Thursday, September 13, 2007

Delta Blues and Greens

Wednesday morning Jim Allen picked me up and we drove to Medgar Evers' home. If you've seen "Ghosts of Mississippi," you'll recognize the house. I wanted to pay homage. As many years as I'd been coming to Jackson to visit my parents, I had never sought out this house, but today it felt important to go there.
For one thing, I'm writing about this time in the next novel for Harcourt, and I want to soak up as much as I can of the Sixties, remember what I can, learn what I can, and pay my respects to people black and white who worked for change in the Sixties. Medgar Evers was one of those people. After a few solemn photos and a silent namaste, Jim Allen and I take ourselves north, into the Delta. We have a two-hour drive to Greenwood and TurnRow Book Company. Here was our scenic drive.

It's corn harvesting, cotton picking time in the Delta. This country is the setting of my favorite novel of all time, DELTA WEDDING by Eudora Welty.

What a difference, what another world, as we enter downtown Greenwood, and step into TurnRow Book Company:

The Viking Range Corporation is headquartered in Greenwood. Fred Carl, president and founder, is transforming Greenwood -- here is a fascinating article about his work. He is a partner in TurnRow along with Jamie and Kelly Kornegay, who welcome me and whisk me off to Pillow Academy, where I'm scheduled to talk with students.

The students at Pillow are full of questions. I tell them how I turned my brother into a girl in LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER, and I read them Comfort's "Top Ten Tips for First-Rate Funeral Behavior." I read them "How to Hit the Ball" from THE AURORA COUNTY ALL-STARS. Rule number one: "Remove all tiaras." We laugh and laugh together, hugs all around, and I tell them I'll see them later at TurnRow -- and I do.

Jamie and Kelly have put together a day for teachers and students and their community. My visit to Pillow brought kids in with their parents after school. Parents smiled and wagged fingers at me: "Taylor told me I HAD to come here!" What lovely, obliging parents! Teachers were invited to come for their own hour before the signing, and one thing blended into another with the brownies and the sweet tea. Jamie and I hung out long after it was over while I signed a ton of stock -- I was so surprised at how many books Kelly had purchased. "I really believe in these books," she said of all three novels, "and I'll sell them." She took baby Bayard home to 3-year-old sister Sophie. I told Jamie I'd settle up with him the next morning -- he had pulled books for me. I knew he'd have a good selection and some hard-to-find books about Mississippi, the civil rights movement, the blues, and more -- this is one of the blessings of a home town independent bookseller. I'll make my choices this morning before we head to Oxford. I wish I had time to visit the juke joints and blues treasures of the Delta! I'll come back.

Here are Pillow Academy readers Ellie, Julia, Catherine, Taylor, Mary Brian, and Anna (That's Jamie Kornegay in the background, watching folks come up the stairs and find seats), and here is Kelly Kornegay with Sweetheart Sophie (another Sophie), who is Maudie's daughter, and who helps out at TurnRow.

We had a marvelous evening. I signed and chatted for a while, spoke for a bit and read from ALL-STARS, signed some more, and folks floated toward home. We hung out, as southerners will do, and kept on talking, celebrating stories.
I was thrilled to get my own copy of DELTA LAND signed by Maude Schyler Clay (may we call her Maudie?) -- I fell in love with her work -- and with her -- right away. We Southerners revere our writers, especially those who are courageous enough to capture our landscape and our hearts truthfully, as Maude has done in her beautiful book of photographs.

William Faulkner captured us, too. I am on the way to pay another sort of homage as I visit Faulkner's home, Rowan Oak, in Oxford. Then, a signing at one of my favorite bookstores, Square Books. And after that, listen for me (soon!) on Thacker Mountain Radio, as I'll spend a little time with those folks after my Square Books signing. It's going to be a full day. I so appreciate all of you who have written me both here and in my email inbox... it has lifted my overfull heart! It is essential, when going on journey, to take friends. Thank you.

See you in Oxford!