Taulbert responded, “It’s challenging to stop and say that the lingering lessons of race in place still follow you like a shadow … but Little Cliff, that inside voice that remembers the way it was, is still there.”

Taulbert was also featured on Public Radio Tulsa’s StudioTulsa program to discuss The Invitation. Host Rich Fisher said “[Taulbert] reminds us that while overt-racism is mostly a thing of the past, scars run deep. And his book, The Invitation, documents his own journey to remembrance but overcoming that past.” Fisher praised The Invitation as “a really important read for everyone … it’s getting at some of the contemporary issues that face people of [Taulbert]’s generation. It’s a world that has changed drastically, and yet there is always, as you write in your book, a Little Cliff reminding you of how things used to be.”

Ray Pearcey of the Oklahoma Eagle, a local African American newspaper, exalted Taulbert’s talent for storytelling and describes him as “a person who bears his soul, both as a thinker and as an emotional being — a feeling, often deeply exposed while on the road.”

Clifton Taulbert (The Invitation) introduces Kathryn Stockett (The Help) at a March 27 presentation fro the Oklahoma Center for Poets and Writers

While presenting his book in Oklahoma, Taulbert also had the opportunity to introduce Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, at a March 27 presentation for the Oklahoma Center for Poets and Writers (pictured). Taulbert and Stockett were both born in Mississippi. Reviews have said that Taulbert’s The Invitation “[continues] the conversation inspired by The Help.”

Read the Tulsa World review, watch Writing Out Loud, and listen to the StudioTulsa interview at the links.

The Invitation by Clifton Taulbert is available in hardcover and ebook from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookseller.

Julie Williams’s “secret” service: author avoids spilling beans to Laura Bush that both were winners of Ella Dickey Award

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014 by Lisa Harrison
Author Julie Williams (A Rare Titanic Family) and former First Lady Laura Bush, winners of the Ella Dickey Literacy Award at the 2014 Cherry Blossom Festival in Marshfield, Mo.

Author Julie Williams sent this missive from her recent appearance at the Cherry Blossom Festival in Marshfield, Mo.

It’s darn hard for a reporter to keep a secret.

True, 100 percent of journalists will be asked to keep something off the record, and generally 99 percent of them will do so. But when the secret involves yourself, it’s another matter entirely.

I write this from the tiny town of Marshfield, Mo., population about 4,000. And yet the town every year invites celebrities and historic figures — and people like me — to the annual Cherry Blossom Festival. This year the Cherry Blossom Committee somehow got hold of my book, A Rare Titanic Family, read it, liked it, and contacted me with the information that I had won the festival’s Ella Dickey Literacy Award. The award honors books that have preserved history.

I had never heard of the festival so asked politely where it was. When I was told it was in Marshfield, Mo., I Googled the town and found it wasn’t all that far from my two sisters’ homes. “How nice that a little town wants to give me an award.” I thought naively. “I guess I’ll accept, since maybe I can see my sisters when I’m up there.”

And then the e-mails and Facebook posts started pouring in about the Cherry Blossom Festival. Descendants of presidents would be there. Stars of The Andy Griffith Show would be there (some of them, anyway), as well as some stars of The Waltons. Queen Elizabeth’s cousin would be there, too. Rev. Billy Graham’s daughter would lead the Prayer Breakfast, and Laura Bush, the former first lady, would speak.

As I found out purely by chance, six of us would share the Ella Dickey Award, including Laura Bush.

Having learned much about PR and advertising as a practical matter of publicizing my books, I did a dance about this unique publicity opportunity. I’d tell the world in a press release that I’d won the same award as Laura Bush!

“Oh, don’t do that!” Nicholas Inman begged. Inman is the organizer of this festival, an aficionado of the presidents and celebrities who is fearless about contacting people in those lines of work and persuading them to come to Marshfield. “Mrs. Bush doesn’t know she’s won the award yet.”

Thus began the weeks-long process of biting my lip to keep that secret. Loose lips sink ships, you know. But it was excruciatingly hard.

I at least consoled myself that Mrs. Bush and I would be standing on the same platform with the same medal draped around our necks, and our picture would therefore be taken together.

