Archive for May, 2021

Last week marks 70th anniversary of school walkout in Prince Edward County, Virginia, as featured in The Road to Healing

Monday, May 24th, 2021 by Suzanne La Rosa

Seventy years ago, sixteen-year-old Barbara Johns led a walk-out at R. R. Moton High School in Farmville, Virginia, in protest of Jim Crow segregation, specifically the so-called separate-but-equal education policies which had been the law in the South since Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. The school Johns attended indeed was separate, but it was in no way equal to the White public schools in the same county. NAACP lawyers Oliver Hill and Spottswood Robinson supported the walk-out students by filing a federal lawsuit against the Prince Edward County school board. The original suit failed, but its claims were folded into Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark 1954 ruling in which the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Plessy and declared school segregation to be unconstitutional. Barbara Johns’s reward for this victory was harassment by the Ku Klux Klan and the closure for several years of all public schools in Prince Edward County as local White officials did all they could to avoid and delay desegregation.

72ppi 354-RTH jacket v300Half a century later, the activism of Johns and the other walk-out students had been largely forgotten before journalist Ken Woodley discovered the background story of school closures in Prince Edward County while working for the Farmville Herald, the local newspaper in his and Johns’s hometown. Woodley told the resurrected story in articles and editorials and led a campaign for reparations for the years of lost education. In the end, Woodley took the campaign all the way to the governor’s office and secured both a public apology and scholarships for those affected by the Prince Edward County school closures. Woodley’s moving and inspiring memoir, The Road to Healing, shares the story of his and others’ efforts to make right the societal ills in his small Virginia town. The tale reminds readers that even small gestures can go a long way toward repairing the social fabric of our country.

Rod Davis, author of East of Texas, West of Hell, joins National Book Critics Circle board, continues to shine with writing, reviewing career

Wednesday, May 5th, 2021 by Matthew Byrne

If you’ve read East of Texas, West of Hell, you will likely say crime noir is the specialty of Rod Davis. Considering it’s the second in a noir series after the award-winning South, America, you would not be wrong. But that statement scarcely scratches the surface where his talents are concerned. Davis is that rare writer who is a fine storyteller known for hisCorinas Way engrossing plot lines but whose books also manage to provide a heady, textured examination of culture and place. Corina’s Way, his first book published with NewSouth Books, won the prestigious PEN/Southwest Award for Literary Fiction and remains one of the finest works about the cultural gumbo that is New Orleans. Blending ethnic and religious cultures in a fine piece of Southern fiction, Corina’s Way is a “roller-coaster story” (Charles Ealy, Dallas Morning News) set in “a world most of us will never get to visit” (San Antonio Express-News) that “begs for a sequel” (Eric Nye, Biloxi Sun Herald). Kirkus Reviews wrote that the book is a “lighthearted but spicy bouillabaisse. In the tradition of Flannery O’Connor or John Kennedy Toole: a welcome romp, told in an old-fashioned style and with traditional Southern charm.”

You can be sure, though, that Davis isn’t resting on his laurels. In fact, he’s spreading the love to other writers through his excellent work as a book critic and journalist. See, for example, Davis’s expert and personal analysis of German author Uwe Johnson’s Anniversaries for The Baffler. “Of late, my eyes occasionally moisten, and I pretend it’s allergies,” he writes, describing how the massive Anniversaries left him emotional. “Who are these writers that try to reach us? What have they sacrificed to be famous, or even to be read by one other human being? What do they want to tell us? What do we want to hear? Uwe Johnson knew. It was his gift to us. The Great American Novel that came from Germany.” Wow. Did you ever want to read a massive German novel so badly? It’s this kind of incisive and moving criticism that led to Davis’s appointment to the National Book Critics Circle Board, a high honor indeed. We feel comfortable knowing that Davis is one of many hands on the wheel steering the future of American literary criticism.

Speaking of wheels, 2020 also saw the publication of Davis’s new book East of Texas, West of Hell, a neo-noir Southern crime epic that sees protagonist 1588384160Jack Prine travel across the South in search of a past lover’s lost daughter. Behind the wheel of his beloved Jeep, Prine finds that the truth is far more complicated than it might seem and that his ghosts are following him west. This thrilling and brutal tale has been recommended by D Magazine, the Houston Chronicle, and San Antonio’s Gemini Ink, all trusted cultural sources in Davis’s home state of Texas. Publishers Weekly calls East of Texas, West of Hell a “maelstrom” and a “crime powerhouse.” Don’t worry if you aren’t that familiar with Southern noir either, as Davis eloquently explains this exciting new subgenre in a piece for CrimeReads.