200 Alabama Bicentennial

Celebrating Alabama’s 200th birthday2017 2018 2019

Posted July 24, 2019

Throwing Down the Literary Gauntlet for the AL 200 Bicentennial

 

By Suzanne Hudson

 

“There are more authors, per capita, in Baldwin County, Alabama, than anywhere else in the state.” That’s the claim author Sonny Brewer is prone to making at literary gatherings and such, and it’s the kind of claim that tends to stir up and pick at a good-natured rivalry with Monroe County’s declaration—right there on the “Welcome” sign—that Monroeville is the “literary capital of Alabama.”

Okay, Monroe, maybe you have the most famous, most widely read, most revered author, well, ever. But, hey, Baldwin is so overrun with writers, dead and alive, past and present, blocked and unblocked, that jokes have been made for years about there being “something in the water.” Hmm. Maybe it’s about time we settle the question of who rules the literary day in this state. It’s a landmark year, after all, with observances galore. Yep, I’m thinking that, with the AL 200 Bicentennial in the mix, maybe it’s time to settle the question, once and for all.

Full disclosure: I stumbled onto the Baldwin County, Alabama, AL 200 Education Committee back in 2017, with shamelessly ulterior motives, a not-so-hidden agenda: to promote a county-wide read of home-county authors who convey local history in their works, a goal right in line with the committee’s objectives of getting more local history into the schools, specifically, but also out into the public at large. By the time I emerged from several meetings with old contacts at the Baldwin County Board of Education (I am a retired teacher and counselor) I had the official stamp of approval for three books: The Poet of Tolstoy Park by Sonny Brewer, V for Victor by Mark Childress, and Waffle House Rules by Joe Formichella.

Never mind that Joe Formichella is my husband. It was approved, after all, by the board. And the books do convey county history. Brewer’s book, widely known, is a fictional rendering of Fairhope’s longtime resident Henry Stewart, the “barefoot hermit” who built an odd little round hut in the woods near town. Through Henry, Brewer explores the founding and early history of the single tax colony, its famous visitors through the years, and Henry’s trials and triumphs. It’s a deeply philosophical novel, much of it taking place in the loner’s determined isolation (although there are many interesting, some famous, contacts over Henry’s years).

 In V for Victor, aimed at a young adult audience, Childress weaves a suspenseful tale of how a local boy, traversing the waterways between Magnolia Springs and Mobile, gets caught up in the intrigue of spies and counter spies during World War II, when German U-boats did, indeed, lurk off the coast of Gulf Shores and even ventured into Mobile Bay. It’s a fast-paced page-tuner, likely to hold the interest of impatient and even reluctant readers.

 Finally, my husband Joe’s book follows, again, the history of Fairhope, primarily the 20th Century, through the eyes of a variety of characters—from the homeless residents of the “Penelope” (a fictional Daphne) Waffle House to the notorious and tragic “flapper” Jules and her twin sister Julia, mother of the main character, Jimmy Ryan. Orphaned in a tragic car crash as a young boy, Jimmy, well-acquainted with death, later becomes Dr. Jimmy Ryan, whose darkly humorous philosophy of “ain’t dead yet” touches many lives, as does his makeshift trauma center.

Clearly, our read consists of a good variety of tales, covers many levels of comprehension, from middle school through adulthood, imparts local historical information, and, according to AL 200 Executive Director, Jay Lamar, is also unique among all of Alabama’s counties’ menus of planned activities for the bicentennial celebration. Yes, there are plenty of festivals, new historical markers, floats being built for parades, school curricula being implemented, all kinds of commemorations—but county-wide reads? That was a new one for the state’s director, and Lamar was delighted with it, hoping that other counties might follow suit, establish their own custom-made, locally-grown countywide reads.

So how about it, Madison, Jefferson, Shelby? Hey, Montgomery, you claim Scott and Zelda, right? And you there, Escambia, my home county, you have Stephen Goodwin—oh, and Michael McDowell, of Beetlejuice fame.  Or, dare I say it? What about yours truly? I have authored books . . . okay, I know. My work is much too . . . harsh.

Well then, how about you, Monroe? To Kill a Mockingbird, anyone? And that’s no dig at the good people of Monroe or, heaven forbid, at the grand dame of Alabama literature, Nell Harper Lee. TKAM is my all-time favorite, and I flat sure thumbed my nose at the aforementioned board of education when they moved that title to the high school reading list, back in the dumbing-it-down 90s. No, sir, my 8th graders read it every year—fire me or not—and they, and I, loved it every time.

The point is, Monroe, what else have you got?

I’m just sayin’. With love. And with Baldwin’s literary legacy.

Just sayin’.

Suzanne Hudson (rps.hudson@gmail.com) is the prize-winning author of two novels, two short story collections, and 2018’s somewhat memoir, Shoe Burnin’ Season: A Womanifesto (pen name, R.P. Saffire). Her comic novel, The Fall of the Nixon Administration is due out this year. She lives outside Fairhope with her husband at Waterhole Branch Productions (Facebook).

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