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Q&A with Ann Hite, author of ROLL THE STONE AWAY: A FAMILY’S LEGACY OF RACISM AND ABUSE

By Elizabeth Tammi

Long-time fiction author Ann Hite’s memoir Roll the Stone Away: A Family’s Legacy of Racism and Abuse releases May 2020 from Mercer University Press. Hite’s novels have won numerous awards, and won her a spot as a Townsend Prize finalist and the 2012 Georgia Author of the Year.

In addition, many of her short stories and personal essays have been published in national anthologies. Hite said her journey of writing her memoir was a process completely unlike how she approached tackling her previous writing projects. She looks back at the complex and sometimes gruesome aspects of her heritage and family, and tells us what it felt like to put that truth on the page.


After the publication of your novels, what inspired you to write a memoir? 

I thought if I told the “truth”, the dark themes that fill my fiction would become less prevalent. This was a naïve idea. I have just finished a short story collection last week, and you probably guessed the themes are still coming through. But this isn’t the only reason I set out to write a memoir. I never set out on this journey with a book in mind. But I did decide to find out exactly what happened to my family. In doing this, I hoped, at the very least, I would come to understand some of the reasoning. Many of the mysteries and legacies surrounding my extended family touched my life and not in a good way.

How did the process of writing a memoir differ from how you approach drafting a novel?

When I begin writing the first draft of a novel, much has taken place first in my head. Characters speak to me long before I get to the place of writing. I explore who he or she is. What story do they have to tell? So when I sit down with notebook and pen—I write most of the first draft by hand—I know so much about the character the flow kicks in, and I’m off and running.

With this memoir, I was at a loss on how to even attempt to tell these stories. That’s when I met Jessica Handler at SIBA—a conference for independent booksellers—and she introduced me to her book, Braving the Fire. I took her workshop soon after and this changed my whole way of writing about grief and trauma. One of the most helpful tools I learned was writing down the events I wanted to include in the book on index cards. Then placing them in an envelope for a short waiting period. When I did begin writing, I drew one card. This would be the only subject I would approach that day. One event a day. Out of order. Just thinking about this one memory. This is a much different process than writing fiction.

What factors did you consider when deciding the structure of the book?

Structuring a book, whether fiction or memoir, is an intricate process for me. How do I tell the story? Sometimes I write two drafts before I know what structure to use. With Roll the Stone Away, I finished the third draft and found the story held the reader far away, which I would imagine is the first instinct of a new memoir writer. You’re revealing the core of yourself, the stuff that made you who you are. But for the reader to come on my journey, I had to be brutally honest. I had to show them up front just what my history was and my role in the making. So I began the process of truth-sharing in the introduction and continued this into the first chapter before I regressed into the extended family history. The parts in the book about me were told in present tense. These chapters, or stones as I called them, were strategically placed throughout the memoir, so the memories were not told in chronological order. More than five complete drafts later, I finally released this body of work to Mercer University Press.

How did your life change when you began writing?

I began when I couldn’t write. I told stories, long intricate ones that were “too old for my age” according to my mother. My life has always been about reading and writing. I did not live in a house with big readers. Mother never read anything outside of an occasional magazine except Little Women, a book she read to me at a very young age. Those who know me well, know I have a very strong faith in God. I believe that writing was the gift bestowed on me before I was born. And using this gift has always been my peace and home. That’s not to say I don’t struggle with this art, but writing is a deep part of me.

Family ties can be complex and painful. What, if anything, do you believe people owe to their family members?

This is a question many ask and debate, and there are as many answers as there are writers writing memoirs. My answer is that our story is most important. I believe we all have a right to our truths, no matter who agrees or disagrees with us. Truth is fluid and changes shape from one person to the next. Two people can experience the same event and have much different takes on what happened. Does that make either person a liar? No. Each perception is the truth for the person who owns it. With that said, I began writing this book after all the parties involved had died with the exception of my brother, who lives within a hundred miles of me. I explained my project to him. In all truth, had he told me not to write the book, I would have anyway. I wasn’t asking for permission. He supported my decision with encouragement but explained he would not be able to read the work because it would cause pain. Fair enough. He understood I was not writing the book out of revenge or malice. He was well aware that I had forgiven all parties involved. Remember forgiveness is not forgetting or saying what happened was okay. My children know some of the stories, but shocking points do exist. I think a writer has to approach personal stories with compassion and empathy for those who play roles in your history. This does not mean the writer has to change their truth.

What does it mean to “own” one’s history?

Owning my history means no longer hiding what happened to my family or the choices they made. I don’t feel the need to sugar-coat the story to fit into a group of people. I don’t have to have the best childhood or parents. Our pasts do not have to be squeaky clean. Owning my history is looking the bad and good dead in the eyes and understanding good and bad can be mixed on a paint palate and become the grayest of gray. But most of all owning my history is pure freedom from the expectation that I will forget and stay silent.

Do you think more memoirs or autobiographical materials are in your future?

Two weeks ago, I would have said no way. Then my brother threw me a real zinger. A package from UPS arrived on the doorstep containing all our dad’s military files, along with old photos of us when we were little. This was packed in the old briefcase he carried to work every day until he retired in 1974. The inside still smelled of cigarette smoke and peppermints. I did not know this stuff existed. My brother said, “This is a book for you to write.” As I went through the papers, I realized the story was much larger and deeper than I could ever imagine. Yes, I will write this story that spans from the CCC (Civil Conservation Corp) to NATO in the 70s. I don’t know how I will shape this narrative. Maybe fiction or maybe memoir. It is too early to tell.

This memoir deals with dark, toxic behaviors and incidents; was writing about these times more cathartic or painful? Or both?

