Author Event: Ruth Reiniche presents Sign Language: Reading Flannery O’Connor’s Graphic Narrative July 16th, 7PM EDT

Ruth Reiniche presents Sign Language: Reading Flannery O’Connor’s Graphic Narrative

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If you have enjoyed my academic series with author Ruth Reiniche, please consider attending her discussion hosted by the Georgia Center for the Book Event on July 16th at 7PM EDT where you can discover more about Reiniche and her book Sign Language: Reading Flannery O’Connor’s Graphic Narrative.

TO REGISTER: Eventbrite Attendee Registration Link

TO PURCHASE SIGN LANGUAGE:  Charis Books & More, An Independent Feminist Bookstore or via Mercer University Press

Academic Series Part III: Re: Leora Watts and the Ill-Fitting Pink Nightgown by Author & Guest Blogger Ruth Reiniche

GA CollegePhoto of Georgia College Admission’s Building, Alma Mater of Flannery O’Connor

Re: Leora Watts and the Ill-Fitting Pink Nightgown

Mrs. Watts was sitting alone in a white iron bed, cutting her toenails with a large pair of scissors. She was a big woman with very yellow hair and white skin that glistened with a greasy preparation. She had on a pink nightgown that would have better fit a smaller figure. (O’Connor WB 33)

     Since Dawn has been kind enough to give me this space, I want to talk about a project I have been working on for about a year now. It is an extension of my “sign language” analysis and my working title for the project is Sign Language: Stitching a Landscape. My argument is that telling our stories, regardless of the style of the text, will alter the landscape of our perceptions and of our lives. My project focuses on women’s stories. I believe it is crucial to know the thoughts and desires of the women who lived before us and it will be necessary for the women that follow us to know what we valued, how we faced fear, and how we loved. As evidenced by my work on Flannery O’Connor, the voices of texts that are not the printed word, but are given form by narrative, have long compelled my attention. The texts I am examining in my current research are “hand-made.” When a writer incorporates the construction of a “hand-worked” text such as a weaving, a quilt, or a knitted garment into the plotline of her novel or short story, the fictional work bursts open in a way that could not be accomplished by other means. These kinds of texts are highly gendered. For several years I have been collecting works in which writers have embedded “hand-made” pieces to construct characters and to indicate context by illustrating patterns and motifs from the larger world. Essentially, it is a way of holding the past, present, and future in the palm of one’s hand. My contention is that when these “hand-made” items appear, they speak with a sign language that transcends time and place. It is most often a language of feeling that is expressed in a woman’s voice and by the work of her hands.

       This, strangely enough, takes us back to Leora Watts’s “pink nightgown.” In my work on O’Connor, I referenced how she uses paintings, ads, and films, mostly generated by males, to amplify her narrative. However, it is O’Connor, herself, who assembles the objects that visually define her female characters: the pink nightgown, a nail clipper, a dandelion hair accessory, a chifforobe, a broom. I see O’Connor as the designer and maker and her characters as her creations.  I, now, want to move beyond that work and into the hands and minds of makers and their creations who are embedded in pieces of literature.[1] Why are they there? Do they fit my “world in the palm of the hand” criteria?

      I will now describe two short examples from novels that I am currently analyzing.

     Early on in her novel Northbridge Rectory, Angela Thirkell uses the knitting in a mother’s hands to illustrate the enormity of facing the presence of inconceivable dangers. Mrs. Villars is a young rector’s wife whose responsibility it is to organize the “war work” of her husband’s first parish. We join Mrs. Villars as she discusses the connotation of the word “living” with her parish knitting group, all of whom are working on some war project: knitting garments to supplement the uniforms of British soldiers (WWII).[2]

‘It is quire dreadful,’ said Mrs. Villars, putting down her knitting (which was mittens for her younger son in the Royal Air Force), ‘the way some people behave with words so that you cannot use them. “Living” has almost got out of control’ (6).

This was the tenth novel I had read by Thirkell, so I was accustomed to her way of bringing the outside world into the context of the small English village, but Mrs. Villars’s mitten arrested my attention.  Why was she knitting mittens for a soldier? Thanks to Google, I found knitting patterns officially designed for soldiers’ mittens. Requirements for these mittens included olive drab yarn and the addition of a trigger finger to the basic mitten shape… a trigger finger.[3] Mrs. Villars had probably knitted various sizes of mittens for her son as he grew up and she now sits in her parish knitting group making him adult size mittens that require a trigger finger. No wonder she is obsessed with the slippery connotation of the word “living.” Knitting a mitten, for Mrs. Villars, is a hopeful act of faith that her son will be alive to wear them when she finishes. In this one sentence Thirkell uses this mitten with a trigger finger juxtaposed with the word “living” to open the door to the world war raging outside of this fictional English village as well as in the real world that roiled around Thirkell as she wrote in 1941.

     While Thirkell’s mitten serves as a metaphor for a mother’s wish to protect her son, a quilt serves as a metaphor for a life in Toni Morrison’s Beloved. In the novel, as Baby Suggs is dying, she calls out for color.

There wasn’t any except for two orange squares in a quilt that made the absence shout. The walls of the room were slate-colored, the floor earth brown, the wooden dresser the color of itself, curtains white, and the dominating feature, the quilt over an iron cot, was made up of scraps of blue serge, black, brown and gray wool—the full range of the dark and the muted that thrift and modesty allowed. In that sober field, two patches of orange looked wild—like life in the raw. (46)

An analysis of the life of Baby Suggs, born a slave and living with intolerable loss is too complex to carry out in this space. The two orange patches, however, speak directly to us as readers, reaching out beyond the frame of the work, in the same way that characters in O’Connor’s single panel cartoons did. Those two orange patches impel us to look over the landscapes of our own lives and wonder. What if we knew we would have only two orange patches? Would we go on? Would it be worth it? What are we to do about these orange patches presented to us by Toni Morrison?

