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Peter O’Toole remembered by Lawrence of Arabia assistant director Ibrahim Fawal

Friday, December 20th, 2013 by Brian Seidman

The Disinherited by Ibrahim FawalAuthor Ibrahim Fawal (On the Hills of God, The Disinherited), born in Ramallah, Palestine, worked with renowned director David Lean as the “Jordanian” first assistant director on the classic Lawrence of Arabia. He sent this remembrance of actor Peter O’Toole, who died this past month.

I am proud to say that I had a very friendly relationship with Peter O’Toole when I was working as the first assistant director on Lawrence of Arabia in the Jordanian desert in 1961. In fact, he and Omar Sharif promised to dance at my wedding, which was to take place right after production of the movie ended. Due to unforeseen circumstances and a delayed production schedule, they missed my wedding, but that did not prevent big crowds from jamming the streets and the church, expecting the two stars to be in attendance.

One of my most vivid memories of working with Peter O’Toole took place early one morning, when David Lean asked me to go find Peter, who was late for the shooting of a certain scene. When I found Peter, he was in his luxurious tent, getting dressed. I urged him to hurry up, as we were late for the first morning shot. As we walked out of the tent, into the desert, with the blue sky and miles and miles of utter tranquility around us, he was still buttoning his shirt. Suddenly, he stopped walking, and the next thing I knew he was raising his hands up toward the sky, shouting “Hey God, where are you?” Stunned by the sudden outburst, I asked what he was doing, but he kept looking up, repeating, “Where is He? Where is He?” It was a powerful moment, one that stayed in my subconscious for more than 40 years. It was later included as a scene in my book, The Disinherited.

What a magnificent opportunity to work with a legend like Peter O’Toole. Now he’s with his elusive God, at last.

The PEN Oakland award-winning On the Hills of God and its sequel The Disinherited, by Ibrhaim Fawal, are available in hardcover and ebook from your favorite bookstore.

No Holiday Cheer in Poverty Statistics

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010 by Randall Williams

As Southern members of Congress continue to say “no” to most safety-net and stimulus proposals, the grim reality is that poverty is deepening across the nation and especially in the region.

According to a report issued today by the Southern Education Foundation (SEF), extreme poverty in the United States increased during 2009 by 12.9 percent, expanding the number of people living below 50 percent of the poverty threshold by more than 2.1 million. As a result, extreme poverty was the fastest growing income group in America last year, and the South’s share of the increase was almost twice that of any other region of the country.

One out of every 16 Americans – 18.8 million people – lived on less than seven to ten dollars per day at the end of 2009. This number of persons was larger than the combined population of 15 US states.

Analyzing recently released Census data, SEF’s update on extreme poverty notes that half of the additional 2.1 million persons who fell into extreme poverty during 2009 resided in only seven states, including four Southern states: Texas, California, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, New York, and Ohio. The 15-states of the South had 45.3 percent of the nation’s increased population in extreme poverty – almost twice the share of any other region.

Among states, growth rates for extreme poverty were over 20 percent – highest in the nation – in Colorado, Kansas, Utah, Idaho, and Missouri. The five states with the next highest rates of growth were all in the South: North Carolina (19.7 percent), Florida (18.7), Tennessee (18.6), Alabama (18.5), and Georgia (18.2).

“Southern states and the nation cannot long ignore these trends without imperiling the future prosperity of all of its residents,” stated SEF President Kent McGuire. “Even in the worst of times, addressing the problems of extreme poverty is in everyone’s best interest.”

SEF’s full 24-page report includes nine charts, three maps and various graphs illustrating and ranking developments among the states and regions on how extreme poverty grew in 2009 and which population groups have the highest rates of extreme poverty. The update also discusses the implications these trends have for education in the South and the nation.

Damned good advice for writers and editors . . .

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010 by Randall Williams

. . . in the 8/4/2010 New York Times Schott’s Vocab column.

In the item, guest columnist David Crystal, a linguistics professor at the University of Bangor in Wales, writes about what he learned when he recently asked a 12-year-old to go through one of his manuscripts and underline anything she didn’t understand. The result — demonstrating that there’s a vast cultural knowledge gap between today’s youngsters and the rest of us — may seem obvious, but writers and editors working on material targeted for children or young adults still stumble over this every day.

In Crystal’s case, he made a reference to John Wayne, and his young test reader had no idea who Wayne was, had never seen any of his movies, and could not have cared less. I was reminded of the time my youngest son came home from school and, following up on some discussion in his second-grade classroom, asked me, “Daddy, what was it like during the Civil War?” Not wanting to disappoint, I told him how it was, but you get the idea . . .

This Is Your Brain on Ebooks . . .

Monday, December 28th, 2009 by Randall Williams

Kindles, Sony Readers, Nooks, and other forms of ereaders have been prominently in the news during 2009. The long-heralded arrival of ebooks as a significant factor in the publishing industry finally seems to be here. We pondered the implications recently in Manhattan over coffee and tea with Chris Kerr, the senior partner in the Parson Weems sales group that represents NewSouth in the northeast. (We have sales reps in each region of the country to call on bookstores, chains, and wholesalers.) Chris is a 30-year veteran of book publishing and is one of the smartest, savviest book people we know. He asserts that this time around, the ebook is real.

Despite their high cost, both Amazon’s (the Kindle) and Barnes and Noble’s (the Nook) ereaders have been selling briskly, and rumors are rampant about Apple’s imminent entry into the category. One of the problems up to now has been a chicken and egg issue: so few people have had the ereaders that publishers didn’t have motivation to offer many titles as ebooks, and because there weren’t many ebooks available, people didn’t buy the readers. A tipping point seems to have been reached, and now publishers large and small are adding ebook editions as quickly as they can.

Another problem—for publishers—has been that there’s no standard format for ebooks; the Kindle, for instance, uses a proprietary format that won’t work on the Sony or B&N devices. However, the conventional wisdom is that a standard format is or soon will be emerging, which will leave publishers free to worry about other thorny issues such as retail pricing models, piracy, and how to calculate (and/or negotiate) author royalties. Like other book publishers, NewSouth is watching closely to see which standards emerge so that we can more confidently offer our titles to readers who want them in electronic formats. Presently, less than a fifth of our titles are available as ebooks; we plan to have them all in ebook format of one variety or another by the end of 2010. Going forward, we’ll probably produce print and ebook editions simultaneously.

Some people can’t wait to get their hands on an ereader; others say the last thing they want is to read a book on a digital screen. Fair enough; traditionalists can save several hundred dollars, and the early adopters can sprint through the airport confident they have enough reading material to keep themselves occupied during their Grand Tour of Europe—in a device that fits in their palm and weighs less than a pound. To each his own.

But what of the experience of reading on a digital screen? What will that feel like? What does it portend for literature, for comprehension, for the future of writing and reading? Back in October the New York Times asked several smart people for their opinions on these questions. You might find their responses interesting and can read them here.

Mary Carol Moran to Publish New Poetry with Author Sue Walker

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009 by Lisa Harrison

Seems one talented poet has found another in this news from Mary Carol Moran, who shares that her next book will be published by Sue Walker’s Negative Capability Press on November 30. Moran’s new book is called Equivocal Blessings. Moran is a writer and editor, and teaches the Novel Writers’ Workshop for the Auburn University Outreach Program. Her book Clear Soul was published by NewSouth Books.

Sue Walker founded Negative Capability Press in 1981. In addition to running her small award-winning press, Dr. Walker is a University of South Alabama professor of English. Additionally, she has written books of poetry and criticism, a play, book reviews, and critical essays. Her book It’s Good Weather for Fudge: Conversing with Carson McCullers is available for order direct from NewSouth Books.

Bobby Rush, Willie King, and the Blues Camp Kids

Saturday, May 2nd, 2009 by Randall Williams

I’m itchin’
Look like I don’t know where to scratch
Come here, baby
Oh and scratch my back
Well I know you can do it, honey
So baby, let’s get to it

Normally, I’d say it’s just wrong when a raunchy blues standard is covered by a group of white suburban teenagers whose greatest life deprivation has probably been on the order of running out of cell phone minutes … except that they sounded sooo good.

The occasion was the annual Blues Extravaganza at Tuscaloosa’s Bama Theatre on Friday night, May 1, 2009. The evening marked the conclusion of the 11th annual Alabama Blues Project spring camp and featured the Blues Camp Kids and special guest star Bobby Rush.

Yes, that Bobby Rush, the blues legend whose arching eyebrows, thrusting hips, and perfectly timed delivery of risque elegies to two- and three-timing big-bootied women has been knocking out night club audiences since the early 1950s. I wondered how Rush could possibly clean up his act to perform with a bunch of schoolkids, in front of an audience of still more kids and a lot of parents and grandparents who might have been more comfortable in the soccer stands than in an auditorium temporarily taken over by wailing harmonicas, screaming electric guitars, and pounding drums.

The joint was, as the saying goes, jumping.