This is a good question. I would say both, but I discovered a lot about who I was and who I am while writing this book. When I first began writing Roll the Stone Away, I jumped straight into it, ignoring what I learned from Jessica’s workshop. In one week, I wrote 13,000 words. I promptly became very ill. I’m not one to get sick at all. But a simple cold morphed into something larger, and I was down for the count. Later I spoke with other writers who have written memoirs and was told this often happens when taking on too much at once and ignoring the signs I was stuffing feelings. There is a reason why one has to take writing a hard story slow. Much of the first draft was spent with me in denial. How could any of the things that happened to me be that bad? To others, this was very clear, but I couldn’t see much of the abuse pointed at me was abuse, even though I could see the pain it inflicted when pointed at others.

I learned to cut myself a break and that I was worthy of telling this story.

How did the stone metaphor come about? What do you think it represents?

The stone metaphor came to me one Easter. I thought of how the women went to Jesus’s tomb and the giant stone that had blocked the opening had been rolled away. This was a miracle and a sign that nothing is too large for God. I saw the index cards in the envelope on my desk and how each one represented a story, an obstacle, I couldn’t get my head around. Of course the weight of carrying them around was paralyzing at times. They kept me from running and playing like a child when I was a kid and influenced each book I wrote. And maybe that was my strength, not my downfall. Maybe if I looked at every stone, I could find a part of me.

This is when I began to collect stones, placing them in a pottery bowl on my desk. I have one from the grave of my great grandmother, who was murdered by my great grandfather. There is a rough jagged stone I dug up from the land where my grandfather was stretched and tied between two trees and beaten to the brink of death. One each off the graves of my mother, grandmother, and grandfather. And one from the middle of the Nantahala River, normally deep and raging with water but because of a severe drought reduced to a light trickle. The rock is smooth and worn from thousands of years of water wearing away the rough edges. This rock represents me, standing in the middle of what should be raging water, finding my way through the drought of family history.

What projects are in the works now?

I just finished a short story collection entitled, Haints on Black Mountain: a haunted story collection, that will release in late 2021. And I’m hard at work on a nonfiction narrative about Lucille Selig Frank, Leo Frank’s wife. I came to know about Leo Frank through my grandmother’s stories when I was young. Then as an adult I was captured by his wife, Lucille. She has a story that should be heard.

In the future, I have my sights set on beginning a new novel series based on Jeff Clemmons’s book, Atlanta’s Historic Westview Cemetery. This book is full of rich history and stories concerning generations of those buried in the four hundred acres plus grounds. There are so many stories Jeff couldn’t put in his book. These interest me to no end. What ghost story reader doesn’t love a series of novels set with a cemetery as the narrator?


Click to download Mercer University’s Press Release of Roll the Stone Away: A Family’s Legacy of Racism and Abuse:

Click here to purchase from the Press: https://www.mupress.org/Roll-the-Stone-Away-A-Familys-Legacy-of-Racism-and-Abuse-P1036.aspx

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Q&A with Ruth Reiniche, author of SIGN LANGUAGE: READING FLANNERY O’CONNOR’S GRAPHIC NARRATIVE

By Ranha Beak

Reading Flannery O’Connor is one thing, but seeing her visual imagery is another. Ruth Reiniche introduces the Southern Gothic fiction writer as an aspiring graphic artist in Sign Language: Reading Flannery O’Connor’s Graphic Narrative.

O’Connor includes a gallery of images in her fiction: symbols, pictures, drawings, portraits, caricatures, and the tattoo in Parker’s Back. Reiniche analyzes how each image portrays meaning. From the rough drafts of O’Connor’s iconic characters to her short, witty cartoon captions, Reiniche shows that everywhere you look, O’Connor’s visual language communicates the origin of characters, settings, themes, and messages.

Sign Language: Reading Flannery O’Connor’s Graphic Narrative will be published May 1st, 2020.  Reiniche merges O’Connor’s biographical research with O’Connor-as-visual-artist, portraying a writer who created word and image with one pen.  

Here is a Q&A with the author herself on how to read and see Flannery O’Connor’s visually provoking literature.


I didn’t realize Flannery O’Connor was a comic artist, or what I compare to popular caption-based illustrations today. Are there other parts of O’Connor’s creative career people tend to overlook?

It is well known to O’Connor scholars that she created comics during her college years.  She was a painter throughout her life and enjoyed photographing her friends. In my research, I became more and more convinced that her creation of visual texts influenced every part of her writing. Essentially my book is about how O’Connor translated this penchant for composition into narrative.

Even at the turn of a new decade, O’Connor’s works seem to generate more questions than answers. If you could ask her one question today, what would it be?

I am formulating the answer to your question based on the assumption that Flannery O’Connor had been alive to experience the intervening years since her death.

Flannery O’Connor has influenced many American writers. Her stories continue to be relevant in the contemporary classroom. She was concerned with the same social issues that Americans are concerned with today: child abuse, abortion, immigration, poverty, guns, racial inequity, Christianity, and love. I would ask her about her vision of America. How does she see the future for this sprawling nation in all its complexity?

What led you to see the images in O’Connor’s work?

I could not not see them. They visually stunned me.  When I was working on the manuscripts, I initially became entranced with the pared down simplicity of O’Connor’s word choices. Upon reading revision after revision of familiar scenes from her novels and short stories, I began to “see” the process Hemingway described in his well-known “iceberg theory.” I watched a character like Sabbath Lily morph from one rendition: the street preacher, Sabbath, into the Sabbath Lily we know and love. I could, however, still see shadowy images of the original “Sabbath” in O’Connor’s final creation.  It was fascinating. I included references to O’Connor’s myriad revisions in my book and I tried to show how her final text was illuminated by these reconsiderations.

Do you have a favorite O’Connor story?

“Parker’s Back” is my favorite. It is so rich with imagery and human frailty. I really love Sarah Ruth and Parker. The story embodies the pain and glory of their marriage. “Love hurts” especially when it is expressed at the end of a tattoo needle or a broomstick. I love how the story discusses the difficulties of “marriage” that are faced by members of the “Christian Community” or the “Body of Christ.” It is one thing to talk about love in action, but quite another thing to live it. The story is flooded with the powerful presence of the Byzantine Christ painfully etched on the back of the image bearer: Obadiah Elihue Parker. What a moving and transcendent story!