     To me, it is the contemplation of these questions that necessitates the need for storytelling in our lives. I know I do not stand alone when I think of Mrs. Villars’s mittens as I make masks for my grandchildren to wear to school or when I consider the patchwork of a valued human life…a life that matters.

 

Works Cited:

Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New York: Penguin, 1987.

O’Connor, Flannery. Wise Blood. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1949.

Thirkell, Angela. Northbridge Rectory. Great Britain: Hamish Hamilton, Ltd., 1941.

[1] These are some of the texts with which I am working: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, Beloved by Toni Morrison, A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler, The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood, In Love and Trouble by Alice Walker, A Single Thread by Tracey Chevalier, The Professor’s House by Willa Cather, Northbridge Rectory by Angela Thirkell, and on and on.

[2] https://www.pinterest.com/pin/155022412145736074/

[3] https://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/soldiers-mittens

https://olive-drab.com/od_soldiers_gear_gloves_mitts.php

UPCOMING EVENTS:

July 16: Presentation at a Georgia Center for the Book Event Link 

Eventbrite Attendee Registration Link

TO PURCHASE SIGN LANGUAGE: Mercer University Press or Amazon

More About Ruth Reiniche: 

I have a B.A. from University of Michigan, a M.A. from Grand Valley State University, and a PhD. from the University of Arizona, and I have been a teacher my entire life. I taught GED prep in migrant camps. I spent a career teaching high school English. I have taught parenting to teen-aged mothers. During the recession of the 1980s, I taught resume writing and job seeking skills to unemployed adults. At nights, I taught basic math and reading skills in an Adult Basic Education learning center. To assist students who could not physically attend classes, I went to their homes as a homebound teacher. On the weekends I taught knitting classes. Most recently, I have been a Freshman Composition instructor at the University of Arizona. That was, as I heard someone say on television the other day, in the “before times.” Our world is changing. Social structures are realigning. Educational institutions are now re-examining what exactly it means to be educated and, consequently, what it means to be an educator.

I researched and wrote Sign Language: Reading Flannery O’Connor’s Graphic Narrative in the “before times.” I now am reading O’Connor’s work as well as my own, with new eyes. As   O’Connor puts it, a text should enable “the reader to see the whole world no matter how limited his particular scene”[1]  When she said this, I believe she was not just talking about the twentieth century world of her present, but about the world that encompasses the past, present and future: the world as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.[2] Today (in the  “after-times”) , it becomes all the more important to read and interpret O’Connor’s Sign Language.

[1] O’Connor, Flannery. Mystery and Manners. NY; Noonday Press, 1969.

[2] https://www.catholic.com/tract/glory-be-doxology

PLEASE SHARE ON YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA, LIKE, AND LEAVE COMMENTS HERE! 

Academic Series Part II: An Interview with Ruth Reiniche, Author of Sign Language: Reading Flannery O’Connor’s Graphic Narrative

Relaxed HeadshotAn Interview with Ruth Reiniche, Author of Sign Language: Reading Flannery O’Connor’s Graphic Narrative

Why Flannery O’Connor? What attracted you to this project? Are you also an illustrator, a photographer, or an artist of any kind?

While I was working as a secondary English teacher, I pursued many areas of study that led me to this project: child development, psychology, film, the fiber arts, and summer employment with Michigan Council of the Arts. I traveled all over Michigan to take classes from the various universities. When Grand Valley State University, only a ten minute commute from the high school where I was teaching, offered an M.A. in Literature, I decided it was time for me to return to my first and most steadfast love. I began to take every author study class available. Inevitably, I enrolled in a class on Flannery O’Connor taught by Dr. Avis Hewitt. Our first assignment was to read Wise Blood. It stopped me in my tracks. I had never read anything quite like it before. At this point my literary studies had become focused around illustration and pictorial technique and I became obsessed O’Connor’s process. Dr. Hewitt pointed me toward a fellowship that allowed me to read the Wise Blood manuscript in the O’Connor Collection at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, GA. After that I was hooked, and I began to spend summers in Milledgeville reading manuscripts, all in pursuit of solving the mystery of O’Connor’s artistry.

From start to publication, how long did it take for you to conduct the research and write Sign Language?

I focused on O’Connor during both my M.A. and PhD. studies, writing papers and attending conferences while spending part of each summer in the O’Connor Collection reading manuscripts. When I began the research, however, I really did not envision that a book would emerge as the product of my work. I think I was mostly enjoying slipping into the sense of connection and timelessness evoked by directed study. I try to nurture that kind of joyfulness found through research in my Freshman Composition students at University of Arizona. The idea of the Sign Language book began to take shape after I had retired from teaching high school and when I began my doctoral studies at the University of Arizona.

How do you think Flannery O’Connor would have reacted to the adaptation of her novel Wise Blood into a movie? What do you think about the movie?

Most writers are not happy with the movie versions of their books. I would imagine O’Connor would be the same way. I see books and movies as separate creative endeavors unless the author is directly involved in the film production. The movie is John Huston’s marketable construction of O’Connor’s novel.

What else did you want to say about O’Connor’s pictorial texts that perhaps was cut from your book?