Rush evidently wondered the same thing. Several times in his comments between songs he noted that he had to be careful in what he said lest the children present figure out what he was talking about. Then he went right on and said and sang it in terms that only the youngest campers could have failed to get.

And it was all right. No one stormed out in a huff, and the Blues Camp Kids, their instructors, and Rush collectively gave one of the best concerts I’ve ever witnessed.

More about Rush in a minute, but the kids were awesome. Some have been participating in the blues camp program for several years. One young woman who is heading off to Tulane University in the fall has matured into—as ABP coordinator Debbie Bond remarked in a virtuoso display of understatement—“a fine blues guitar player. ” So fine that I noticed Rush stop kibitzing in the wings to watch attentively while the white teenager cut loose in a scorching solo.

Don’t let me give the impression that all the Blues Camp Kids are white. Far from it. As Bond said in her introductory remarks, the Alabama Blues Project represents one of the most diverse arts efforts in Tuscaloosa (or Alabama, for that matter). There were equally accomplished black campers, including a preternaturally poised boy who served as co-master of ceremonies. (“Now what do you really know about feeling the blues in this music? ” his co-host joked with him. “Absolutely nothing, ” the boy laughingly replied.)

It’s just that the contrast is so remarkable between the white schoolkids and the older black bluesmen like Rush and the late Willie King, who regularly helped Bond with the ABP and the Blues Camp before his untimely death back in March.

One of the most moving moments of the evening came when Rush paused to speak softly along that theme about his personal history. The Bama Theatre has a wonderful night-sky-painted ceiling, with blinking lights for stars, and as Rush came to the front of the stage and stood and talked, the great old room seemed to get quieter and more intimate as people tried to take in what Rush was saying and what he represents.

“I’ll be 76 in November, ” he said. “I came to Chicago in 1951. Muddy Waters was there. Chuck Berry came in 1952. Howling Wolf and Buddy Guy came soon after. I went myself to pick up Etta James at the bus station and bring her to Chess Records. I been recording for 56 years. I’ve made 279 records.

“I come out of an era when music was stolen from the guys that was doing it. They wanted to hear our music, but they didn’t want to see our faces, ” he said. “I’m so happy that I lasted long enough that now we can live and stay in places wherever we want. We come a long way, yet not far enough. How long, Lord? How long? If you still confused, I’m talking about the forty acres and a mule. My granddaddy died waiting. Martin Luther King died waiting. And here we are. ”

All week long Bond and her talented faculty of blues professionals had been teaching their young charges the words and techniques of the blues. And here at last was Bobby Rush giving them a graduate seminar in blues philosophy, making the same point the late Willie King had when he told a Dutch documentarian in 2007 that he was “happy, because I have overcome a whole lot. They thought they had us forever. But they had to give us up. You see, the plan was forever, to keep you in slavery forever. ” And, “the blues has really seen me through. There been some days when I thought about killing myself, but that old blues song come to me … and the music would give me hope for a better day. That’s what I lived on, was hope for another day, not the condition I was living on, but hope for seeing a better day … and I thank the Good Lord that I lived to see a little better time … Things changing, ain’t like they once was. And it’s gone get a little better.”

Then Rush sat in a folding chair, alone on the Bama Theatre’s stage beneath its twinkling ceiling with just his guitar and several harmonicas. And he played and sang and stomped out the beat with his left foot. And the joint rocked some more.

And no one had the blues, because that’s the thing about the blues—when you sing or play or hear the blues, you can’t be blue.

— Randall Williams

Alabama Literary Map This Goodly Land Spotlights NewSouth Authors

Monday, July 28th, 2008 by Brian Seidman

This Goodly Land - Alabama's Literary Landscape

Rheta Grimsley Johnson, award-winning author of Poor Man’s Provence, is just one of many NewSouth authors profiled on the Alabama Center for the Book’s This Goodly Land: Alabama’s Literary Landscape website.

The Alabama Center for the Book’s This Goodly Land project features an interactive map where you can search Alabama’s vast literary landscape by county or author. The Alabama Center for the Book hopes that this project will not only serve as a celebration of Alabama’s tradition of quality literature, but also encourage state-wide literacy and spur up-and-coming Alabamian authors to great literary heights. Selected by a committee of experts on Alabama literature, over one hundred authors are currently featured on the website with new detailed profiles of other Alabama authors added periodically.

Other NewSouth authors profiled include John Beecher, Virginia Pounds Brown, Oxford Stroud, Sue Walker, and Kathryn Tucker Windham.

Visit This Goodly Land at www.alabamaliterarymap.org.