The concept of Parker’s tattoo as image-bearing blew my mind. Public understanding of tattoos have changed so much since 1965, but “Parker’s Back” gave it another depth of meaning. Were there moments through your research process where O’Connor gave insight ahead of her time?

I certainly feel that she was aware of the Pop Art and Photo Realism art movements of the Seventies. I used these popular culture indicators to illustrate some of the graphic text that she created. The important thing to me is not how she is “ahead of her time,” but how she stands centrally in a chorus of American voices of the twentieth century. Her text is in many ways artistically singular, but it also, in many ways, works communally to enrich the fabric of American writing.

Are there complications in researching O’Connor today?

The one complication that I might see is the inaccessibility of the O’Connor manuscripts. However, I would encourage the researcher to travel to Milledgeville, Georgia, and to look at the manuscripts in the O’Connor Collection at Georgia College. Because of technology, writers today do not leave these kinds of records. When I was working with O’Connor’s actual typewritten manuscripts, I felt like in some way she was there with me. I felt she was leading me along the thought canals that she traveled in creating her texts. I am not saying that one cannot interpret O’Connor without this experience, but I know I was not the same after my summers in Milledgeville. If I had done my research online, I am sure that I would not have put so much of my heart into my work and into my conclusions.

What advice do you have for college students researching Southern literature in the Internet Age?

Immerse yourself in the world that surrounds your research. Follow down every lead no matter how seemingly insignificant. Just paging through the New Yorker magazines that the young Flannery O’Connor must have read during her high school and college years while she was submitting her cartoons, made that wartime era in America palpable to me. I feel that even the research I did on Leora Watts’s ill-fitting nightgown or on Al Capp’s Lil Abner, enhanced my understanding of American women as targets of advertisers and as victims of poverty. Consequently, I was able to view the lives lived by Leora, Ruby, Sabbath Lily, and Sarah Ruth as representative of the lives that real women were and are living.  


Click to download Mercer University’s Press Release of Sign Language: Reading Flannery O’Connor’s Graphic Narrative :

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Q&A with Dr. Charlotte C.S. Thomas, author of THE FEMALE DRAMA: THE PHILOSOPHICAL FEMININE IN THE SOUL OF PLATO’S REPUBLIC

By Elizabeth Tammi

Plato’s Republic remains one of the most fundamental texts of Western civilization. In The Female Drama: The Philosophical Feminine in the Soul of Plato’s Republic, philosophy professor Dr. Charlotte C.S. Thomas revisits the famous text to explore its Books V-VII. Thomas’s book released from Mercer University Press in March 2020.

Thomas seeks to investigate the meaning behind the Female Drama that Socrates speaks of in Books V-VII; she argues that this Female Drama is concerned with potentiality, and the qualities and activities necessary for the development of justice. In The Female Drama, Thomas masterfully unpacks the central books of the Republic and offers new insights and discoveries on the classic text.


When did you first read Plato’s Republic? What was that experience like for you?

I read the Republic for the first time as a first quarter sophomore at Mercer in Diana Stege’s Great Books II Seminar. Tom Glennon sat in that semester, too. I didn’t love the book. I don’t think most Great Books II students do. It is just too big, too hard, and too much for just about everyone the first time they read it. And, because of that, people tend only to read the Republic once, at most, which is to say they never really read it. My second time through was about a year later in Tom Trimble’s Ancient Philosophy seminar, and the book started to come into a bit of focus for me, but I still didn’t love it. I probably started loving the Republic when Carl Page taught a graduate seminar on it in my fourth year of grad school at Emory. By that time, my love of Plato was fairly well developed, but I still couldn’t really wrap my arms around the Republic. That winter of 1991, something changed, though. I was able to begin to see the book. Since then, I’ve read it or taught it at least once a year, every year. Many years, I’ll teach it two or three times, and I re-read with my students every time. I genuinely can’t count how many times I’ve read the Republic,  now.

For readers who might not know, can you briefly explain what Mercer University’s Great Books program is? The Republic is one of the program’s most prominent texts. How do you think this book has impacted Western civilization and history? Why is it important that we still read and study it today?

The Great Books program is an alternative general education track at Mercer. Students who choose to take the Great Books track enroll in one seminar per semester for seven semesters instead of taking lower division courses in a range of humanities, arts, social sciences, and natural sciences disciplines. Great Books students still have to satisfy math, language, and science proficiencies in order to graduate from Mercer, but the rest of their general education program is satisfied by their Great Books Seminars. Great Books program faculty all have disciplinary degrees and teach mainly in their conventional academic departments, but they lean out of their comfort zones to read books with Great Books students.

Many of the books in the Great Books program are spectacular and brilliant, but not all of them. Some of them are less impressive. Harder to make sense of. Less apparently complete. All of them are, however, a part of a generations-long, cultural boundary-transgressing conversation about what it means to live a good life. It is a conversation full of deep disagreements on facts and values, and students in the program are invited to join it. Great Books students read these books because they have a lot to teach us, but they read them critically, because none of the books in the program is beyond criticism. The best books read us as much as we read them, that is to say that when we read and discuss them our own sense of what is true and good and beautiful comes into sharper focus. And, if we are honest with ourselves and other, we are open to revising those ideas when they seem flawed or when another perspective appears more promising or accurate.


How do you approach teaching Plato’s Republic to your students?

If I’m in an upper division ancient philosophy seminar, I lecture. If I’m in Great Books, I try to formulate the best question I can and then get out of the way (except to direct traffic). If I’m in a lower division philosophy class, I have a sort of hybrid approach, usually with excerpts. My goal is to open the book up to my students, or at least not to close them off to it forever, and that calls for different strategies in different circumstances.


Did the matter of the “Female Drama” always stick out to you, or was it something that interested you after studying the text for a while?

The beginning of Book V of the Republic has been a frustration to me since the beginning, but there’s so much about Plato that’s hard, it kind of blended in with other frustrations. As I grew to understand the rest of the Republic better, the strangeness of Books V-VII grew for me.