I think the most prominent missing element of my book is illustrations or images. These were not cut; I simply could not afford to pay to use them. The images that I discuss are all available online, however. Link to Flannery O’Connor’s Cartoons: VIEW IMAGES

I read a 2011 article in The Guardian  about O’Connor’s cartoons and the writer compared her linocuts/cartoons to Persepolis: A Story of Childhood by Marjane Satrapi. Could you envision O’Connor writing and illustrating a graphic novel if she were alive? 

I thought a great deal about this question. I think O’Connor would be very interested in today’s graphic novels. However, there many variables when considering whether she would actually have done the illustrations for a novel in the contemporary manner. First, the linocut is a very time-consuming process. Second, I think the single panel cartoon was her oeuvre. It really allowed her to frame that “gesture” which indicates “where the real heart of the story lies” (O’Connor in Thompson).

I have been thinking about what kinds of graphics O’Connor might like. How would her iconic characters respond to taking static shapes? How would her message differ? I agree with The Guardian article that the early cartoons have similarities to the graphics drawn by Marjane Satrapi in her graphic novel Persepolis. 

The most striking similarity, of course, is the use of stark black and white ink which in itself is a choice that predicates a certain sign language. O’Connor’s cartoons, however, are fashioned to tell a story in a single panel and using a caption where Satrapi’s formulate a sequential narrative and all that entails.

I, then, began to think about what a graphic novel of O’Connor’s work might look like. What types of illustrations would she like in adaptations of her novels? I chose two examples that, in my opinion might align with O’Connor’s particular narrative. The cover of Octavia Butler’s Kindred by Damien Duffy and John Jennings illustrates the use of gesture in a way that, to me, is reminiscent of the style of O’Connor’s graphic narrative.

I also think the cover of the first Walking Dead comic by Robert Kirkman and Tony More would be in a style that O’Connor would like. Though, the main character appearing as the American cowboy might not be to her liking, but I think that the American dystopic street scene would appeal to her very much.

This exercise was fun, but it probably tells much more about my interpretive analysis than it tells about Flannery O’Connor.

I loved your comments on the comparison of Ruby from “A Stroke of Good Fortune” to Picasso’s “Girl before a Mirror.” Did you discover any other similar pieces of famous art, not mentioned in Sign Language, that you saw in O’Connor’s characters?

As I wrote about O’Connor’s characters, I referred to an actual collection of images I had put together that visually resulted from my character interpretations.

The Wise Blood characters come from a kind of upside-down world where the opposite of what the reader expects happens. They possess a unique amalgam of realistic and bizarre behaviors creating a tension that compels and captivates readers throughout. The WB characters are the most like the characters that inhabit O’Connor’s single panel cartoons. They reach beyond the frame uttering “captions” that upend stereo-types and clichés: “ Momma don’t mind if you ain’t a preacher” (34); “I’m going to preach a new church—the church of truth without Jesus Christ Crucified” (55).

I always pictured Hazel Motes as walking dead through a dystopic, postwar, cold war America. Eastrod, the small town that he left to go to war has disappeared and he no longer seems to find a welcome anywhere. He has no home. The memory of his mother’s and grandfather’s warnings reverberates throughout the novel and serves as momento mori underlying each scene. The concept “still life” along with the Vanitas (example) by Barthel Bruyn the Elder embody Hazel Motes in my imagination.

It took a little research for me to formulate a visual image of Enoch Emory. What exactly is his heart’s desire? Enoch is a complex character who functions under the demand of a single emotional directive. He simply wishes to be loved and taken care of like the zoo monkeys he resents. My Enoch image is the gorilla in the movie poster for the 1949 film Mighty Joe Young . That movie marks a movement from the gorilla suit to stop motion animation. When Enoch dons a gorilla suit (now passé), he is not transformed into the beloved ape of the film. That cinematic, movie poster image is upended and we are left with poor Enoch, the somewhat repulsive, unlovable zoo employee, now clothed in a moth-eaten, scruffy gorilla suit.

I have a strong affinity toward Sabbath Lily. Being taken care of by a man seems to be her only way of survival in the American urban milieu that engulfs her. She simply wants a husband, home, and family. Her desire for the potato peeler reveals her desire for a kitchen in which to peel those potatoes. She imagines that Hazel Motes can give her this life which for her has been pictorially constructed by advertisements. Sabbath Lily has obviously studied the images of the domestic goddesses portrayed by advertisers and uses any tools available to recreate herself. I would look at 1940’s Coca Cola advertisements when writing about this side of Sabbath Lily’s character. She attempts to personify the “Coke girls” with no accessories and no means. O’Connor pushes Sabbath Lily’s character development deeper when she creates and frames the “unholy family” portrait in Sabbath’s last scene in the book. I envisioned a dark version of Leonardo DaVinci’s “Virgin of the Rocks” when I wrote about Sabbath Lily in this scene holding the “new jesus.”

I am old enough to remember desiring pink baby doll pajamas. While many O’Connor critics think of Leora’s ill-fitting pink nightgown as a way to laugh at her, I prefer to think of a young Leora that might have desired this nightgown in the first place. I also prefer to think it once fit her figure, but as she aged and as her existence became more difficult to maintain, she turned into the distorted figure confronted by Hazel Motes. In my mind, I always represented this Leora with the picture on the front of a 1950’s Simplicity sewing pattern displaying these shorty pajamas .