“No,” Inman said sadly. “Mrs. Bush can’t be there for the award ceremony. She’s flying in to speak at a gala dinner after your ceremony, and she won’t get her award till then.” Aha! That explained why she didn’t know about the award — and wouldn’t till she got there.

He brightened up and added, “But you’re welcome to come to the gala dinner!”

The dinner cost $150, which is certainly not the kind of thing I normally find in my meager wallet. I told that to Inman, who had a great idea. “Say! You teach journalism!” he said. “Why don’t you apply for press credentials to cover Laura Bush!”

What a great idea! The Crimson was good enough to place me on staff and assign me the story as a faculty profile piece. Now I could get in to Laura Bush’s event! Even better, Inman pulled some strings so I could have my picture taken one on one with Laura Bush by a professional photographer.

Dennis Jones, my colleague in the JMC Department, is retiring, and I had to ditch his retirement party in order to cover Laura Bush. He said, “Tell Laura for me that I love her.”

“I will, Dennis,” I promised.

As I found out quickly, the Secret Service was wound up tighter than a top and ready to spring into action. It made me feel slightly guilty somehow in everything I did. I was supposed to turn my camera in to be vetted, apparently to make sure it was not booby-trapped, but the very hour the camera was to go to the Secret Service, I was in my award ceremony. My camera stayed with me — it’s rude to run out on one’s own award ceremony, after all. That meant I wouldn’t be taking any photos myself.

At least, I told myself, I’d have my picture professionally taken with the former first lady.

I trekked through rain and then hail to the community building behind the local high school, where the Secret Service was letting in a few people at a time for the photo op with Mrs. Bush. A Belgian shepherd police dog stood in the door, making sure everyone behaved.

I stood in line behind Jim-Bob from The Waltons and had no trouble talking to him at all. It’s trendy here for all award-winners to wear their medals, and he politely commented on my medal, and I chatted with him and found out what he’s up to — he doesn’t act any more and doesn’t recommend it.

Then it was my turn. Laura Bush, graciously smiling for the endless string of well-wishers and remaining perfectly coiffed in spite of the hail, her pink dress and pearls looking not a millimeter out of place, greeted me graciously and indicated that she had noticed my medal. I started to say, “I won the same award as you, and I’m so proud of that!” when I realized she wasn’t wearing a medal and clearly hadn’t gotten hers yet. It was still a dead secret! “Don’t say it!” I screamed to myself.

As I was already halfway through the sentence, I croaked out, “I won an award.” What a stupid thing to say!

I sought to salvage the moment by adding, “My colleague Dennis Jones is retiring, and his retirement wish was that I give you the message that he loves you.” Just at that moment, the professional photographer said, “Smile!” and we turned to face the camera with a smile.

The light flashed, and Laura Bush turned back to me and said, puzzled, “Your dentist loves me?”

So yes, I sounded like a babbling idiot to the former first lady. She was very gracious and, I reassured myself, had probably heard such babbling before.

But we got the same award. And I kept the secret. I hope that counted for something.

Read a press release from the American Journalism Historians Association about Williams’s award.

A Rare Titanic Family: The Caldwells’ Story of Survival, about relatives of Williams who survived the sinking of the Titanic and how it affected their later life, is available from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or from your favorite bookstore.

Junior Ray Says: Memphis Gets a Royal Flush

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014 by Brian Seidman

Junior Ray, the irrepressible narrator of John Pritchard’s Junior Ray novels, sent these thoughts about the royal princes’ recent visit to Memphis, Tennessee.

At first, because it was Meffis, I thought it had to be the bobbakew. Otherwise I couldn’t see no other reason for anybody to come to Meffis, TENNessee, all the way from England. Plus I seen the picture in the National Informer of them two boys, whose grandmama is the queena-England, high-steppin it into the Rendezvous Restaurant to get some ribs. But if it wuddn Meffis bobbakew that brung em, I figured the only other reason for em to come here woulda been to pay a visit to the Magic Pussy Cabaret & Club, only they was too late for that, cause the law closed it down. And I am sorry they missed it.