Early in the Republic, Socrates constructs the city in speech as a way of illuminating the structure of the soul, and he regularly reminds everyone in the conversation of the Republic that his central concern is the soul. He explicitly unpacks the lessons of the city for the soul over and over again in Books II-IV and VII-X. But, in Books V-VII it is as if Socrates has ceased being interested in the soul and is simply focused on the city. But that can’t be right. So, a million questions emerge. Why does Socrates stop unpacking the lessons of the city in speech for the soul? What do the elements in the city in speech signify for the soul? Why is Socrates so coy?

When I started working through these questions and began to have provisional answers to them, a whole new world opened up for me in the Republic. And, when I dug into the secondary literature on the Republic (which is impossibly vast) and found that no one had really done the sort of analysis of Books V -VII that I wanted to do, I was floored. But, there were plenty of commentators who walked right up to the threshold of what I wanted to do, and there were others whose theories seemed entirely compatible with my interpretation. It was heartening and intimidating, but I just kept following the thread and, eventually, it led me out of the labyrinth.


What about the research, drafting, and revision process of this book was the most enjoyable? The most difficult?

Honestly, it was all challenging, and it was all enjoyable. It was an iterative process. I co-wrote an essay with my colleague in Mercer’s Philosophy department, Kevin Honeycutt, that really got the project off the ground. Then I kept reading Plato and the secondary literature, and I kept pushing through the tangles I ran into in my interpretation.

During my sabbatical, I wrote for at least three hours every morning and, often, for another two or three hours in the afternoon. And, when I got to the last page of the final chapter, I thought I was finished! After all, I had been thinking about this book, researching it, and writing parts of it for almost ten years. But, the process of revision, responding to the notes of my generous friends who served as readers, working on the index, etc., took another full year. And, even though, I sometimes thought I would never be done, I even enjoyed that part. I’m so interested in these questions and this material, that it makes me happy even when someone engages me just to show me I’m wrong about something. Socrates always claimed to be happy when he was shown wrong (although Plato never depicts that actually happening), and now I finally really understand what that is all about. I think this book has actually made me a better person, perhaps only slightly, but still a wee bit better.


You’ve spent a lot of time in Greece—have your experiences there helped shape your understanding of this text?

Immeasurably. Mainly, being in Greece puts me in touch with the culture that Socrates and Plato were immersed in. So, walking through the streets of Athens doesn’t really help me with my argument, per se, but it helps me understand some of the stakes of the Republic and the cultural context within which it was written.

If you don’t understand something about the Peloponnesian and Persian Wars, then you’ll miss dozens of allusions in the Republic. If you don’t know that Athens lost a war just before Plato wrote and that the dialogue is set at the home of an arms dealer shortly before that war really heated up, you’re going to completely miss the way the setting of the dialogue contextualizes the content. And, although I had read Herodotus and Thucydides before I began travelling to Greece regularly, I didn’t really get it. It was traveling in Greece while reading and writing and thinking about these things that began to make those light bulbs go on in my head.


What do you hope readers of your book will take away? How do you hope to influence their interpretation of the Republic or philosophical texts in general?

I hope it makes people want to give the Republic, or at least the central books, another read. For those who would read and reread the Republic whether or not they ever ran across my book, I hope they look at the middle books with new eyes. So many people have done wonderful work on social and political themes in the central books of the Republic, and so many people have done excellent studies of the moral psychology of the Republic, but I haven’t found any systematic inquiry into the moral psychology of the central books, and I’ve looked! I would love for more scholars to get interested in this thread of inquiry and join me back in the labyrinth to see what else we might be able to find.


Is there another philosophical text or inquiry you’d like to explore in-depth in the future? 

I am currently working on Herodotus and Thucydides, specifically thinking about philosophical themes and strategies in their histories. In the ancient world, no one shelved Thucydides under “History” and Plato under “Philosophy”. Those hard and fast distinctions came later. I believe ancient historians might do well to look for historical themes and strategies in Plato, too, but I have to come at it from what I know; so, I’m looking for philosophy in ancient history . . . and I’m finding quite a lot! I’m not sure whether this will be a book or not. We’ll see.

I want to write a book on Homer, too. I feel my mind turning that way fairly often. As soon as the Herodotus/Thucydides project plays out, I imagine myself settling in with Homer for a very long while.

But, I think I will always also keep thinking and writing about Plato, although I am not sure my ambition is to write another book on Plato. I have at least a couple of article ideas just based on the questions that I’ve been asked in Q&A’s after talks I’ve given about The Female Drama. The more Plato scholars I get to know well, the more it seems to me that working on the Republic is like moving into a beautiful city that you can never fully explore. I’ve gotten to know one of its neighborhoods pretty well, but there are others, and I’d like to learn them, too.


Click to download Mercer University’s Press Release of The Female Drama: The Philosophical Feminine in the Soul of Plato’s Republic:

Click here to purchase from the Press: https://www.mupress.org/The-Female-Drama-The-Philosophical-Feminine-in-the-Soul-of-Platos-Republic-P1047.aspx

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Q&A with Alison Graham-Bertolini and Casey Kayser, editors of UNDERSTANDING THE SHORT FICTION OF CARSON MCCULLERS

By Ranha Beak

Dr. Alison Graham-Bertolini from North Dakota State University and Dr. Casey Kayser from University of Arkansas have teamed up to edit Carson McCullers for the literary scene today.

Dr. Alison Graham-Bertolini (left)

Ranging from political, racial, mental, sexual, and romantic aspects of McCullers’s litarry career, Graham-Bertolini and Kayser bring together various veiws on how McCullers fiction takes a stab at eah often-overlooked aspect in ther extensive works of short fiction.

