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Rod Davis and co-panelists kill it at State of the Book Crime Fiction panel

Friday, August 5th, 2016 by Lisa Harrison

South, America by Rod DavisThe panel, “Crime Fiction: The Genre of Dissent, Values and Codes of Conduct,” part of Gemini Ink’s State of the Book conference, was a great success even on a very hot Saturday afternoon in San Antonio. Part of the reason was the location of the retro-Latino hotel, El Tropicano, on the banks of the Riverwalk, and a lot of people in the crowded lobby and bar also attending a Shriner’s convention.

Rod Davis and his co-panelists Christopher Cook, author of Robbers and other crime and literary fiction, and Eusebio Diaz, vice president of the Baptist Health Foundation and an avid reader of classic crime and crime noir, took the audience of about 30 into an exploration of the evolution of crime and crime noir, and also the fundamental issues of right and wrong, crime and sin, and vengeance and justice that mark the country’s second most popular literary genre.

Rod and Christopher also discussed the need to avoid didactic messages and the value of making even the bad characters at least a little “good” to make then memorable characters. Rod, author of the critically-acclaimed crime noir, South, America, and the forthcoming Shoot When You Shoot, Die When You Die, explained how the addition of even small humanizing effects on the bad guys, along with flaws in the good guys, makes the conflict between them more dynamic.

The panel was based on audience interaction, which carried over into lengthy conversations following the presentations. Rod also got to visit with former San Antonio Express-News colleague Gregg Barrios, known for his plays Rancho Pancho and I-DJ and work with actor/poet James Franco. A number of authors from Texas and elsewhere also presented at the 4-day event, with closing remarks from Clay Smith, Editor in Chief of Kirkus Reviews and Literary Director of the San Antonio Book Festival.

South, America is available from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookstore.

Attorney Fred Gray at DNC convention reflects on our political history

Thursday, August 4th, 2016 by Lisa Harrison

Bus Ride to Justice: Changing the System by the System by Fred GrayLegendary civil rights attorney Fred Gray spoke to the Montgomery Advertiser about his experience as a delegate for Hillary Clinton at the recent Democratic National Convention.

Of his experience winning ground-breaking cases against racial discrimination, Attorney Gray said, “It has contributed toward having an African-American president and then a female president, and who knows where the Lord may permit us to go after we elect Mrs. Clinton.”

Fred Gray’s memoir Bus Ride to Justice: Changing the System by the System, the Life and Works of Fred Gray is available from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookstore.

Virginian-Pilot features historical novel Forsaken in extended article

Thursday, July 21st, 2016 by Lisa Harrison

Forsaken by Ross Howell

The Virginian-Pilot featured the Forsaken book trailer, and links to Forsaken: The Digital Bibliography at the Library of Virginia, in an extensive article covering the genesis, action, and themes of Ross Howell Jr.’s powerful historical novel. Denise M. Watson interviewed Howell, who told about coming across the story of Virginia Christian, a juvenile tried for murder and executed by the state, while researching another criminal case, and later learning of a dissertation on her execution written by Dr. Derryn Moten.

The Virginian-Pilot article examines the facts of the case, and notes how Howell weaves in interconnected material, including the eugenics movement in early 20th-century Virginia. Howell told the Virginian-Pilot, “I have always seen myself as a fiction writer, and I felt that if I could bring this girl to life that it would make the story of her fate much more compelling, and that’s what I set out to do. I hope I did that.”

The Library of Virginia subsequently digitized and indexed many of the historical documents from Howell’s research for an exhibit related to the book.

Forsaken is available from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookstore.

Steve Flowers wins unanimous vote of Grove Hill Book Club

Thursday, June 23rd, 2016 by Lisa Harrison

Of Goats and Governors: Six Decades of Colorful Alabama Political Stories by Steve Flowers

Of Goats & Governors: Six Decades of Colorful Alabama Political Stories author Steve Flowers “accomplished something phenomenal” when he spoke to the Grove Hill, AL Book Club on June 24, says Annell Gordon, who coordinated his visit. “He took the sensitive topic of politics and made it a fun conversation — a real rarity in these divisive times.”