Annie Lou Jackson Wickers (Hazel Motes’s mother), Sara Ruth (“Parker’s Back”), Mrs. Greenleaf, and Sabbath of the manuscript are represented very distinctly in my mind by Dorthea Lang’s photos of depression era women.

I poured over pictures of child evangelists to get a vision of Lucette Carmody. I finally decided on Aimee Semple McPhearson. Lucette is the only present female and a pivotal character in The Violent Bear it Away. It strikes me that it would be interesting to do a study of Lucette, the girl in “A Temple of the Holy Ghost,” and the girl in “A Circle in the Fire.”

I kept these images in a file on my computer while I wrote. It is important to remember, though, that my visualizations are based on Flannery O’Connor’s sign language coupled with my own experience and perception. This is exactly how she meant it to be, I think.

Sign Language was not written as a discussion of racism, which you clearly state, race and racism cannot be overlooked in O’Connor’s works and I’ve read some controversial letters O’Connor wrote to friends. There is quite a bit of ambiguity around this issue. Do you have a simple answer regarding the issue of racism and O’Connor?

Every day I rise at 5:00 AM. I sit at my table which, at the moment, is piled high with books and papers because I have not had anyone over for dinner since March. There is a soft breeze mummering with sounds from the Sonoran Desert drifting through my open window. These mornings are my time for writing and no matter where I go or what I do in the future, I know I will always think back on my desert house in the mornings. However, If I slightly change my position, I can see the plumes of smoke rising from the Buckhorn Wildfire that has been raging here in Arizona for weeks. Even though my desert dwelling offers solace, it also is a source of isolation from the coronavirus. Daily, on the television, I have watched America rage and burn. My heart breaks as I listen to the plaintive voices that arise with anger, protest, and grief. We do not exist in a vacuum. American literature does not exist in a vacuum. Times change. Perceptions change. Tolerations change.

Based on the current state of flux in America, I feel that there is not and there should not be a simple answer regarding racism and O’Connor. We must move forward, always, in truth. We must listen to myriad voices…voices that will interpret through generational and cultural lenses.  We can take direction from O’Connor’s own words in her 1961 letter to Betty Hester when she wrote, “In the future, anybody who writes anything about me is going to have to read everything I have written in order to make legitimate criticism…” (HB 442). Paul Elie, in his June 22, 2020 New Yorker article evaluates the dilemma we, as O’Connor scholars,  are facing in this way:

After her death, the racist passages were stumbling blocks to the next generation’s

encounter with her, and it made a kind of sense to sidestep them. Now the

reluctance to face them squarely is itself a stumbling block, one that keeps us from

approaching her with the seriousness that a great writer deserves.

How did you manage you PhD project and ultimately decide on it? For others contemplating a PhD what advice would you give regarding the process?  

As I have already noted, my PhD. experience was rather out of the ordinary. When I knew that I was going to retire from a high school teaching career, I began to think about things that I still wanted to do in my life. I had determined that I was going to move from Western Michigan to Tucson, Arizona to be part of my grandchildren’s lives as they were growing up. The next thing on my to-do list was to earn a PhD. in literature. I applied at the University of Arizona and was accepted by the English Department into their doctoral program. One thing that simplified the graduate studies process for me was that I did not intend to search for a tenure track position and leave Tucson. This gave me freedom that I would not have had otherwise. I was able for the first time in my life to study and learn without the pressure of employment. I have continued to work as a lecturer in the Writing Program at UA. This accomplishment has marked one of the best phases of my life.

 Are you planning on doing any writing conferences or speaking engagements about what you discovered in Sign Language? If so, when and where?

July 16: Presentation at a Georgia Center for the Book Event Link 

Eventbrite Attendee Registration Link

TO PURCHASE SIGN LANGUAGE: Mercer University Press or Amazon

More About Ruth Reiniche: 

I have a B.A. from University of Michigan, a M.A. from Grand Valley State University, and a PhD. from the University of Arizona, and I have been a teacher my entire life. I taught GED prep in migrant camps. I spent a career teaching high school English. I have taught parenting to teen-aged mothers. During the recession of the 1980s, I taught resume writing and job seeking skills to unemployed adults. At nights, I taught basic math and reading skills in an Adult Basic Education learning center. To assist students who could not physically attend classes, I went to their homes as a homebound teacher. On the weekends I taught knitting classes. Most recently, I have been a Freshman Composition instructor at the University of Arizona. That was, as I heard someone say on television the other day, in the “before times.” Our world is changing. Social structures are realigning. Educational institutions are now re-examining what exactly it means to be educated and, consequently, what it means to be an educator.

I researched and wrote Sign Language: Reading Flannery O’Connor’s Graphic Narrative in the “before times.” I now am reading O’Connor’s work as well as my own, with new eyes. As   O’Connor puts it, a text should enable “the reader to see the whole world no matter how limited his particular scene”[1]  When she said this, I believe she was not just talking about the twentieth century world of her present, but about the world that encompasses the past, present and future: the world as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.[2] Today (in the  “after-times”) , it becomes all the more important to read and interpret O’Connor’s Sign Language.

[1] O’Connor, Flannery. Mystery and Manners. NY; Noonday Press, 1969.

[2] https://www.catholic.com/tract/glory-be-doxology

PLEASE SHARE ON YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA, LIKE, AND LEAVE COMMENTS HERE! 

Works Cited

Butler, Octavia, John Jennings and Damian Duffy. Kindred: A Graphic Novel

      Adaptation. New York: Abrams, 2018.

