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Number of posts: 11
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By Doug Cumming:
for our ultimate audience
Talk about writer’s block: What about having to write an epitaph for your mother’s gravestone? The idea of an epitaph, of course, is that it’s written for the ages, even those short simple annals of the poor on weed-lost tombstones.
I write, and teach writing. I teach that it starts with your audience. If you’ve been writing only for your teacher, you haven’t really started to learn writing. Writing well for a mass of strangers – that’s more like it.
Southerners are said to be obsessed with their own history. It’s true, belying that old dictum that history is always written by the winners. Even now, well into the 21st century, I find myself wading into the murky waters of that Southern obsession with the past, which invariably goes back to slavery and the War.
This obsession animates the 2016 book I have just finished reading, The Making of a Racist: A Southerner Reflects on Family, History, and the Slave Trade, by historian Charles B. Dew …
150 years later
The Confederate flags are now gone from around the incumbent marble Robert E. Lee, at eternal rest with his riding boots on in the innermost sanctuary of Lee Chapel in Lexington, Va. That is as it should be, for many reasons. One is historical. Our campus was a sanctuary of recovery from the Civil War, where “the sun falls through the ruined boughs of locusts/ Up to the president’s office.” That president was Lee, “in a dark civilian suit who walks,/ An outlaw fumbling for the latch, a voice/ Commanding in a dream where no flag flies.”
The theater long ago was laid waste by the gods of big entertainment. Now, when we think of acting, we think Hollywood, celebrities, an HBO series. When we think of the stage, it’s Broadway musicals, or if “serious” theater, it’s usually the work of famous dead playwrights being produced for the umpteenth time for high-priced tickets that put you in the upper seats.
Kerri Koczen and Danielle Roos had another idea.
No memory of having starred
Atones for later disregard
Or keeps the end from being hard.
The other night, my wife and I had supper at a table in the dining room of our local continuing care retirement community, described in its website as “Serving Older Adults in the Quaker Tradition.” Around the table were retirees with sterling memories of having starred. Peyton, on my left, the son of a famous missionary in China, had led Episcopal seminaries all over the world; John Gunn, emeritus economics professor at Washington & Lee University, still asks the sharpest liberal-leaning questions at lectures on the W&L campus; Harrison Kinney, on my right, was a “Talk of the Town” writer at the New Yorker until John Updike …
George Leonard, whose dispatches for Look magazine came from the Eden of the West Coast before the Fall of Man, is dead at 86. His obit in the New York Times, which was a link on Tuesday morning’s Like the Dew, says he died of throat cancer on Jan. 6 at his home in Mill Valley, Calif.
I remember his writings on the Sixties in the glossy colorful pages of Look, a promise of redemption for a kid feeling stuck in a dusty old Atlanta high school while Something Big was happening out there. His book Education and Ecstasy seemed more original and damning of conventional life (i.e. my high school) than the liner-notes on a Dylan or Coltrane album. Leonard’s message was
Dear Congressman Goodlatte:
My wife and I attended the Town Hall meeting you held yesterday in Lynchburg to air public concerns about healthcare and health coverage. We appreciated the chance to hear what you and our fellow citizens had to say. We were glad that this discussion was conducted civilly. This is an emotional issue, and an important issue. In a way, it’s a test of our democratic system: How good are we at solving a complicated problem like this – with economic, moral and political dimensions – when Washington opens up the process so fully to non-experts, semi-informed folks and the stirred-up mob?
Bill Emerson, a legendary writer and editor who died Tuesday at age 86, was a one-of-kind force field, a gargantuan figure of Southern theatricality. He amazed everybody who met him, as far back as when he opened Newsweek’s Atlanta bureau in 1953 and began covering a decade of what he called “riots, revolutions and everyday politics.” Whatever he did, from keeping the Saturday Evening Post frisky long past its bedtime, to teaching journalism at the University of South Carolina, which he compared to “trying to start a reluctant lawn mower,” he radiated a heady sense of rule-breaking possibilities. William Austin Emerson, Jr., wrote serious books, gave Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., their first serious journalistic interviews, and knew practically everybody worth knowing in New York before he circled back to his hometown Atlanta in 1986 to make a satisfying splash. But his so-called career was nothing compared to […]
My friend Keith Graham seems to have stepped on little anthill of online commentary with his observations about the odd tenacity of the Confederate battle flag to decorate certain drowsy precincts of Georgia. Who knew that our presidents from Wilson to Obama were sending wreaths to the Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery every Memorial Day? And but for Piney Woods Pete’s report on gubernatorial candidate David Poythress’s ploy to question the patriotism of his opponents, who knew that the Georgia Senate just voted 43-1 to cheer Thomas Jefferson’s 1798
Lillian Smith (1897-1966) wrote about the ritual dance of the Southern Tradition, the precise steps dictated by the “White” and “colored” signs, the silent taboos of places you go and places you don’t go. A few tiny graces glimmer across the South she conjures up in “Killers of the Dream” (1949). A certain kind of friendship across the color line, lasting from childhood to death, enriched the individuals involved and sometimes restrained mob violence. She recalls the “flashes of sanity” taught in Southern homes like hers, instructions from a father to honor the humanity in every individual, to shun hatred, and to pay back the earth in labor with pleasure. But such small virtues are overwhelmed by the pathology she finds in the South’s religion, sexual repression, and racial anxiety. Even the best friendships between white and black were “lopsided” and “belittled.” Against this, three powerful black “ghosts” haunt the […]
I walked the city streets of downtown Atlanta in the 1990s looking for signs of the past. Mostly, what I found was obliteration of the past – buildings that seemed to have neither past nor future. References to the olden days seemed hollow or discarded: a historic plaque or two, Henry Grady’s statue, street names. Where Rich’s and the old Journal buildings once stood were empty shells. Where the old Union Station sheltered passenger trains much earlier, a pigeon pit. I was a journalist with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution then. Now I’m a journalism professor in a rural valley of Virginia. I bump into more reminders of history walking through my little hometown of Lexington than I care to see. Lexington hasn’t changed much, physically, in the last century or two. At least it likes to think so. Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee both had day jobs here, at different […]