While visiting Grove Hill, Flowers chatted with radio talk show host Deborah Rankins (The Rankins Files), who said, “I applaud him for preserving Alabama’s colorful political history with such great humor. Generations to come will enjoy his stories.” Added Gordon, “Several of our book club members have said they wished Steve would run for governor. Two or three have even offered to help him campaign.” Now there’s an idea!

Steve Flowers signing Of Goats & Governors for Deborah Rankins

Steve Flowers signing Of Goats & Governors for Deborah Rankins

Annell Gordon, Deborah Rankins, Jim Herod (Book Club President), Steve Flowers, Jim Cox (Editor, Clarke County Democrat), and Linda Vice (Director of Tourism for Rural Southwest Alabama)

Annell Gordon, Deborah Rankins, Jim Herod (Book Club President), Steve Flowers,
Jim Cox (Editor, Clarke County Democrat), and Linda Vice (Director of Tourism for Rural Southwest Alabama)

Of Goats & Governors is available from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookstore.

Alan Cross applauds Southern Baptist decision on Confederate Flag

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016 by Lisa Harrison

When Heaven and Earth Collide: Racism, Southern Evangelicals, and the Better Way of Jesus by Alan Cross

The Religion News Service quoted Alan Cross, author of When Heaven and Earth Collide: Racism, Southern Evangelicals, and the Better Way of Jesus, in an article on the resolution passed by the Southern Baptist Convention calling on Christians to cease displaying the Confederate battle flag.

Cross called the decision “the most wonderful surprise, a complete denunciation of the flag because of what it represents and because of the Southern symbol that it is to African American brothers and sisters in Christ.” Please join NewSouth Books in celebrating this moving and meaningful development.

When Heaven and Earth Collide is available from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookstore.

In wake of Orlando, Rheta Grimsley Johnson talks coming out in the South

Wednesday, June 15th, 2016 by Lisa Harrison

Crooked Letter i: Coming Out in the SouthRheta Grimsley Johnson speaks truth to power in her newest column, published in the Daily Corinthian among other newspapers. In the wake of the tragic shooting in Orlando, Johnson notes the particular danger that LGBT Southerners face being out in the South, both from hate groups and from legislation that targets LGBT citizens.

In a column entitled “Coming out in the South is no walk in the park” Johnson cites the anthology Crooked Letter i: Coming out in the South, recently published by NewSouth Books, saying, “The true stories in Crooked Letter i have one thing in common: They all are heart-rending. Edited by Connie Griffin, they deal with the moment — or, in some cases, moments — these Southern members of the LGBT community first told kin, friends or the world the truth about themselves.”

Johnson berates “hate-mongers” and legislators for targeting LGBT taxpayers, but also observes, “Once your grandmother is in the loop, has pulled you to her accepting bosom, then winning the approval of backward, hypocritical, ignorant and often crooked politicians doesn’t much matter. Those guilty lawmakers will have to live with themselves.”

Rheta Grimsley Johnson’s books Poor Man’s Provence: Finding Myself in Cajun Louisiana, Enchanted Evening Barbie and the Second Coming, and Hank Hung the Moon . . . And Warmed Our Cold, Cold Hearts are available from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookstore.

Wiktionary cites novelist John Pritchard on unusual word

Monday, June 13th, 2016 by Lisa Harrison

Sailing to Alluvium by John PritchardLeland Shaw, the shell-shocked World War II veteran featured in the novels Junior Ray, The Yazoo Blues, and Sailing to Alluvium by John Pritchard, “never hesitates to warp and work a word to his uses” according to Pritchard, who claims — in Sailing to Alluvium — that the word “smiteful” just fell out of Shaw’s mouth as he, Pritchard, was transcribing the character’s journals.

Editors of Wiktionary, the “lexical companion to Wikipedia,” took note and included the Sailing to Alluvium reference in the dictionary’s entry for the word “smiteful.”

When Pritchard was asked what Leland Shaw might think about the Wiktionary citation, Pritchard quoted a “telepathogram” he received from Shaw that said, “The entry’s value is predicated entirely upon the notion that we shall always have electricity.”

Sailing to Alluvium is available from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookseller.

MOWA Native Americans celebrate their rich quilting tradition at Common Threads symposium

Monday, June 6th, 2016 by Lisa Harrison

They Say the Wind is Red by Jackie MatteThe MOWA band of Choctaw Indians held a quilting workshop on April 30. The event recognized exemplary quilters as part of the “Common Threads” series on quilting in Alabama sponsored by the Alabama Folklife Association. “Common Threads” honors Alabama’s quilting tradition through a series of workshops, arts-based development, and education in the traditional arts.

