Posts Tagged ‘Nashville’

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.


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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.

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Back in May, I envisioned spending a lot of time with this blog this summer, reading up on issues and then waxing philosophic in this space.  It ends up I haven’t been spending much time in the blogospere, but that’s because I’ve been working on my new project, enjoying friends and time outside, and, oh yeah, setting up readings!

Last Friday, I read at Malaprop’s Bookstore and Cafe in Asheville, NC. In a world where independent bookstores are folding like….umm…stuff that folds. (hey, I told you I’m saving my best writing for the new project), Malaprop’s is a proud exception.  They have readings and events all the time, which they promote like crazy. They keep the store open during readings to encourage walk-ins, and they usually group the readings into a lecture series of sorts. This summer, they are focusing on Southern Culture, so Confederate Streets fit in like…well…things that fit in.

You can check out a list of their other offerings here. I really wanted to hear about moonshine on Saturday night, but I was off hiking in the Smokies as research for my next project. (life is tough. 😉

THIS week brings a three-city “tour” of sorts. At 11 a.m. on Thursday, I will be revisiting the church where I grew up (and am still a member), Calvary United Methodist on Hillsboro Road in Nashville, and sharing at their Adult Fellowship. This requires reservations, so please call Libby at (615)297-7562 if you wish to come.

If you live in Birmingham, know people who live in Birmingham, or just want to take a drive down to this fine Alabama city, come on out to The Little Professor Bookshop , which is in Homewood, at 5 p.m. on Friday for the reading. I will be signing books until 8. Like Asheville, Birmingham is new territory for me, but I do believe that the stories in Confederate Streets will resonate there. It’s just a matter of getting the word out.

And, finally, on Saturday, I’ll bring it back to the ‘Noog. It’s hot out, so why not come up to Signal Mountain where the breeze always blows? I will be reading at Wild Hare Books (in the shopping center across from Pruett’s) at 2 p.m. The store’s owner, Linda Wyatt (mother of a McCallie alumnus) will be baking cookies. I know that sealed the deal for me. 🙂

For those of you who have been listening to “Around and About” on WUTC, the interview hit some glitches and I have to go redo it today. It should air TOMORROW (Wednesday).

Thank you so much to all of you who read this blog and have come out to hear about Confederate Streets. It’s been a great spring and summer.  I hope to see more of you (and your friends!) this week.

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Confederate Streets is hitting the road this summer. I’m excited about combining my love for road trips with the chance to meet up with old friends and share my work with more people. Here are the dates so far:

Friday, July 15, 7 p.m.  – Malaprop’s Bookstore; Asheville, North Carolina

Thursday, July 21, 11 a.m. – Adult Fellowship @ Calvary United Methodist Church; Nashville, Tennessee (reservations required)

Friday, July 22, 5-8 p.m. – Little Professor Book Center; Homewood, Alabama

Saturday, July 23, 2-4 p.m. – Wild Hare Books; Signal Mountain, Tennessee

Looks like fun, no? I am pleased to be able to travel to Asheville and read in Malaprop’s – my favorite bookstore in one of my favorite cities. I’m also pretty excited about the mini book tour through Nashville, Birmingham, and Chattanooga the following weekend.

Do you think you might want to come? Would you like to help promote a reading? Would you like me to come read in your city? Please leave a comment below or send me a message on Facebook.

Busy summer? Never fear. I will also be one of hundreds of authors set up at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville  from October 14-16. Come on out and say howdy. The Festival of Books never disappoints.

See you on the road!

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Among other nice things in a recent review of my book, Ralph Bowden wrote that I “grew up with engaged, responsible parents.” This is true. One of my favorite examples of Mom and Dad’s engaged responsibility, however, did not make it into the book….

In the winter of 1987, when I was eight years old, my parents informed me that the three of us would be watching every episode of the PBS documentary series Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years 1954-1965 together. It was, I remember, broadcast once a week for six successive weeks, with each episode covering a specific aspect of the movement.  It also came on precisely at my bedtime. In my house, bedtime was iron-clad, so the fact that Mom and Dad let me stay up late made me happy and conveyed the deep importance of what I was watching. Some of the footage, I remember, was scary – buses on fire, men being beaten, faces contorted with hate, but I was allowed to ask questions about what I was seeing.  It was while watching those episodes that I learned about my parents’ memories of those days.

I looked forward to the every episode of Eyes on the Prize. Sometimes, I would fall asleep on the couch, but Mom and Dad woke me up if there was something they thought I needed to see – I still remember being shaken awake to witness the Freedom Rides.

Because of what my parents did, I felt a responsibility to what I’d learned. I wasn’t sure what exactly to do with my newfound knowledge,  but I knew, somehow, that I needed to be mindful of that history in my daily interactions. I knew those stories were important. I also became completely fascinated with the movement – a fascination that rekindled itself as I sat in the Downtown Nashville Public Library in the summer of 2005 and began what would become my book.

Tonight, PBS is airing another immensely important Civil Rights documentary – Freedom Riders – in honor of the 50th Anniversary of the Freedom Rides, when black and white Americans violated Jim Crow laws to ride buses together across the South. Advance criticism is overwhelmingly positive. From what I can tell, one thread of the story involves students retracing the rides today.

We Americans can talk and talk about what happened here in the 1950s and 60s, but few genres capture the high stakes, terror, and courage of the Civil Rights Movement like documentary film.  Tune in tonight – PBS 9/8 C. And if you have school-age kids, keep ’em up – I speak from experience when I say this is one history lesson that’s worth sacrificing some sleep for.

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Last Monday morning, I grabbed the almost-full box of books I’m still trying to sell. (Fortunately more like a quarter-box now) and headed off to Martin Luther King Magnet at Pearl High School.  When I went there in 7-9 grade, it was Martin Luther King, Jr. Magnet High School for the Health Sciences and Engineering. Being as I wasn’t much of a health scientist or engineer, I left in 10th grade to go to Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet.

Anyway, while most people probably don’t dream of the day they will triumphantly return to their junior high school clutching an essay collection, I kind of did.  I was actually a student at MLK when English teachers starting to pay attention to my writing. I was at MLK when I decided I would write a book someday.

That was almost 20 years ago. But, once again, I found myself in the sort of time warp one experiences on trips home.  As I say in my chapter on MLK, a lot has changed around the school – it has landscaping, the street is a thru street, the Hale Homes have been razed and replaced with HOPE VI Housing – but a lot is the same.  The hallways are still brown tile, the seventh graders still stick close together.

I sat in the hallway at MLK during lunch and watched the kids milling about. A couple old teachers came by and bought the book. After lunch was over, an English teacher invited me to come speak with her study hall group, and the kids were full of questions about what the school was like 20 years ago.  From our dialogue, we determined that the teachers were different, but the quirky,misfit spirit of the school was essentially the same.

After about 25 minutes with the class, it was time to go. I thanked them for listening, walked down the hall, and out to the principal’s office. Just as I was saying goodbye to her, a school resource officer came up and said, “We’re going to have to put the school on lockdown immediately.”

The principal and I agreed that I should get out before I was stuck indefinitely. Then, a couple boys ran in to the office.  They were frantic.  It seems they had been outside when they heard about 15-20 gunshots and  saw a car going up the street with its windows shot out, being pursued by an SUV.

I decided not to go out there.

When I was a student at MLK, we had a similar situation. There was a hostage situation in the housing projects across the street and we were not allowed to move around the school.  But it was a pretty primitive lockdown compared to the one I saw on Monday. Twenty years ago, we were told to get away from the windows (so we all ran to the windows), but we weren’t given any other explanation. I remember I eventually wandered out into the hall, found my soccer coach and teammates also wandering the hall, and asked if we would still have our game that day (we didn’t).    Shades were drawn, doors were locked, walkie-talkies brandished.  Every room was its own shut off little pod.  I sat in the main office with a motley crue of office aides, seniors, 7th graders, and a former French teacher. I tried to sell my book. 🙂 The atmosphere was pretty relaxed, really, and after 35 minutes, we were freed.

As far as I know, the police never found either vehicle. Just as I did twenty years ago, I think of the layers and layers and divergent lives converging on one space, interacting with and effecting each other, deliberately or not.

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After bidding farewell to the folks at the Southside Family Charter School (who took a copy of my book back to their school library), I headed out from downtown, past my high school, and over to “my” part of town, the area around Granny White Pike and Radnor Lake which is depicted in Confederate Streets. All the major stuff I remember from my drive back and forth to high school is still there – Music Row with it’s houses and studios and banners congratulating songwriters, Belmont Blvd with its funky, urban feel and Bongo Java (the world’s most wonderful coffeeshop), and Granny White Pike with it’s long ranchers and wide, green lawns.  While the major stuff was still in place, I was thankful all weekend for that Nashvillian proclivity for giving directions based on “where the so-and-so used to be.”  The city has changed. It’s hip now, for one thing, and areas of town which were once just spots you drove through on the way to someplace else are full of bars and sushi restaurants and fancy high rise apartments (I’m talking to YOU, The Gulch).  Actually, it was the beginning of that trend in the early 2000s that brought about the idea for my book. The area where many of the African-American students with whom I attended Percy Priest Elementary had lived was in the early stages of gentrification; I started wondering what had happened to those children, where their lives had taken them.

Back to the reading, the reading itself, was wonderful for a variety of reasons. I have been taking my writing pretty seriously since I was about 13, and all that time I had a vision of reading my first book for a hometown crowd of friends and teachers.  That’s exactly what I got on Friday night.

One of William Faulkner’s more famous quotes is, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”  I have seen this somewhere with the preface, “To a Southerner the past is never dead. It’s not even past,” but I can’t seem to find evidence of that anywhere on the web at the moment.  In any case, that line has often been interpreted as Faulkner writing about the South, specifically why this region has problems with confronting the Civil War and other issues pertaining to race. (my post from yesterday, however, reveals that even though we can’t let our past go with respect to race, we’re not talking about it like we should )

However, when I’m feeling sentimental (as realizing a lifelong dream in front of a group of treasured family, friends, and teachers is wont to make one do) I think Faulkner also meant that we Southerners are good at remembering things that matter, because those things never fade into insignificance. Maybe any place that is home feels this way, but I’m from Nashville, so that’s all I can speak for.  It’s why alumni from a school that was closed in 1983 still came out to my reading.  Because the past is never past in Nashville, I could knock on the door of my fourth grade teacher, invite her to the reading at Glendale United Methodist Church that night, and see her in the crowd.  Because the past is never past, Mr. Bill Brown, an incredible poet and a teacher who inspired me like no other (in 1994, which was a long, long time ago) introduced me on Friday night. Because the past is never past, everyone in the audience who’d had Bill Brown as a teacher half a lifetime ago was leaning on the edge of their chairs, once again wondering what knowledge and love of words he would impart.

I guess I’m trying to come up with a literary way of saying that time did a strange dance on Friday.  My friends and I are older and lord knows we’ve been through the struggles adulthood brings. But standing there in front of people who have known me since I couldn’t keep barrettes from going crooked in my hair caused everything to melt together. I was the adult reading the book and the kid depicted in the book. It was rather glorious.

Fortunately, the reading had the same effect on my audience. I read the first 6 pages of the book, which are mostly about Brown v. Board of Education, the Nashville Plan, and busing.  As I signed copies later, many of my parents’ friends told me their own stories about busing, about moving out to Brentwood or Forest Hills after Brown. These are stories which really need to be told.  I’m glad I got to hear them, and I’m glad my book resonated enough to bring those stories out.

The end of the night  found me sitting on a back porch, sipping good bourbon, laughing about the events of the evening (some of the toddler literati in attendance had struggled with paying attention and staying upright), and engaging in really good conversation about topics from the reading.  It’s not the first time I’ve ended a good night on a porch with bourbon and friends, and it won’t be the last, but that specific night is one that I will remember for a long while.

Thanks to all of you who came out. Oh, and check out Mr. Brown’s newest book of poetry. It will knock your socks off.

I will be back on the blog next week to give a rundown of the readings at Rhino Booksellers and Martin Luther King Magnet.  To keep the suspense up over the weekend, let me tell you that I am tentatively subtitling them “The Trouble With Lockdowns” and “Why Nonfiction Sometimes Makes You Feel Like a Total Butthead.”

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