Elie, Paul. “How Racist was Flannery O’Connor?” New Yorker, 15 June, 2020,

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/06/22/how-racist-was-flannery-oconnor

Accessed 22 June, 2020.

Kirkman, Robert and Tony More. The Walking Dead Vol. 1: Days Gone By. Beverly

Hills: Image-Skybound, 2004.

O’Connor, Flannery. Collected Works. New York: Library of America, 1988.

—–The Habit of Being. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1979.

—–Wise Blood. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1949.

Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood. New York: Pantheon, 2004.

Thompson, Phillip. “Flannery O’Connor in her Own Words.” Grace & Violence: 23 April,

  1. https://kudzucorner.wordpress.com/2016/04/23/23-april-2016-flannery-oconnor-in-her-own-words/

Academic Series Part I: Sign Language: Reading Flannery O’Connor’s Graphic Narrative by Author, Ruth Reiniche

RuthREVIEW: SIGN LANGUAGE: READING FLANNERY O’CONNOR’S GRAPHIC NARRATIVE BY AUTHOR, RUTH REINICHE

There has been endless critical analysis about Flannery O’Connor, so much that I wondered if there was anything new to say. Well, it turns out there is. Ruth Reiniche’s Sign Language: Reading Flannery O’Connor’s Graphic Narrative, provides a fresh and innovative look at Flannery O’Connor’s pictorial visions drawing from her early years as a cartoonist at The Colonnade, her progression from the linocut into living art or tableaux vivants identified in her characters, O’Connor’s symbolism comparted to fifteenth century still life paintings, to a look at her dualistic writing methods where Reiniche identifies elements of photography in her short stories and novels thereby constructing “verbal snapshots.” Sign Language is a study on the evolution of O’Connor’s pictorial text and how it is translates via various art forms that scholars, professors, students, fans of O’Connor, and serious writers could all benefit from reading.

Reiniche first focuses her initial attention on O’Connor’s undergraduate years at Georgia State College for Women where O’Connor worked as a cartoonist on a weekly paper, The Colonnade. O’Connor created linocuts to produce her cartoon images and added amusing captions beneath them. The cartoons are simple flat depictions in black and white and are quite charming. Essentially, this method is a type of printmaking that involves cutting or gouging a design into a sheet of linoleum which is later inked with a roller. It is similar to wood printing except that linoleum is much softer than wood, making it easier to manage. We’ve all seen linocuts, but perhaps were unaware of the technique. For instance, most are familiar with the famous linocut “Don Quixote” by Pablo Picasso. One of the many points I found interesting was Reiniche’s comparison between O’Connor’s cartoons in The Colonnade to well-known New Yorker cartoonists James Thurber, Helen E. Hokinson, and George Price. I particularly liked her comparison of Hokinson’s empty-headed rich society woman to the coed cartoons O’Connor illustrated for the campus newspaper. Reiniche suggests these depictions of Southern womanhood would later emerge in O’Connor’s fictional characters. In the cartoon images of women, O’Connor used clothing to interpret the various social cliques on the campus: “The “Girlie-girls” wear puffy sleeves and pinafores; “smart” girls wear glasses, sensible clothing, and saddle shoes: and WAVES (the woman’s section of the U.S. Naval Reserve stationed on the campus of Georgia State College for Women) are “far-sighted,” serious, and detached from the coed scene that surrounds them.” Unfortunately, Sign Language does not contain the images Reiniche so accurately describes, and I am sure the lack of images had something to do with publishing costs. It is easy enough to locate the cartoon images online which is what I suggest readers do. What is relevant is the cultivation of O’Connor’s flat, black and white linocut cartoons into what would later develop into some of her characters. Writers do not one day simply acquire a style or technique; it takes years to hone the craft. Whether you are an emerging writer or an established author, understanding O’Connor’s pictorial process is beneficial when considering your own development of character and scene and as a writer myself, I found it rather encouraging to see a master of fiction, like O’Connor, develop the flat characters (in her cartoons) and turn them into flesh and bones.

Reiniche contends that O’Connor pictorial text in O’Connor’s novel Wise Blood can be viewed through the same medium as a painter of still life and specifically fifteenth century vanitas. This is a fascinating correlation and I believe a very obscure one. Reiniche compares the scene in Wise Blood where Hazel Motes returns to his childhood home as a “virtual vanitas still life framed by skeletal shell of what use to be his home. Both Hazel’s head and the shell of the house have been described as skeletal or skull-like. In place of the candle, O’Connor has chosen two “twisted” envelopes” [Hazel lights on fire while he traverses his childhood home].” Skulls, snuffed-out candles, rotting flowers, fruit, maps, hourglasses, and gold are common symbolic objects found in vanitas, reminding us of man’s mortality (skulls, rotting flowers) pictured alongside the temptations of wealth (fruit and gold) with Hazel Motes burning letters symbolic of the snuffed-out candles in a vanita. The shell of the house is a skull and even Hazel’s head is also described as skull-like with his mother’s empty chifforobe as the heart of the home acting as a pseudo-coffin. Finally, Hazel leaves a note, what Reiniche likens to his memento mori (Latin for “remember you must die”) on his mother’s chifforobe, threatening to hunt and kill anyone who steals it. I struggled reading Wise Blood, but the vanita connection makes me want to revisit Wise Blood with new eyes. As a reader of O’Connor, I have realized that I only touched the surface of O’Connor’s religious motifs and symbols of redemption and man’s fall from grace. What Reiniche has discovered provides a deeper level between writer and reader. It magnifies O’Connor’s dualistic narrative between the real and the spiritual or the divine. The reader is not simply reading words on a page but experiencing O’Connor’s vision and in that way becomes an observer. Writers are known for their powers of observation, but this manner of observation has the effect of placing the reader before a framed piece of art in a museum.

Reiniche contends that O’Connor’s linocut cartoons evolved into “recognizable tableaux vivants that suggest the work of both classical and contemporary artists.” The tableau vivant which began more as a parlor game later progressed onto the stage, and are live recreations inspired by paintings, literature, mythology, and Biblical stories where individuals are staged to reconstruct an image. There is a theatrical aspect to living art even though the framed models are silent and frozen in time. Like Reiniche, I also saw visions of the characters and scenes O’Connor describes with concurrent images flashing before me as I read. It is quite easy to imagine her scenes framed in a tableau vivant manner. Moreover, the correlation between the tableau vivant and particularly post WWII images of women in advertisements was particularly interesting. We’ve all seen these offensive 1950s advertisements of men spanking women for serving flat stale coffee or images of a pregnant woman being able to resume her breakfast cooking duties now that she is on a morning sickness pill. Reiniche likens these advertisements to the tableau vivant—women being defined and staged into domestic roles of cooking, cleaning, and caring for the family. Although Reiniche explores all the female characters of Wise Blood, my favorite example is the character of Ruby, from the short story, “A Stroke of Good Fortune.” (Note, Ruby is “absent” from Wise Blood. If you read Sign Language, Reiniche provides a wonderful breakdown of the novel’s female characters in the published version of Wise Blood verses the manuscript version, as well as a thought-provoking reason for the “removal” of Ruby.) While Ruby did not make the cut in Wise Blood, her evolution from the manuscript into “A Stroke of Good Fortune” and her pictorial interpretation is fascinating. For those of you who are art teachers or creative writing instructors, this would be a wonderful teaching tool to demonstrate to your students. Reiniche describes Ruby as being “defined by the products advertised daily on television and in women’s magazines” and Reiniche remarks on her resemblance to a cartoon titled “The Crop” O’Connor did for the college yearbook. “The Crop” features a college girl’s head surrounded by groceries, captioned with “Where our pennies go.” Ruby contemplates herself in the mirror before ascending the stairs to her apartment and O’Connor describes her body as a funeral urn, or as Reiniche points out, the momento mori you would find in a vinata. Ruby doesn’t recognize herself in the mirror: “her head balanced like a big florid vegetable at the top of the sack…against her right cheek was a gritty collard green…[and] mulberry-colored hair stacked in sausage rolls around her head.” There is no difference between her and her sack of foodstuffs—her entire body is designed for consumerism and domesticity. I always rooted for Ruby. She desperately wanted control of her own body, her disdain for her pregnancy is palpable. This was before the Pill. Reiniche made me even more sympathetic for Ruby. It wasn’t just her future of child rearing and house duties at stake, but her entire body, constructed into the 1950s ideal housewife—a sort of slavery trapped in her female form.

I’ve often seen O’Connor’s characters as caricatures, over-exaggerated and over-the-top. Ruby’s struggle up the stairs is near annoying as are the internal complaints of the displaced father in “The Geranium,” and am I the only one who was glad the grandmother was murdered in “A Good Man is Hard to Find?” Most writers would say caricature is a bad thing, as bad as a cliché, but the characters in comics must be over-emphasized for effect, because you have a limited time to make a statement with sometimes only one action (think of O’Connor’s single-panel cartoons) and a caption. I find O’Connor’s characters more effective in shorter form and prefer her short stories to her novels. For myself, a little goes a long way with O’Connor’s characters. Yet, the characters I mentioned previously are not caricatures, but (and this is my opinion) only become fully articulated at the end where the reader undergoes a moment of understanding with the character. I think Reiniche sums it up well when she proposes that the difference between O’Connor’s novels and her short stories are that the novels are “virtual galleries of pictorial moments, [while] the short stories showcase one or two signs that reverberate throughout the story as a whole.” She refers to these pictorial moments in O’Connor’s short stories as “gestures” though some use the phrase” “moments of grace.” For myself, these “gestures” have more force behind them because O’Connor’s message is conveyed in the briefest form. Her short stories hit you hard. Reading Sign Language, I now understand how O’Connor became so efficient with delivering her message. She taught herself early on via her cartoons, reworking and reworking those characters into her fiction, designing characters you come back to time and time again, like the misfit or Ruby.

There are so many interesting points in Sign Language. Unfortunately, I can only touch on the ones that resonated the most with me and one of those points is how Reiniche employs the methods of French theorist and philosopher, Roland Barthes. Barthes created a technique for decoding photos in such a manner as to reveal a message. Reiniche uses Barthes’ system first the short story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” and later in O’Connor’s novel, The Violent Bear It Away. For brevity sake and because more readers are familiar with “A Good Man is Hard to Find” I will look at Reiniche’s treatment in O’Connor’s famous short story and how Reiniche’s identifies Barthes’ theory of studium and punctum and the effect those theories have on the text. (As a note of interest, Reiniche takes a step-by-step approach, distinguishing what she calls “verbal snapshots” in the novel The Violent Bear It Away and in doing so identifies a “double consciousness” that (and I agree) should be considered when reading O’Connor.) Not to oversimplify, but the punctum is the emotional response that the viewer has with the photo; it is more individual and outside the control of the photographer because it draws from the viewer’s personal experiences, whereas the studium is universal. The studuim may be what initially appeals to the viewer and provides recognizable symbols that reach across culture, religion, history, and affect the viewer congruently. I read “A Good Man is Hard to Find” at least annually and I reread it after reading Sign Language, employing these concepts of photography to the images conveyed. According to Reiniche “the studium of the photographic moment is the historical significance of the child juxtaposed with Stone Mountain. The punctum is the wave. The child’s wave as the family places the scene in the family’s present even though the grandmother tries to freeze the child in the past by calling him a “’pickaninny.’” Reiniche describes Barthes’ punctum as “an element in the photograph rising and shooting out of it like an arrow piercing the view and inflicting a wound.” I am huge fan of the American photographer William Eggleston whose photos of the American South have always translated into an O’Connor story for me. Eggleston is famous for his color photography and his images are of the common man and woman doing common things, much like O’Connor’s everyday person. Yet, they both draw out something much deeper and transcend the mundane. I think Reiniche hit the target here. O’Connor’s writing is dualistic in nature and is much like viewing a photo and uncovering O’Connor’s divine in the ordinary. There is an element of voyeurism in reading O’Connor I had not realized until I read Sign Language, as if I am looking through the camera eye of O’Connor and receiving her messages via her “verbal snapshots.” I’m not a poet, but I imagine this would be an excellent approach when constructing visual imagery, because the snapshots are rapid visuals designed to provoke a response. Creative writing instructors would do well to have their students examine stories through this method Reiniche points out as well.

If you are serious writer, the techniques Reiniche describes will make you want to reconsider your own visual text and methodology. Reiniche was inspired to work on this project when she was reading the unfinished copy of Why Do the Heathen Rage? where she discovered O’Connor’s pictorial method. O’Connor’s character, Walter Tilman, was writing a letter using photos. He arranged and rearranged photos and analyzed his visual message. Reiniche realized she had unearthed O’Connor’s technique via Tilman and recognized it is as a type of sign language, or the “visual metanarrative that coexists with the linear narrative” in O’Connor’s work.  This method reminds me of my own workshop experiences where instructors sometimes use visual prompts and assign writing exercises. What Reiniche has done for me by writing Sign Language and defining O’Connor’s pictorial technique is to provide me as a writer a new way of consuming and articulating imagery from mass media, photography, still life, abstract art, and on and on, a way in which to translate my own fiction, and of course, a much more profound appreciation for Flannery O’Connor’s work.

TO PURCHASE : Mercer University Press or Amazon

Link to Flannery O’Connor’s Cartoons: VIEW IMAGES

More About Ruth Reiniche: 

I have a B.A. from University of Michigan, a M.A. from Grand Valley State University, and a PhD. from the University of Arizona, and I have been a teacher my entire life. I taught GED prep in migrant camps. I spent a career teaching high school English. I have taught parenting to teen-aged mothers. During the recession of the 1980s, I taught resume writing and job seeking skills to unemployed adults. At nights, I taught basic math and reading skills in an Adult Basic Education learning center. To assist students who could not physically attend classes, I went to their homes as a homebound teacher. On the weekends I taught knitting classes. Most recently, I have been a Freshman Composition instructor at the University of Arizona. That was, as I heard someone say on television the other day, in the “before times.” Our world is changing. Social structures are realigning. Educational institutions are now re-examining what exactly it means to be educated and, consequently, what it means to be an educator.

I researched and wrote Sign Language: Reading Flannery O’Connor’s Graphic Narrative in the “before times.” I now am reading O’Connor’s work as well as my own, with new eyes. As   O’Connor puts it, a text should enable “the reader to see the whole world no matter how limited his particular scene”[1]  When she said this, I believe she was not just talking about the twentieth century world of her present, but about the world that encompasses the past, present and future: the world as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.[2] Today (in the  “after-times”) , it becomes all the more important to read and interpret O’Connor’s Sign Language.

[1] O’Connor, Flannery. Mystery and Manners. NY; Noonday Press, 1969.

[2] https://www.catholic.com/tract/glory-be-doxology

Please leave comments, like, and share on social media. 

Are you a Class Empty or a Class Full Person?

empty classroomScribe Stories From the Wren’s Nest:

What do you think when you see an empty classroom? The first day of school, summer break, COVID-19? Before 2020, we didn’t know this term, COVID-19. We would never have guessed our kids would one week go from classrooms to virtual learning, or that some kids in America would stop learning altogether because they didn’t have access to computers and WIFI. This isn’t a gloom and doom message, however. This is a celebration of what you can do even with an empty classroom. There are still opportunities out there to teach, to learn, and to be part of your community. So, when you look upon this apparently “empty” classroom, do you see the class empty or the class full?

Earlier in the year I signed up to be a mentor with The Wren’s Nest Scribes Program which is a middle school writing program that partners with KIPP STRIVE Academy to provide one-on-one mentoring between writing professionals and students. The idea is that we would meet once per week for an hour to teach the students how to write creative fiction. There was a plethora of different writers that volunteered from poets, script writers, obituary writers, to teachers. The kids were thrilled. This was the eleventh year of the Scribes Program and some of volunteers that volunteered this year went through the same writing program when they were kids. That tells you how successful and important the program has been.