Jackie Matte, author of They Say the Wind is Red: The Alabama Choctaw — Lost in Their Own Land, spoke to tribal members about their rich history in handcrafts. In the photo featured see Elois Taylor presenting a quilt to Polly Rivers and Chief Lebaron Byrd.

The MOWA band of Choctaw refused to relocate during the forced removal of Native Americans known as the “trail of tears.” They Say the Wind is Red tells their story of the tribe’s resistance and history of pride, endurance, and persistence in the face of abhorrent conditions imposed on them by the US government. Fortunately for the state of Alabama, the tribe has endured and can now share with everyone the crafting traditions they have maintained through the years.

They Say the Wind is Red is available from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookstore.

Frye Gaillard remembers songwriter Guy Clark

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016 by Lisa Harrison

Watermelon Wine: The Spirit of Country Music by Frye Gaillard

Award-winning historian Frye Gaillard was one of the first music writers to take note of Nashville songwriter Guy Clark, who died yesterday after a long illness. Frye remembers Clark in this tribute:

With sadness, I take a few moments to add my voice to what will soon be hundreds of others lamenting the passing of Guy Clark, one of Nashville’s finest songwriters. I still remember like it happened yesterday the night in 1975 when I wandered into the Exit Inn in Nashville and saw Guy Clark as an opening act. I had never heard of him. Neither had anybody else. But on this night he sang the songs from his soon-to-be released debut album, “Ol’ Number One,” and there’s never been a better record in the history of country/Americana music. I had the honor of writing about Guy Clark in my first book, Watermelon Wine: The Spirit of Country Music, trying to capture and explain the power of his lyrics — the exceptional empathy, sensitivity, and compassion they contained. Then and now, I understood that I was coming up short. But that was okay because soon enough people were listening to the songs themselves, and Clark became an Americana icon. Rest in peace, old friend. Thank you for those good conversations.

Watermelon Wine is available from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookstore.

The Integration of Tuskegee High School: new play highlights role in history played by attorney Fred Gray

Thursday, April 28th, 2016 by Brian Seidman

Legendary civil rights attorney Fred Gray has received accolades from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, American Bar Association, and the NAACP, among many others. Now he is honored with a play that brings the history related to the integration of the Tuskegee High School, with which he was much involved, to dramatic life. Written and directed by Dr. Tessa Carr on the faculty at Auburn University and presented by the Mosaic Theatre Company, The Integration of Tuskegee High School tells the story of Attorney Gray’s role in the pivotal 1963 desegregation lawsuit.

Civil rights attorney Fred Gray and London Carlisle, the actor who plays Gray in The Integration of Tuskegee High School

Civil rights attorney Fred Gray and London Carlisle, the actor who plays Gray in The Integration of Tuskegee High School.

The play was the inspiration of Dr. Mark Wilson at Auburn’s Carolyn Marshall Draughon Center, who believed that a series of interviews with students and community leaders who had lived through school desegregation would be a good basis for a dramatic work. Dr. Carr, Artistic Director of the Mosaic Theatre Company, was equally inspired in the writing of it. In her research she says she was struck by the extraordinary difference in the experiences of Caucasian and African American students involved in the events. It was her aim, she told Auburn University’s Perspectives “to put their voices in conversation — voices that had never had the opportunity to be in conversation before.”

The play was first performed in 2014. The new production includes the voice of Attorney Gray as a guiding narrator. After the premiere, Dr. Mark Wilson told The Plainsman it was so powerful he was left speechless. He noted that the performance would be available for online viewing.

Attorney Gray attended a special invitation-only performance on April 16, where he met London Carlisle, the actor playing himself. In an interview with the Opelika-Auburn News, Gray wryly remarked, “The stage presentation was a good enactment of quite a bit of what you just didn’t see in every day life.” After the performance, Attorney Gray told the Plainsman, “We still have a lot of problems. We need to work on them and not take 50 more years to solve them.”

Fred Gray’s memoir, Bus Ride to Justice: Changing the System by the System, The Life and Works of Fred Gray, is available from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookstore.