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Archive for February, 2016

Harper Lee remembered by Bob Zellner

Monday, February 22nd, 2016 by Suzanne La Rosa

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Bob Zellner, civil and human rights organizer and NewSouth Books author of The Wrong Side of Murder Creek, offers a personal reflection on the passing of literary great Harper Lee, who died on February 19; she was 89.

A great Alabamian has died. When I first read Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, I could tell the author was a Southerner by her description of the cordite smell of green pecan hulls and the indelible green stain they leave when crushed by young bare feet.

It also reminded me of the time when I got my first BB gun. Daddy sternly admonished me never to aim at anything I did not intend to kill. Especially, he warned, do not kill a mockingbird. Walking outside with my birthday gun in the spring of 1945 I saw a mockingbird perched in the top of a bush way over there in the back yard. Thinking I could not possibly hit a swaying bird with my very first shot, I aimed and pulled the trigger. To my absolute horror the bird slowly toppled to the ground and lay perfectly still. Not even considering a cover up, I rushed over and cupped the warm carcass in my hand, walked back in the house, and showed it to Daddy, knowing he was going to tear me up as only a Southern Methodist preacher could whip a willful six-year-old. Teacher, pastor and father in one package, the Rev. James Abraham Zellner taught me a good lesson that day. Maybe a God lesson. “I’m not going to whip you today, Bobby,” he said, “because you have just proved the wisdom of what I told you. You’ll remember this your whole life: Never kill a mockingbird.”

Harper Lee’s classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, was one of hope, young hope. Her last, Go Set a Watchman, a sad acknowledgment of the incredible power of racial hate in my home state of Alabama, reveals that Atticus was a Kluxer. She gives us one more reminder about how America, especially the American South, has yet to confront, admit, and rectify the original sin of legal racialism enshrined in its founding documents — African Americans were three fifths of a person.

When President Barack Obama won in 2008 only 11 percent of Alabama white voters could bring themselves to pull the lever enabling a black man and his family to move into the White House. So maybe it’s fitting that Atticus Finch — a huge hero in the early sixties for mounting a tepid and legally flawed defense of a black man in a Southern court — turned out to be a stone racist.

No wonder the South, as revealed by the Presidential campaign, is still the most reliable exponent of racial extremism. Are we indelibly stained by green pecan shells and the rank odor of racism or will poor and working class Southern whites finally scrub out that damned spot? We must stop voting against our own economic interests. Rich white people, “one percenters,” may indeed profit from racism, but poor and working class Southerners never have and never will. We have, along with black people, been grievously wounded by our racist practices. I believe that Harper Lee, and all the progressive folks who surrounded and sustained her, would agree with me that sisterhood and brotherhood is not so wild a dream as those who profit by postponing it pretend.

Bob Zellner, SNCC/NAACP

Bob Zellner’s memoir The Wrong Side of Murder Creek: A White Southerner in the Freedom Movement is available in print and ebook from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookstore.

Andrew Glaze, Alabama poet laureate, dies at 95

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016 by Suzanne La Rosa

Andrew GlazeOn February 7, 2016, Andrew Glaze, Alabama’s eleventh poet laureate, died peacefully in his sleep in his home in Birmingham, Alabama. He was 95 years old. He was an American master, who wrote with astonishing vigor and clarity for more than 60 years.

In 2012, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley commissioned Glaze as the state’s eleventh Poet Laureate at a ceremony at the State Capitol in Montgomery. More recently, in June 2015, Glaze was inducted into the inaugural class of the Alabama Writers Hall of Fame.

Andrew Glaze is the author of ten books of poetry and two published collections of his selected verse. He won critical acclaim with the publication of his first book, Damned Ugly Children, a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize in 1966. He has been twice published by NewSouth Books — his poetry collections Remembering Thunder and Overheard in a Drugstore were released in 2002 and 2015, respectively.

In his verse Glaze was (playfully sometimes) both Titan and fallen angel. His poems were odes to our collective humanity, ever exhorting us to reach for our better selves, to reach for the truth.

In his praise for Overheard in a Drugstore, poet Pablo Medina calls Glaze “a true American poet in the vein of Whitman, Williams, and Frost,” and adds that there isn’t a page in his new book that doesn’t sing, a line that doesn’t point in the direction of greatness.” William Doreski says Glaze has been “an essential poet for more than sixty years.”

At NewSouth Books, we mourn the loss of our prodigiously talented friend, but are consoled to think maybe that our Mr. Glaze was at peace about his own passing. Read the following poem published in Overheard in a Drugstore not six months ago, and see if you don’t agree.

Tomorrow Ill Be Gone

Ill go west up the cart path

first thing this morning

to the top of the Palisades,

and coming around the edges of old rock quarries

         spring

         once,

in a certain way

and sail out over the river

like an angel.

From up there

at last I will take a long look

at the sunrise,

with nothing whatever in the way.

Not a worry or consideration

about refueling,

no vibration sickness,

not a reminder of the time for coffee.

I will slide out over Block Island

and Sandy Hook.

Maybe I will flap off to Europe,

maybe not.

Who knows how I will feel under those circumstances?

         Anyway,

I will be back for dinner

upon the chimneys of the White House

served upon confusion of purpose

and loftiness of aim.

I will be given a free ticket

upon the Pennsylvania Railroad,

but I will not be troubled to use it.

Of course it will not be long

before the whole world

will have set out to look for me

obsessed with what it will call patriotism

or commitment or admiration,

by which it will mean inverted love.

And while I am dropping strawberries with notes from above,

everybody will be plodding

around through the snow

in astrakhans and knee boots

asking for me.

But in every case, as they arrive,

I will have just that minute come in

through the front door

and taken wing at the back.

(Copyright Andrew L. Glaze, 2015)

Remembering Thunder and Overheard in a Drugstore are available from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookstore.

Country Bookshop staffer Bill Maher on Forsaken: “Has heart and wisdom of To Kill a Mockingbird”

Friday, February 5th, 2016 by Lisa Harrison

Forsaken receives a beautiful endorsement from bookseller Bill Maher at The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, NC. With poetic simplicity, he calls Forsaken “haunting, riveting. Has heart and wisdom of To Kill a Mockingbird.” The photo he sent to us is a lagniappe.

Forsaken author Ross Howell Jr. will read from and sign copies of his new novel at The Country Bookshop on February 11, 2016 at 5:30pm.

AJC, Richmond Times-Dispatch review Forsaken by Ross Howell Jr.: “An unforgettable debut novel”

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016 by Lisa Harrison

Forsaken by Ross Howell Jr.Forsaken by Ross Howell Jr. had an auspicious publishing debut this week, with stellar reviews from the Richmond Times-Dispatch and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in addition to being featured in O. Henry Magazine and The Charlotte Observer. The outstanding notices herald Ross Howell Jr.’s author tour; he will stop at dozens of bookstores and libraries throughout the South, and will be a guest presenter at several book festivals, beginning February 4.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch calls Forsaken, “An example of historical fiction at its best — and proof that fiction sometimes can reveal truth to greater effect than journalism or history. Forsaken generates anger, and pity, and ultimately hope. And it will leave you in awe of Howell’s deft hand in rendering a story of the benighted past that finds resonance in the present.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution adds, “A story unearthed from old newspapers, a searching look at the facts, eloquent testimony and behind-the-scenes evidence: Forsaken is the fair trial Virginia Christian never had, in which the innocent are justly treated, the guilty finally charged. Ross Howell Jr. captures the atmosphere of early 20th-century Hampton, Virginia, from courthouse to countryside, as vividly as he does its seething, racial inequities. An unforgettable debut novel.”

O. Henry Magazine’s Bookshelf column featured a profile of Ross Howell Jr. In the piece Howell recalls growing up in segregated Floyd County, Virginia. He talks about coming across the case of Virginia Christian while researching another crime, and discovering the dissertation of Dr. Derryn Moten, now acting chair of the history department at Alabama State University. An excerpt from Forsaken follows the interview with Howell.

The Charlotte Observer features a quote from novelist Jill McCorkle, who says that in Forsaken Howell has “vividly recreated a sensational crime firmly rooted in history.”

Forsaken is available from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookstore.