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Immediacy

While erinetocknell.wordpress.com went dormant for most of 2012, I most certainly did not. From a writing perspective, it was a splendid year. I gave a reading and met with the students of Tusculum College in March. I had a residency at the Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts and Sciences not once, but twice!  The first, for the last two weeks of June, was applied for and planned out. The second came when I got an email about a vacancy in one of the cabins over Thanksgiving. I leapt at that opportunity and so had a good five-day chunk of time to regain my momentum as a rather frantic fall semester drew to a close.

During fall break in October, I drove the ten hours from Chattanooga, where I now live and teach, to Morgantown, West Virginia, where I earned my MFA from 2004-2007. I wanted to see friends, walk along the Monongahela River, eat a pepperoni roll, and experience West Virginia in the fall, and I did all those things. Something else I did surprised me – I got nostalgic for grad school. Not nostalgic enough to go back, mind you, but I did miss it. In grad school, I was so fantastically busy that it actually morphed into a finely honed singleness of purpose. There was none of this scattershot approach we have in “real life,” no attempts at being well-rounded. If I was awake, I needed to be reading, writing, prepping, or grading. I compartmentalized those tasks, devoting huge chunks of time to each one and, somehow, still managed to make friends that I keep up with and want to visit five years later. In thinking on my time at WVU, I keep coming back to an adage a colleague of mine often recites, “If you want something done, ask a busy man (or woman) to do it.”

Now that I have a full-time job, a steady source of income, and free time, life is easier, but there are things I miss about my years in Morgantown, especially as a writer. I miss workshopping. Specifically, I miss the community of people with whom I shared work. I miss the “post-workshop-workshop” when friends and I would convene or talk on the phone and analyze each others’ pieces even further. Also, I miss the immediacy that came with being a part of a workshop community. As a student typing away at my keyboard, I knew I had to get that sentence right because someone would be reading it the next week, whether it was ready or not. The opposite is true now. I can tinker with an essay forever and then send it to a journal where someone may love it or skim a page and toss it. You never know.

I’m not complaining, per se. Writers are solitary and that’s the nature of it. We get the community early in our careers to prepare us for working alone, we can always sign up for a workshop or two, and we do tend to seek each other out and support each other, but I miss those semester-long journeys.  I miss those deadlines, the urgency and, frankly, that fear of scrutiny that forced me to sharpen a sentence.

I don’t have an MFA program any more, but I do have stacks of writing I need to hone, and I have this blog. So, this is what I’m going to do:

1) Periodically (bi-weekly, ideally), I will post a section of something I’m working on. My essays are braided essays, so it will be easy to isolate a portion, polish it, and put it up on the blog.

2) In between those intervals, I will post reflections on my research. For example, in revising a sprawling mess of a Christmas essay over break, I read a lot of Marilynne Robinson and Thomas Merton, so expect to see something about them in this space.

But wait! There’s a huge catch here! Read on! Today I learned that if I post even the tiniest piece of a larger essay on this blog, I ruin any chance of it being published by a lit journal or magazine. (It has something to do with first rights that I don’t entirely understand.) However, if I post an excerpt and password protect it, it’s free and clear.

So, the blog is coming back to life. Anything I post related to research will be public. Read it, share it, search for it on Google, it’ll be there. Essay excerpts will be password-protected. What I’ll do is post a link to the new entry on Facebook, along with the password. If you want to read those, you’ll need to like Confederate Streets or friend me so you can stay abreast of the password situation.

By the way, I’m very grateful for my grad school friend, Sarah, who is an editor at Brevity and alerted me to the dangers of posting essay excerpts. I would have negated a lot of work if she hadn’t straightened me out. She advised me to make sure other journals had similar policies, so I cold-called the Sewanee Review, American Scholar, and VQR because you know, heck, let’s just go for the big guns. Oh my goodness! Everyone I talked to was so friendly! It’s clear from the discussions I had that this issue of who owns what on the web is far from resolved, but for now, dear writer friends, know that posting excerpts on your personal blog is a bad idea if you have any aspirations for that piece beyond the blog itself.

Well, this has become a long post, but it’s good to be back on the web and getting stuff done. My first excerpt, which is about a New Year’s drive through the heart of West Virginia, will be posted very soon. Keep your eyes open. Get that password. Tell a friend. Thanks for reading!

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sailing along…

Hello everyone!

It’s been a while since I’ve been on here, but that’s not because Confederate Streets has dropped off the radar. Whereas 2011 was the Year of the Book – an exhilarating adventure of promotion and travel, 2012 has begun with a comfortable momentum. I have a reading coming up and the book is also gathering some credibility on the book club scene.

Last night, I returned to the WinderBinder Bookstore and Gallery, site of my Chattanooga book launch last April, for a discussion of Confederate Streets at the monthly meeting of Chattanooga’s Southern Literature Book Club. I do love sitting down with people who have read my essays, especially folks who didn’t know me beforehand. Inevitably, these discussions turn into author interviews and good readers (as these folks are) ask good questions. Last night, someone asked me how I teach students who have told me that they, too, want to be writers. Well, I’ve only had one who’s declared his interest in writing books and he actually introduced me when I read at WinderBinder last April, which was one of the most special things about that evening. Other than trying to connect interested students with opportunities to be published, enter contests, and that type of thing, I realized that I don’t approach teaching any differently with a math kid or a poet or whatever. Good writing is good writing. Perhaps I’m just a crazy idealist, but I want every kid who comes in contact with me to understand writing both as something that is functional and necessary and something that allows us all to understand the world as we muddle our way through living in it.

March is almost here and I have two more appearances connected with Confederate Streets

Wednesday, March 14, 12:00 – Book club meeting at McCallie School. I believe this is a pretty established club, but it’s run by the headmaster’s wife, so if you know her and want to come, drop her an email, I guess. I’m looking forward to passing a lunch hour in the Headmaster’s House on the day before Spring Break.

Thursday, March 22, 7 p.m. – Reading at Tusculum College, Greeneville, TN –  I am really looking forward to heading up to Tusculum during Spring Break. My friend and fellow WVU MFA Alum, Wayne Thomas, has been teaching there for a number of years now and has steadily garnered attention for the school’s creative writing program. This will be a fine evening indeed.

I’ve really appreciated you all, my faithful readers, and your willingness to share your thoughts on my book, write reviews for it, and tell your friends about it. My goal last year was to get my book “out there” and it does seem that has happened. I’m in a good place as a writer and teacher at this point. The published book is rolling, the work I want to write is making progress (slower than I would like, but I can make it a priority this year, which is wonderful), and my time in the Writing Center at the school where I work is giving me the chance to support young people who want to write.

I’ll say this though – I’d love to have more than three book-related appearances in 2012. If you can’t make it to the upcoming book clubs or reading, consider hosting your own! I am based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, I have a reliable car, an iPod full of music, and a high school teacher’s schedule. In other words, I am game for road trips. In fact, I love them. If you’d like to arrange a reading or book club meeting through your church, school, friends, etc. and you want me to come, I’d be more than willing. The best way to get in touch with me would be to leave a comment here, email me (info is under the contact tab) or “friend” Confederate Streets on facebook.

Thanks everyone. Have a great day and read a good book.

For the entire time I was growing up in Nashville, my favorite place to go when I had some money in my pocket was a bookstore called Davis-Kidd. Heck, it was my favorite place to go even when I didn’t have money in my pocket. Many of Nashville’s bibliophiles, seeking to prove their long memory, will brag about remembering the first location Davis-Kidd had in the Green Hills mall, back in the 80s. Well, I remember even before that, when Davis-Kidd was in a little box of a building that is now an Oriental Rug Depot or somesuch thing. I remember the clerk recommending children’s books to me. As I grew, so did the store, moving to bigger and bigger locations.

By the time I was about 13, Davis-Kidd was in a glorious two-story building and my English teachers were predicting that I would be a writer when I grew up. Their assertions were almost always followed by a reference to Davis-Kidd, i.e. “I just know I’m going to see your book in the window at Davis-Kidd someday.” My dream of being an author was completely intertwined with the idea of someday reading and selling my book there. When I got my driver’s license, I would go to the store and sit on the benches between the shelves like I was in worship, which I suppose I kind of was.

At about this time last year, the news broke that Davis-Kidd was closing. My book had been accepted for publication but not yet released, and I had just received the form that authors have to fill out in order for this icon of a store to carry their book. My immediate reaction was that I had come very close to realizing a dream, only to have it snatched away. I was crushed. Eventually, this emotional reaction healed over, but I was still left with a pragmatic struggle: Here I was with a book about Nashville and there was no place in Nashville to sell it.

Over the past year, I’ve learned a lot about what’s involved in selling books. I’ve learned about publishers and distributors, and I’ve learned just how hard it is to get a box store to carry a book that didn’t come out of a major publishing house. The Barnes+Noble located not far from the events depicted in Confederate Streets won’t carry my book unless the national office approves it, which isn’t going to happen for my little collection of essays.  It’s ridiculous. The whole process of trying to get any retailer in Nashville to notice my book has been frustrating and disheartening. It seems that every phone call gets routed through New York City.

This summer, some rumors about a new bookstore began circling. And, I’d be darned if they didn’t end up to be true. Ann Patchett, a Nashvillian and nationally renowned author, partnered up with Karen Hayes, a sales rep from Random House. They decided to open their own bookstore, which they named Parnassus, after the mountain where the ancient Greeks believed learning and literature lived. After a whole lot of work on their part and a lot of enthusiasm from the community, Parnassus Books opens TODAY in Green Hills. I will be there. Confederate Streets will be there.

There’s been an awful lot of talk in recent years about the death of the book (a session with just such a name was standing-room only at The Southern Festival of Books last month in Nashville), and I imagine that at least a few of you are reading this blog or my book on some sort of e-device. That’s fine, but after the year I’ve had, I can assure you that bookstores are still a vital part of any intellectual community. My friends have stepped up admirably – they’ve hosted me for readings and shared Confederate Streets with their book clubs – so the book has definitely received some momentum. However, even with that assistance and the dominance of Amazon, if a book doesn’t have a home, it doesn’t exist. I don’t even know if I would buy a book about Nashville that cannot actually be purchased in Nashville. Anyone can throw some self-published blather up on an e-book. Bookstores provide ethos.

Bookstores also provide community. As a reader, sometimes I just want to be in a place where I can browse. Sometimes, I’m in a mood and I just want to read something with a certain tone or that covers a certain topic. Knowledgable booksellers are so much more helpful than an algorithim, and it’s always more fun to be in an actual physical space than it is to browse the Internet in solitude.

As an author, bookstores are equally as necessary. Davis-Kidd closed and my scramble began. I was emailing churches, libraries, colleges, anyone. I have this book and people say it’s pretty good and would you like me to come speak about it? Well, you can’t buy it in town, but I can bring my own copies. It’s been the same with getting the media to review the book. It’s about Nashville…No, but you can buy it on Amazon. I was usually shut down. I’ve even met a couple prominent authors who were willing to give readings with me (I saw it as being the opening act to their arena-level rock band), but it’s hard to give a reading when the place that usually hosts such things has gone.

Parnassus is focusing on the local, and that will be key to its survival. Take it from me – the small neighborhood bookshop is as relevant in 2011 as it has ever been. In fact, with the all-out information blitz that assaults our senses during our waking hours, a place like Parnassus – Nashville’s new home for literature, for readings, and for browsing on a Saturday afternoon – is more necessary than ever.

The GRAND OPENING of Parnassus Books will be all day today in Nashville. I will be joining other local authors for a reception from 5-8 p.m. Parnassus is in the shopping center where Abbot Martin T’s into Hillsboro Road. (As if a bookstore opening isn’t wonderful enough, it’s opening in the same row of shops as Fox’s Donut Den!)  If you live in Nashville, stop on by. If you don’t, give your friendly neighborhood bookstore some lovin’ real soon.

Along with being a writer, I teach, coach, work in the Writing Center, and run the literary magazine at an all-boys’ prep school here in Chattanooga. (Maybe that sentence should be reversed. Unless it’s summer, carving out writing time is quite a battle. I’m following a proud tradition in that camp.) My coaching duty is fall novice crew, which I affectionately think of as “rowing kindergarten.” The other novice coaches and I show up in the Student Athletic Center in August and meet about three-dozen ninth-graders who have never even sat in a racing shell. By November, they’re trucking down the course at The Head of the Hooch, one of the largest regattas in the country (Actually poised to become THE largest regatta in the country this year. I’m not sure if the numbers are out yet.)  It’s a steep learning curve, and I could certainly write an essay or two about what happens to your heart rate when you put 9 14-year-olds in an expensive boat and turn them loose on the Tennessee River. By the end of the fall season, however, a lot of the “crap-are-they-going-to-crash-into-stuff?” stress is gone and replaced by the fun of strategizing for competitions, soaking in the slanting golden light as I putt down the river in a jon boat, and enjoying the personalities of the rowers and coaches around me.

I have not posted much this fall, nor have I done a lot of writing (though I have been reading/researching, so that’s good). I sent my dog off to be with my parents in Florida because I was too busy to take care of him. The lazy, languid days of summer ended with a full sprint into the school year, and I’ve been going ever since. Still, I’m not gonna’ lie, coaching novice crew here in Chattanooga is a blast. From the initial rowing instructions to frightened and adrift novi in September (“Okay, now straighten your knees …. no, your knees….your knees….. Those are your elbows.), to  the overheard conversations as I drive the mini-bus (We have a boarder from Westchester, New York, this year. Listening to the Southerners and the Yankee trying to sort out their mutual misinformation has been so funny that I’ve nearly crashed the bus), to the general chaos around regatta preparations (last week, after rowing all of our boats down to the staging area for the Hooch in the rain, I ended up walking all the way from downtown back to our boathouse with about eight guys, one of whom was barefoot because he couldn’t find his shoes), to the sprinting-cowbell ringing-dock catching chaos that the Head of the Hooch always brings, it’s been a satisfying and exhausting autumn.

I’ve done other stuff this fall, too, like realizing my lifelong dream of being a part of the Southern Festival of Books. (I was even mentioned in the Nashville Scene!)More on that and other events in future posts. For now, enjoy a few pictures from my life in rowing kindergarten.

By the way, if you enjoy these shots, want to learn more about rowing, or are interested in how I got into crew and why I love it so much, check out the essay I wrote for the Pittsburgh in Words project a couple years ago.

The Novice 8 in late fall 2009

Rowing with the Novice 4+ in November 2009

The recovery dock at the 2011 Hooch in Chattanooga. Thanks to my mom, Margaret, for this shot!

"My" Novice 4+ coming under the Walnut Street Bridge at the 2011 Head of the Hooch. My mom took this awesome shot. I was too busy whooping and hollering.

This past July, after my reading at Malaprop’s in Asheville, I decided to spend a few days in the Smoky Mountains. My trip to Great Smoky Mountain National Park was significant and memorable for a couple reasons. First, I got to spend time with my friend Tim, his wife Mindy, and their infant daughter. Tim was one of about a half-dozen people with whom I shared a double-wide trailer outside Kalispell, Montana, in 2002. Sometimes, I can’t believe that’s a sentence I can even type – I lived with seven other people in a double-wide trailer in Montana for a year when I was 24. That time seems long ago, and it was quite special to me to have Tim and Mindy there at my reading in Asheville. (Tim now works for the NPS in the Smokies.)

Also (and here’s the part you are not going to believe), my July trip to the Smokies was significant because I had never been to the Smokies before. If you’re growing up in Nashville and you want to go to the mountains, the Cumberland Plateau is the closest option. Plus, I’d always heard that Great Smoky Mountain National Park is crowded with tourists and traffic jams. No thanks, says I, I’ll just muck around on the Sewanee Perimeter Trail.

However, no one can deny that the Smokies have a powerful mystique about them. Plus, my latest project focuses on how Americans/Southerners view the wilderness – how we interact with it, fear it, commodify it, and ultimately love it (though our love often seems bizarre, elaborate, and more than a little dysfunctional). The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is pretty much the epicenter of bizarre human/wilderness interaction, so a visit was imperative.

I loved it. The weather was nice and cool. The people-watching was excellent and, once we got about a quarter mile in on any trail, we felt like we had this vast, breathing wilderness to ourselves.

Last night, late fall arrived in earnest. It is chilly and windy outside. The yellow leaves are bright against the backdrop of a stormy sky. I am reading Horace Kephart’s lost novel Smoky Mountain Magic and wishing I could wake up cocooned in a sleeping bag in one of the hollers Tim and I explored this summer. I keep thinking of the remnants of farms and foundations that we found there; graveyards where people who lived back in those mysterious mountains were buried long ago. But, I also think of RVs and leaf-peepers and winding highways. Thinking of that space where people converge with the wilderness or their idea of it, here are some shots of my trip to the Smokies in July.

Doubtful, but entirely possible since most park visitors never leave the road.

Remnants of a house with a dog trot, about 4 miles in on the Boogerman Trail

Tim and I sat alongside this burial plot far off the trail and ate a lunch of string cheese, fruit cups, and Gatorade. I wondered how long it had been since these bones had enjoyed company.

Clingman's Dome at dusk. We drove there.

Today's human settlements in the Smokies. Note odd juxtaposition of amenities.

Elizabeth and Hazel

Six years ago, when I first started work on the essays that would become Confederate Streets, I spent a lot of time in the Civil Rights Room in the downtown branch of  the Nashville Public Library. I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for, only that I had finished an analytical essay on busing for racial balance and that I wanted to, perhaps, write some narrative essays on the same topic. I was also interested in the outdoors and the Cumberland Plateau (subject matter I am pursuing now), and the room next to the Civil Rights Room was full of books on that topic, so I filled a few blistering summer days by wandering back and forth between those cool and pleasant rooms, reading about the sit-ins in one and Beersheba Springs in the other.

The Civil Rights Room is decorated with iconic photos from the movement in Nashville. I spent some time examining each one, but one photo in particular captivated me. You can see it at this link – it is the one at the top of the page. See the woman standing between the children and the crowd as she walks them to their first day of first grade? The girls holding hands? The white children lining the streets, barefoot, perhaps because they were being held out of school that day? I studied each face, each posture, wondered what everyone in that photograph must have been thinking at that moment – a late summer morning, September 9, 1957, the first day that blacks attended Nashville schools which were previously closed to them. However, the reason this picture really, really resonated with me is that exclamation point floating above the crowd – the sign which reads “GOD is the author of segregation.” I was born in the late 1970s and always thought of God as the author of the civil rights movement, of peace, of loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you. The idea that someone would invoke the name of God as they harassed a couple of six-year-olds on their first day was school was both repulsive and darkly fascinating. Who was that person?

In another photograph, this sign shows up again and the woman holding it is visible, though the children are not. Her face is contorted. She is waving the sign and shouting.

One evening in the summer of 2005, I told one of my friends in Nashville about the picture and she said, “It makes me wonder what that woman must think now when she sees herself in that picture.” I’d been obsessing over every detail the photograph, but I had been thinking of it as something buried in the past, something encapsulated in the 1950s. Leila’s observation changed my perspective. I started wondering, “Where are we now because of where we were then?”

When I returned to Morgantown for the school year and started writing, I remembered those photographs as one in the same. As I wrote what would become the title essay of my collection, I pictured that woman shouting, the children mustering up an awful lot of resolve for six-year-olds, that sign invoking God and waving above it all. I devote about a page in the book to wondering where the woman with that awful sign might be today. I imagine that the sign is long gone, burned. Or, perhaps, it’s waiting in a closet, waiting to be used again. I imagine that the woman who held the sign is either completely mortified or silent and angry whenever she sees children of all races going to school together.

One thing I never did was actually try to find that woman, or the girls being walked to school, or anyone else in the photograph. I merely wondered where their lives had taken them since the morning of September 9, 1957.

Apparently, author David Margolick wondered the same thing when he saw this iconic photo of the day nine African-American teenagers began classes at Little Rock Central High School. Like my friend, Leila, he recognized that the lives of each of the women in that picture would have continued off the frame and forward through the ensuing decades. But, rather than hypothesize, he actually did extensive research, conducted interviews, and wrote a book – Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock, which was just published by Yale University Press.

I have not yet read the book, but I did read the review in the New York Times on Sunday. It sounds like a book I should read, as should you, dear reader, if you are a fan of Confederate Streets. In the photo, the white woman, Hazel Bryan is apparently shouting, “Go home, nigger!” Her face, like the faces of so many white people in so many shots similar to this one, is contorted. Her ugliness in the shot is a manifestation of the ugliness of the time.  The black teenager, Elizabeth Eckford, has always seemed like the picture of grace to me. She’s smart and brave, with things to learn and no time for the likes of ignorant bigots like Hazel.

According to Margolick, however, Elizabeth was “terrified behind her dark glasses.” Although she did, ultimately, go to school at Central, she did not make it into the building that day. The governor blocked the door, the black teenagers were surrounded by a mob calling for a lynching. The National Guard had to be brought in to get those children into their classrooms. Once they were in, Hazel transferred out, but the Little Rock Nine bore constant abuse for the entire school year.

I’ll spare you all of the “where are they now?” details, but the essence of what I read in the NYT is this: By the time Kennedy was President, Hazel already regretted her actions. She apologized to Elizabeth, who accepted it, and went on to live her life. According to an interview I read in the Christian Science Monitor, Hazel has, for the most part, led a life of moral conviction for over 50 years. The depiction of the self in the photograph is, thankfully, not the self Hazel grew up to be.

Elizabeth, who clearly developed a sense of moral conviction before Hazel, has had a difficult life. She suffered from an undiagnosed case of PTSD. She’s had a hard time sustaining relationships in her life, even with her own children. In the 90s, after getting the PTSD diagnosis, things started improving for her, but there’s no denying that Elizabeth has struggled since walking through the doors of Central over half a century ago.

It hardly seems fair. I look at the pictures of Little Rock and Nashville and I want the bigots to be the ones suffering today. I’d like to think that the woman defiling a just and loving God with her sign in Nashville has been paralyzed by guilt, while those two black six-year-olds have gone on to lead pleasant and fulfilling lives. Then I think, “What good does it do me, or anyone, if that’s actually the case?” I should want what Martin Luther King wanted – “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars,” he said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” So, I feel guilty myself for wishing bad things on the woman with the sign.

The best thing, I suppose, would be that everyone in that photograph hanging in the Civil Rights Room in the Nashville Public Library has found some sort of peace. True peace, however, won’t come without reconciliation, and reconciliation won’t come without people acknowledging the truth of what happened that day, as well as either the ugliness or bravery they were demonstrating when the photographer captured a moment in time. From the NYT article, I get the impression that Elizabeth Eckford and Hazel Bryant have made such an acknowledgement. They’ve even become friends. Their lives are far from perfect and they currently are not speaking to each other but at least they did reconcile to a degree.

Margolick’s work with Elizabeth and Hazel has me wondering more about the people in the photograph I wrote about for my book. Does anyone know the people in the photo at the top of this page? I don’t know much more than the caption tells us – the shot was taken by John Malone for the Nashville Banner.  I believe the girls are being walked to Buena Vista Elementary, though I could be wrong. I’d like to find them and learn whatever they have to teach.

It’s easy to look at black-and-white photographs and think, “That’s over. That happened a long, long time ago.” What we can learn from books like Elizabeth and Hazel is that nothing is so tidy as to ever really be over. Good photographs capture the truth, but they can only capture a moment. Life, with all its chaos and sadness and redemption, spills over the frame.

Wow! So, I’ve had this blog up since my essay collection was published by Benu Press in March. Through Wednesday, I’d had about 2,000 visits to the blog, total, with the largest day bringing about 160 views to an essay I wrote in the wake of the April 27 Tornado Outbreak. Yesterday morning, before I’d even had my coffee, I heard of the passing of Civil Rights icon Fred Shuttlesworth. My breakfast ruminations over the deaths of Shuttlesworth and Steve Jobs occurring on the same day led to an idea, which led to me holing myself up in my study and going on a writing binge of sorts. Around 2:30 p.m., hungry and thirsty and bleary-eyed, I posted “Fred and Steve.” The last time I checked, over 1,000 people had read the piece.

If you are one of those visitors, I sincerely thank you for taking the time to read that essay, check out my blog, and tell your friends. If you are interested in learning more about leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, my book, Confederate Streets, explores the history of Nashville, Tennessee, through the lens of someone who was born in the late 1970s. I was born after the movement, but the work of desegregation was far from over and, like most Nashvillians (especially those of us who attended public schools), the work of the Civil Rights leaders and those who opposed them affected virtually every facet of my life. (The book’s title comes from the fact that segregationists named all the streets in my neighborhood after Confederate leaders and battles shortly after the 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education) You can find my book on amazon.com or, conveniently enough considering yesterday’s post, read it on your i-something for the low price of $4.99.

Even before people started sharing my work on Facebook yesterday, I was looking forward to this month as it connects to my writing career. You see, this time next week I will be on my way to Nashville to participate in a panel discussion at the Southern Festival of Books! I first attended the Festival in October 1994, when I was a junior in high school. It was just a short walk from my high school, Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet. We were given free rein and little supervision, but, being good little nerds, we all stayed around. I remember it as a spiritual awakening of sorts. I walked from table to table there on War Memorial Plaza, spoke with authors, and realized they were real people. I remember wandering around in that slanting autumn light and thinking to myself, “I can do this. I can be here someday.”

Someday” comes next Friday, October 14, at 1 p.m. in the library of the State Capitol. I will be presenting with Ms. Carrie Gentry, wife of Tennessee State University’s iconic coach and professor Howard C. Gentry, about whom she has written a book. We will each read from our respective works and then there will be a moderated discussion on race. I’m really, really looking forward to the realization of this dream and the chance to meet Ms. Gentry and hear her take on issues that matter so much.

But really, regardless of your interest in the book or your proximity to Nashville, thank you all so very much for stopping by. I do write pieces here about ideas that interest me – mostly topics connected to the Civil Rights Movement, social justice, or cultural geography. On Wednesdays, I post photos. I hope many of you return to the blog, but even if you don’t, I appreciate you taking the time to read my tribute to the two very different kinds of visionaries we lost on Oct. 5 – Fred Shuttlesworth and Steve Jobs.