Dr. Casey Kayser (right)

With the passing of McCullers’s psychiatrist Mary Mercer in 2013, Mercer handed her years’ collection of McCullers’s belongings to Columbus State University. The addition to McCullers’s archives allowed public access to an intimate look inside McCullers’s life, including transcripts of Mercer and McCullers’s sessions. The transcripts reveal truths about McCullers’s unstable marriage with Reeves McCullers and McCullers’s attraction to Mercer. Considering recent archival additions and the highly-speculated romantic relationship between Mercer and McCullers, Graham-Bertolini and Kayser invite readers to reconsider the conflict and torment within Carson McCullers’s short stories alongside conflicts we have today.

Understanding the Short Fiction of Carson McCullers is soon to be released on April 1, 2020. This essay collection welcomes diverse and inclusive readings of McCullers’s works.

Here is a Q&A with the editors Graham-Bertolini and Kayser on the process of presenting McCullers for the twenty-first century audience:


During the process of consolidating various perspectives on McCullers, was there a version of McCullers you wanted to portray in the essay collection?

Yes, we were most focused on demonstrating that McCullers’s work is more political and has more of a social conscience than most readers and critics have assumed in the past. We did our best to include chapters that highlight McCullers’s resistance to the status quo, often highlighting the fact that McCullers was very far ahead of her time. As we note in our preface, “Her short fiction includes interrogations of class-based, racial, and ableist prejudice; disconcerting portrayals of the social and political anxiety surrounding the Second World War; satirical eviscerations of some of the most oppressive social norms of the mid-twentieth century; and bold suggestions that lesbian desire, queer relationships, and female authority have a valid place in American culture.”

What led you to collaborate on researching McCullers? 

We went to graduate school together at Louisiana State University, then worked together in revitalizing the Carson McCullers Society in 2014. Our first co-edited collection, Carson McCullers in the Twenty-First Century, was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2016. We share a love for the author and her work, and have learned we collaborate very well together!

Is there something about Southern Gothic genre that continues to resonate with today’s popular readership?

One of the most notable aspects of the Southern Gothic in McCullers is her uncanny use of the grotesque. In what we often think of as traditional grotesque portrayals in Southern fiction, authors use physical deformity to indicate a character’s moral deficiency. McCullers, on the other hand, often subverts these portrayals—her physically “other” characters, such as those who are deaf, mute, those with dwarfism, overtly masculine women, characters with repressed sexualities, and characters who are othered because of their race, are used to disclose society’s ugly assumptions and prejudices, instead of revealing something negative about the characters themselves.

We do think that contemporary audiences are drawn to the Southern Gothic genre. The popularity of recent books, films, and television shows, such as True Detective or Sharp Objects, just to name a few, seem to suggest that there is still a lot of interest in this genre. 

What’s the reality for collaborative works of literary criticism? Do you have advice for current students interested in big-scale literary research projects?

Because Alison’s work sits at the intersection of women’s studies and literary studies there is often not a single journal for which it is suited. Casey has encountered the same issue with her interdisciplinary focus in literature and medicine. This of course does not invalidate our research, which is very much needed, but requires us to be more agential in finding ways for it to reach an academic audience. This is why smaller academic publishers such as Mercer [University Press] are so important; they encourage the publication of collaborative literary criticism about important authors such as McCullers who otherwise might be neglected or overlooked. My advice therefore to students interested in big-scale literary research projects is, “if there is no venue currently suitable in which to publish your work, CREATE a venue in which to publish your work.”

What’s the most significant takeaway from Carson McCullers’s transcripts with her psychiatrist Mary Mercer? How can McCullers’s writings contribute to conversations on mental health awareness today?

Casey has spent a good bit of time studying the therapy transcripts and other materials in the archives. It is fascinating to have such an intimate view into McCullers’s mental and physical health and the concerns of her life at that time through these transcripts. Some of the most significant takeaways are related to McCullers’s discussions about her sexuality and her feelings for her off-and-on husband Reeves, her piano teacher Mary Tucker, and her friend Annemarie Schwarzenbach. They also provide insight into Mercer and McCullers’s therapeutic relationship.

In many of McCullers’s works, we see characters yearning for and struggling to find belonging and connection with others, a problem which certainly still exists, and is perhaps even more salient in light of the ubiquitousness of technology today. People’s search for connection and belonging are certainly relevant in contemporary conversations about mental health.

In your opinion, who is the most eccentric character from McCullers’s stories?

Maybe Miss Amelia from Ballad of the Sad Café, but she is eccentric in a good and interesting way! 

Compared to her contemporaries, how is the research process for Carson McCullers different? Are there different lenses of McCullers analyses you would like to see in the future?

We believe the new archival materials have provided new insights into McCullers and we would like to see scholars explore these further.

What are the most interesting perspectives or critical lenses you’ve encountered throughout your academic writing careers?

Literary criticism is dynamic and keeps changing and expanding, which keeps our field interesting. Currently, Alison has been pursuing Jack Halberstam’s The Queer Art of Failure as a lens through which to examine McCullers’s fiction. The premise is that failure, even with its dark outcomes, can offer more creative ways of being in the world. This is an idea that maps well onto McCullers’s odd characters. We have been really excited by some of the approaches that scholars have taken in looking at McCullers recently, such as through comparative transatlantic readings, queer theory, disability studies, and critical animal theory.


Click to download Mercer University’s Press Release of Understanding the Short Fiction of Carson McCullers

Click here to purchase from the Press: Understanding the Short Fiction of Carson McCullers

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Q&A with Mary Bohlen, author of MARY BOHLEN’S HERITAGE COOKING INSPIRED BY REBECCA BOONE

By Ranha Beak

Mary Bohlen is a heritage cook who recreates receipts, or recipes, of Colonial America. She demonstrates hearth and campfire cooking at various historic sites in North Carolina and Virginia.

Her cookbook takes on the challenge of cooking and baking in Rebecca Boone’s 18th century pioneer kitchen. Bohlen’s experienced estimates from period receipts convert temperatures and ingredients into familiar recipes, offering both colonial and modern cooking methods to achieve the same delicious result.