The whole thing about them princes bein just forty miles up road was pretty puzzlin — till it become clear: One of their England buddies was marryin the granddaughter of the Meffis man who invented the motel — the Holiday Inn! — which, as you might know, happened right up there in Meffis back around 1952. I mean, son, if the motel was gon’ be invented, Meffis was sure ‘nough the place for it. In fact the most surprise’n thing to me is that it took anybody around this part of the country so datgum long to come up with a better place to go do you-know-what besides in the backseat of a forty-nine Ford, ‘specially when you consider the mosquitoes and the heat.

Anyway, that was it — the queena-England’s two grandboys come here to whoop it up in a weddn at the Hunt and Polio Club way out in East Meffis, which is where a good many of our big shots live when they aint in Florida.

On the other hand, I reg’n them Princes can go to weddns anytime they please over in England, wherever the hootydoo that is, but — I’d say, as a bonus — Meffis is the only place I know of they can get the world’s best ‘kew — with all white meat, pulled, slaw, a pot o’beans . . . and sauce on the side.

Junior Ray appears in John Pritchard’s trilogy (and growing!) of “Junior Ray” novels, which Publishers Weekly called “hilariously tasteless”: Junior Ray, The Yazoo Blues, and Sailing to Alluvium.

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove: NewSouth authors one thread in the tapestry of his life

Thursday, May 1st, 2014 by Savannah Szabo
Guy and Candie Carawan, authors of Sing for Freedom. (Courtesy Patheos)

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is tireless in his efforts to promote peace and community in his native North Carolina and elsewhere throughout the South. His biography is a colorful tapestry of both Civil Rights and faith-based threads. It tells of a celebrated speaker at churches and conferences covering all denominations and backgrounds; a spiritual writer in the New Monasticism movement; the founder of the Rutba House, where the formerly homeless can regain a sense of community; and the director of the non-profit School of Conversion, where he is “making surprising friendships possible.” The list goes on and on. So it was with great delight that we read his back-to-back blog postings about authors published by NewSouth Books who’ve been an inspiration to him.

In one posting, “A Conspiracy of Silence? Listen to Our Grassroots Leaders,” Hartgrove both praises Bob Zellner, author of The Wrong Side of Murder Creek, and criticizes our national civil rights leaders in their failure to support grassroots organizing. In an apt and amusing analysis, Hartgrove likens Zellner’s life to Forrest Gump’s in its “unplanned quest of self-discovery.” “For over 50 years, Bob Zellner has walked alongside some of America’s most important voices for justice,” Hartgrove observes. “Which is why his question is so important: why have civil rights organizations themselves fallen silent about the most effective grassroots organizing in the country?” Hartgrove’s posting discusses the NAACP Convention’s embarrassing attempt to silence civil rights activists, and other disappointments for the modern Civil Rights movement in North Carolina and the South, and also the shining beacon of hope that is Rev. William J. Barber.

His conversation with Candie Carawan, co-author of Sing for Freedom: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement Through Its Songs, can be found in a separate post that commemorates the passing of Pete Seeger, influential folk singer of the Freedom Movement. Candie Carawan and her husband Guy (pictured, above) were fellow singers and close companions of Seeger’s, and lifted their resonant voices with him during the national struggle for justice.

Of their collective contributions Hartgrove says, “Those who sang with Pete felt hope, and it inspired them to press on together. No song from his repertoire is better know than ‘We Shall Overcome,’ which became the anthem of the Freedom Movement around the world. (I’ll never forget listening to little kids on the streets of Baghdad singing it while American bombs fell in 2003.) Though Pete learned the song from tobacco workers at Highlander Folk School, it was his friend at Highlander, Guy Carawan, who taught the song to members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), just after they had started the sit-in movement in 1960. Candie, one of those students from Fisk University, ended up marrying Guy and singing with him for the next half a century.” Carawan and Hargrove agree on the central role folk music played in building a sense of community and achieving social change, and Carawan acknowledges Guy’s debt to Seeger: “Pete was a model for Guy of how you could use your artistry and your love of folk music to support peoples’ struggles for justice.”

Read “A Conspiracy of Silence? Listen to Our Grassroots Leaders,” and “Remembering Pete Seeger & the Power of Song with Candie Carawan”, by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, at the Patheos website.

Sing for Freedom and The Wrong Side of Murder Creek are available from NewSouth Books or from your favorite bookstore.