Mary Bohlen’s Heritage Cooking Inspired by Rebecca Boone was just released on March 2, 2020, ready to bring breads and meals from the hearth to the modern-day kitchen. Here is a behind-the-scenes Q&A from the cook Mary Bohlen herself:


Heritage cooking is such a specific skill to practice today, and you’ve been sharing your talents hands-on for years. You have made every recipe look so easy. What did your learning process look like in the beginning? 

My first experience cooking on my own at the hearth was in a log cabin at Latta Place near my home. In those early days I relied heavily on my memories and observations of seeing others cook. I had taken an open-hearth cooking class at the Atlanta History Center previously and replayed that experience over and over in my head. This was a time before the internet so doing research in libraries, obtaining Xerox or hand-written reference materials, and networking was my method. I studied kitchen photos and utensil drawings from colonial periodicals and historic sites and read everything I could get my hands on to expand my knowledge. Success at the fireplace was sometimes by trial and error. Being very careful and patient was a must. I learned quickly that planning ahead for the day, and having good firewood was important. The foods I cooked at the beginning were very simple, like cornbread and pumpkin pie. Those were two things I could conquer from the memories of watching my mother in our kitchen when I was young, plus my own experience. I took baby steps and slowly gained more confidence and experience. 

Do you have lessons on heritage cooking you had to learn the hard way? 

Two lessons come to mind. First, use good seasoned hardwood for cooking such as oak, maple, or hickory. These hardwoods produce the hottest coals needed for baking. Inferior wood will smoke and fail to produce a clear fire. This can be very annoying and discouraging for the cook. This has happened to me. If you have a bad experience with fire wood, you will always remember to look for good wood the next time. Another lesson that only happened to me one time but it was enough. I was to do a cooking demonstration and the person who arranged the tour told me not to bring my cast iron because she had a Dutch oven she would bring. It was a disaster. The pot was not heavy cast iron. It was something imported and was a lighter weight. It did not hold the heat and thus my baking was not a success and I was very embarrassed. Make sure you have good quality cookware.

How did you balance information between food and history throughout your cookbook writing process? 

I try to write to my readers as if I were speaking to them in a cooking class or living history event. Being able to connect food and history is a great way to expand and broaden teaching and learning. I share what is important to me as a heritage cook and what I would want to know. One objective is to give the reader enough information to make the subject more interesting.

Recreating the early scenes of American colonial lifestyle requires more preparation than I could ever have imagined, yet you have done it for years with or without all the tools. Do you have a kitchen gadget you can’t travel without? 

The utensil that for me would be a necessity is a knife. A knife can be used for cutting, peeling, stirring or used as a fork. 

What advice do you have for beginner cooks trying out historical recipes? 

There is a satisfaction in cooking something at the hearth or campfire that you know is from a very old cookbook or manuscript. My suggestion for beginners is to try something simple. Find a receipt you would like to try and study it, including ingredients, measurements, and any accompanying directions. Think through the process— sometimes the directions may not be easily understood. Remember these receipts were penned down in earlier centuries. If you do not understand a term or word look it up on the computer. Often I take a plain piece of paper and write the receipt in my own hand, making any notes or adjustments needed and have with me when I cook. Have all the ingredients at hand and adapt the measurements if necessary before starting. Be patient, take your time and enjoy the process. 

Because your cooking process involves making do with what resources were available in Rebecca Boone’s pantry, what’s one ingredient you would give her as a gift today? 

Baking powder.

Because of your professional cooking career, I feel as if most recipes come instinctively to you. What message did you want your written recipes to deliver?  

My desire is that these historical writings will open up to our readers a richer and fulfilling appreciation and understanding of life for women on the frontier and will inspire them to explore deeper into heritage cooking and foodways.

Do written and published recipes turn out differently than spoken recipes handed down from the kitchen? 

Many historical receipts that were published long ago were originally hand written in household journals and manuscripts.  They may have been written from oral instructions and passed from mother to daughter. It is hard to say if published receipts will turn out differently than oral traditions. Each cook brings her or his own creative influence into the dish and can alter a receipt as they choose.


Click to download Mercer University’s Press Release for Mary Bohlen’s Heritage Cooking Inspired by Rebecca Boone !

Click here to purchase from the Press: Mary Bohlen’s Cookbook

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Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Mercer University Press

The chill in the air settles across Macon, and soon glowing candy canes and wreathes hang on the street posts of College Street. The holiday season is upon us and with it the 29th Annual Mercer University Press Authors Luncheon. Hosted at InterContinental Buckhead Hotel, more than three-hundred guests gathered for a day of smiling authors, signed books, and great food.

The Press’ main team arrived at the hotel Friday afternoon to begin preparations and worked tirelessly into the early hours of the next day. I arrived Saturday morning, well-rested and donning an old Santa hat, to find hundreds of books filling our tables and waiting to be cherished.

First slowly, and then all at once, guests and authors arrived, and the festivities commenced. I wasn’t sure who I was expecting, but as I stood behind the stacks of fiction and nonfiction, swarms of young and old bibliophiles circled our tables. Marsha, Heather, and Jenny manned the checkout table, and I bagged the goods.

I heard from several authors present that the luncheon was the most exciting book signing they had ever attended. Each of the fifteen authors waded through a line of eager book-lovers, all waiting for the chance to personalize their copy. A popular destination, Bill Curry was the first to start and the last to stop signing.

As soon as the book madness peaked, a well-dressed man gently struck a bell, and the doors to the Windsor Ballroom. The hungry crowds gathered their orange Mercer University Press totes and spilled into the high-ceilinged ballroom.

First on the menu was a spring greens salad with roasted squash and zucchinis drizzled with pesto. I had never been a salad person, but, truthfully, I struggled to not noisily devour the dish as Richard “Doc” Schneider, master of ceremonies, amused guests with his opening remarks. Afterwards, we were served glazed chicken on a bed of yellow rice, and I struck up conversation with the photographers beside me.

As we began digging into our dessert (either chocolate mousse or a lemon tart—both topped with a single strawberry), the presenting authors, Vincent Coppola, Joseph Crespino, Virginia Willis, and Rick Bragg, each spoke a little about their lives, their books, and what the luncheon means to them. Vincent Coppola, one of our own MUP authors, reflected on his time shadowing trial lawyer Tommy Malone. Bragg was a crowd favorite with many approaching him afterwards to shake his hand and gush about his deft curation of humor. We sold out of Bragg’s book only two minutes after the end of lunch.

I look back not only on that Saturday but also on the months that I have been able to work with the Press as their intern, and I can only say that Mercer University Press is unlike any other publishing house. The amount of care and camaraderie infused into the publishing process for each author is rare, but it pays off in the resulting books and the lasting relationships between the Press and its authors. On more than one occasion an MUP author or friend of an author said to me, “The Press is like family.” The Authors Luncheon manifested this kindness and kinship, and I encourage anyone who likes great books, good people and tasty food to attend next time.

Next year, our 30th Annual Authors Luncheon will be held Saturday, December 14, 2019. See you there!

Terry Kay — Book Events

Celebrate with Terry Kay at two upcoming book signings of his new novel,

The King Who Made Paper Flowers

 

In 2006, Terry Kay was inducted into the Georgia Writer’s Hall of Fame in ceremonies conducted at the University of Georgia, honoring the accomplishments of a man who began as an errand boy for a weekly newspaper. The journey of his career covers more than fifty years of the most dynamic changes in the state’s history. The award-winning novelist was born in Hart County, Georgia, the eleventh of twelve children, on February 20, 1938. He was reared on a farm, graduating from West Georgia Junior College in 1957 and then LaGrange College in 1959. Kay began his career in journalism in 1959 at the Decatur-DeKalb News, a weekly newspaper in Decatur, Georgia, and later worked for The Atlanta Journal as a sportswriter, and for eight years, as one of America’s leading film-theater critics. In 1989, he left a corporate job in public relations to pursue his passion for writing.

Kay published his first novel in 1976, The Year the Lights Came On, a story inspired by his memory of the coming of electricity to his rural community. He went on to publish After Eli 1981, and in 1984 Dark Thirty, an examination of justice vs. vengeance set in Appalachia. These three publications established Terry Kay as a versatile writer able to navigate through genres with authority. His signature novel To Dance With the White Dog, positioned Kay’s works as Southern classics, winning him the Outstanding Author of the Year award in 1991, two nominations for the American Booksellers’ Book of the Year (ABBY) award, and a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie starring Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. The production earned the highest television rating of the 1993 season, with more than 33 million viewers.

terrykayedited

Since 2007, Mercer University Press has proudly published the writings of Terry Kay. The Book of Marie, Bogmeadow’s Wish, The Greats of Cuttercane, The Seventh Mirror, Song of the Vagabond Bird, and his new novel, The King Who Made Paper Flowers.

Kay’s works have been translated into numerous foreign countries, including Japan, Korea, Taiwan, China, Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Sweden, Germany and Holland. His work has appeared in numerous publications and anthologies, including Reader’s Digest, Atlanta Magazine, A Confederacy of Crime, The Chattahoochee Review, and the Georgia Review. He scripted an episode of In the Heat of the Night and won a Southern Emmy for his original teleplay, Run Down the Rabbit.

Kay’s many honors and awards include induction into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame in 2006, the Governor’s Award in the Humanities (GA) in 2009, the Georgia Writers Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011, and The Terry Kay Prize for Fiction, an annual award presented by the Atlanta Writers Club.

9780881465662

The King Who Made Paper Flowers
MEET THE AUTHOR

Sunday, April 17th — 3:00 pm – 4:30 pm
Friends of the Library—Café au Libris
Athens-Clarke County Library
Appleton Auditorium
2025 Baxter Street
Athens, GA 30606
706-613-3650

Monday, April 18th — 7:15 pm – 9:00 pm
Georgia Center for the Book’s Festival of Writers
Decatur Library, Main Branch
215 Sycamore Street
Decatur, Georgia 30030
404-370-3070

* adapted from http://www.terrykay.com

Cherry Blossom Festival

International Cherry Blossom Festival

Macon, Georgia — March 17–April 3, 2016

Spring is now here, as the days are getting longer and warmer. The birds are chirping and the bees are buzzing and dancing until they find a blossom on which to land. Along with the season of rebirth comes the 24th Annual International Cherry Blossom Festival in Macon, Georgia.

Each March, Macon becomes a pink, cotton-spun paradise when 300,000 Yoshino cherry trees bloom in all their glory. For ten days, festival-lovers are treated to one of the most extravagant displays of springtime color in the nation as they visit the Cherry Blossom Capital of the World.

law school with cherry blossoms-M

 

The story begins when William A. Fickling Sr., a local realtor, discovered the first Yoshino cherry tree in Macon while strolling about in his backyard. The year was 1949. Thanks to Fickling’s propagating efforts, thousands of trees have since been planted around Macon. The idea of a Cherry Blossom Festival didn’t take root until one day at a company picnic Fickling spoke to a woman named Carolyn Crayton after admiring the Yoshino’s unique beauty. While discussing the trees, Carolyn came up with an idea.

“I shared with him a dream of mine, one where the entire town was bursting with thousands of the graceful pink cherry trees. I asked if he would donate trees to plant in my neighborhood of Wesleyan Woods, and he generously agreed, helping my dream become a reality,” said the future festival founder.

To start the project, Fickling agreed to donate the trees if Crayton would organize the planting. In a community wide effort, families, companies, and volunteers began planting what would eventually add up to 500 Yoshino cherry trees by 1973. Macon was now blossoming pink every March.

As executive director of the Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful Commission, Crayton proposed officially launching a Cherry Blossom Festival in celebration of the beauty of the trees and also to honor Fickling for his contributions.

In 1982, the International Cherry Blossom Festival was born, which was built on three basic principles—love, beauty, and international friendship.

Since it’s grassroots beginnings, the festival has become one of the Top 20 Events in the South, Top 50 Events in the US, and Top 100 Events in North America. The festival has since expanded from thirty events over three days to a month-long celebration featuring hundreds of events entertaining people of all ages and backgrounds.

In 2014, Mercer University Press published a history of the festival entitled The Pinkest Party on Earth: Macon, Georgia’s International Cherry Blossom Festival written by Ed Grisamore, award-winning author and then columnist for The Macon Telegraph.

9780881464801
The Pinkest Party on Earth: Macon Georgia’s International Cherry Blossom Festival
By author: Ed Grisamore

The 34th Annual International Cherry Blossom Festival is now underway. For additional information, visit their website or contact the Festival Headquarters at 478-330-7050.
https://www.cherryblossom.com/

Book lovers should mark their calendar for the Cherry Blossom Authors Luncheon on Tuesday, March 29, at 11:30 am at the Idle Hour Country Club. Treat yourself to a lovely Southern lunch and hear three fine Southern authors speak and sign books.
https://www.cherryblossom.com/event/authors-luncheon-presented-by-burgess-pigment-company/

Announcement of Winners — 2015 Mercer University Press Book Awards

Mercer University Press is pleased to announce with a resounding round of applause the winners of the 26th Annual Mercer University Press Book Awards. Each 2015 winner receives a $500 advance and book contract for publication during the Spring/Summer 2017 season.

Ashley Mace Havird was named winner of The Ferrol Sams Award for Fiction for her manuscript entitled Lightningstruck.

 
Past recipients of this award include: Mary Anna Bryan, Marly Youmans, Raymond L. Atkins, Stephen Roth, and Dale Cramer.

 
The judge’s comments—“Lightningstruck is a compelling, wonderfully textured (rich sense of place and people) story of eleven-year-old Etta’s twelfth year in rural South Carolina.”

 
Katy Giebenhain was named winner of The Adrienne Bond Award for Poetry for her collection of poems entitled The Patron Saint of T1D.

 
Past recipients of this award include: Lesley Dauer, Seaborn Jones, Kelly Whiddon, Megan Sexton, and Philip Lee Williams.

 
The judge’s comments—”Really fantastic poems, start to finish. Spectacular images, accessible but complex and well-organized—beautiful through and through.”

 
Christopher Martin was named winner of The Will D. Campbell Award for Creative Nonfiction for his collection of essays entitled This Gladdening Light: Reflections on Fatherhood and Faith.

 
Past recipients of this award include: William E. Merritt, Kathy A. Bradley and Joseph Bathanti.

 
The judge’s comments—”Martin writes honestly with sincere insight that is both confessional and inspiring. His insight into the ‘ordinary’ events of life will resonate with any reader.”

 

The Ferrol Sams Award for Fiction is given to the best manuscript that speaks to the human condition in a Southern context. This category includes both novels and short stories.

 
The Adrienne Bond Award for Poetry is given to the best manuscript that exemplifies the poetic language and vision of the author.

 
The Will D. Campbell Award for Creative Nonfiction is given to the best manuscript that speaks to the human condition in a Southern context. This category includes memoir, natural history, essays, and other genres of nonfiction.

 
Mercer University Press, established in 1979, has published more than 1400 books in the genres of Southern Studies, History, Civil War History, African American Studies, Appalachian Studies, Biography & Memoir, Fiction, Poetry, Religion, Biblical Studies, and Philosophy. Publishing authors from across the United States and abroad, Mercer University Press focuses on topics related to the culture of the South. The reputation of the Press significantly enhances the academic environment of Mercer University and carries the name of Mercer and Macon, Georgia throughout the world.

Announcement of Winners — 2014 Mercer University Press Book Awards

Mercer University Press is pleased to announce the winners of the 2014 Annual Book Awards. Each 2014 award comes with a $500 advance and a book contract for publication in Spring 2016.

Mary Anna Bryan has been awarded the 2014 Ferrol Sams Award for Fiction for her submission entitled Cardinal Hill.

Past recipients of this award include Marly Youmans, Raymond L. AtkinsStephen Roth, and Dale Cramer.

Judge’s comment: “The writer of this novel displays a talent for description, dialogue, and interesting plot twists. Margaret [the main character] is no saint, but her stubborn determination to uncover the truth of her family history turns Cardinal Hill into an interesting detective story. Margaret is smart and imaginative, with a wry sense of humor that holds our interest. Cardinal Hill is a novel that speaks authentically to a specific time and place in the South.”

Lesley Dauer has been awarded the 2014 Adrienne Bond Award for Poetry for her submission entitled Carnival Life.

Past recipients of this award include Seaborn Jones, Kelly Whiddon, Megan Sexton, and Philip Lee Williams.

Judge’s comment: This is a beautifully written collection of poems.”

William E. Merritt has been awarded the 2014 Will D. Campbell Award for Creative Nonfiction for his submission entitled Crackers: A Memoir.

Past recipients of this award include Kathy A. Bradley and Joseph Bathanti.

 Judge’s comment: “One of the elements that strikes me as being quintessentially Southern is the author’s ability to describe the most poignant, even heartbreaking, moments with wry humor, that singular trait that has enabled the South and Southerners to endure.”

 The Ferrol Sams Award for Fiction is given to the best manuscript that speaks to the human condition in a Southern context. This category includes both novels and short stories.

The Adrienne Bond Award for Poetry is given to the best manuscript that exemplifies the poetic language and vision of the author.

The Will D. Campbell Award for Creative Nonfiction is given to the best manuscript that speaks to the human condition in a Southern context. This category includes memoir, natural history, essays, and other genres of nonfiction.

Mercer University Press, established in 1979, has published more than 1400 books in the genres of Southern Studies, History, Civil War History, African American Studies, Appalachian Studies, Biography & Memoir, Fiction, Poetry, Religion, Biblical Studies, and Philosophy. Publishing authors from across the United States and abroad, Mercer University Press focuses on topics related to the culture of the South. The reputation of the Press significantly enhances the academic environment of Mercer University and carries the name of Mercer and Macon, Georgia throughout the world.

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