Each year the students are given a new theme to write about and the stories are published in a book which debuts at the Decatur Book Festival during Labor Day weekend, EXCEPT for this year. This year, the stories are being published online on the Wren’s Nest website. I’ve gained a lot throughout my writing career from my mentors; it was time I gave back some of that karma. BUT, halfway through due to COVID-19, we stopped our hour long weekly meetings and went virtual. There are many great things about working online, but the one-on-one experience and getting to know the kids, about their lives, what inspires them, seemed to be lost virtually. They weren’t used to working via email and/or Google Docs. Some did not complete their stories for one reason or another. It was challenging to keep our scribes/mentees focused and writing when school had become so discombobulated; the world had become discombobulated. You can hardly blame them, especially with a world-wide pandemic hitting and school as they knew it ending, and everyone going into quarantine. School was already out when we all witnessed the senseless murders of African-Americans, and then the protests and riots broke out. The kids we worked with are predominantly African American. I wonder what they are thinking, how they are doing, and what they are doing with themselves this summer. I wonder what they will write in 2021.

Our theme for 2020 was “Twenty Years into the Future,” and most of the kids chose to write about apocalyptic settings. The stories tended to be a little darker than I imagined when I initially volunteered, but they are not without humor. The title of one story is called “Cat-Pocalypse.” I worked with a lovely young lady named Kaydance who envisioned a world where humans could no longer go outside due to high temperatures from global warming. The hiccup was that all the buildings were controlled by major corporations such as Google, Apple, Facebook, or Amazon and they were randomly starting to blow up. She left it at “To Be Continued.” Some of the other kids wrote for a few more weeks, but ended up stopping mid-story, leaving off with “to be continued” like Kaydance did. That was fine. That is just fine, because these kids and the volunteers are definitely class full type of people. They stayed the course when it was hard. Staying inspired to write, writing weekly, and sometimes writing at all is hard for WRITERS much less middle school kids who are writing on their own accord. It wasn’t a homework assignment. It was entirely extracurricular. The volunteers could have stopped, too, or not volunteered in the first place. I’m proud of these kids for continuing to write their stories during this challenging moment in history. I’m proud to have been a part of their creative world and I’m also proud of the other writers who showed up and stayed the course.

Please take the time to read and share these stories with others. The kids and volunteers worked very, very hard. The next posting of Scribe Stories will be June 26th, July 17th, August 7th, and August 28th with all of the stories be reposted on September 4th, the eve of the Decatur Book Festival.

Link to read Scribe Stories: https://wrensnest.org/scribes-spring-2020/

Future Mentor Opportunities: If you are interested in being part of the Wren’s Nest Scribe Program next year, please contact Jim Auchmutey at jimauch@gmail.com.

BE A CLASS FULL PERSON! 

Memoir Series Part III: Where Do The Stones Come From by Author, Ann Hite

Where Do The Stones Come From?

stonesGuest Blog by Author, Ann Hite

On my desk sits a pottery bowl of stones. One comes from the property where my grandfather was strung between two trees and beaten to near death. Another is flat and smooth and came from the Nantahala River during a record drought that reduced the river to a trickle and allowed me to walk to the middle. An orange smooth rock came from the family plot where my grandmother and mother are buried in a church cemetery, where one of my great grandfathers did the stonework on the chapel that still stands today. We all have stones scattered throughout our lives, weighing us down at times. These days we are aware of this more than ever.

Like a lot of people, I have spent the past few months confined within the walls of home. My “out in the world adventure” is one trip to the grocery store a mile down the road once a week. During these months “Roll The Stone Away” was released into the world. This is a crazy set of circumstances to deal with trying to promote and sell a book. Had you asked me at Christmas if I would be under a stay at home order in a little over three months, I would have thought the whole idea crazy. When COVID-19 invaded my state and life as I knew it came to a standstill, I thought this is the worst. Now we start rethinking a new normal, build a new road map.  Hard work and dedication will pave the way.

Then I watched a young black man shot and killed on a South Georgia street, where he jogged each day not far from his home. Ahmaud Arbery was killed by a father and son vigilante team because they thought he was breaking into homes. For two months or more, the public had no idea who had gunned him down. No charges against the men were filed until the video of the crime was aired on the news. I held my breath. Would the taking of black men’s lives ever stop?

The answer came last week in the form of two videos broadcasted close together on the morning national news. The first showed a black man on the ground with a white policeman sitting on his neck with his knee. Twice the man said, “I can’t breathe.” And more than once the citizen making the video pleaded with the police officers to let him up. I, like thousands of others, watched George Floyd die while the police officer’s knee remained on his neck.

Within minutes another video aired of a white woman, Amy Cooper, holding the collar of her dog so tight it was choking the poor creature, screaming at a black man, Christian Cooper (no relation), to stop videoing her. She goes on to tell Mr. Cooper she is calling 911. He calmly tells her to please do so. Amy Cooper screams that she will tell the authorities that he is threatening her life. Christian Cooper continues to video and tells her to say what she wants. When the 911 operator answers, Amy Cooper changes her voice from angry to one of fear and distress, explaining she is in Central Park and a black man is threatening her. This whole incident occurred because Christian Cooper asked Amy Cooper to put her dog on its leash because they were in a bird sanctuary, where animals are supposed to be leashed.

In the cases of the Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, arrests were not made immediately, and I shudder to think what would have happened to Christian Cooper in Central Park had he not videoed the encounter.

The old familiar shame that wrapped around me like a heavy coat in the winter, weighing me down, making movement forward slow—the same shame that resulted in the writing of “Roll The Stone Away”—reared its ugly head. I grew up in the thick of the Civil Rights Movement with a family that was extremely racist. At the age of ten, the racism in our house was taken for normal. My mother, brother, and I had returned from living on a military base in Germany. While this place was not perfect, it was more diverse than the small Georgia school I returned to in 1965.

What drove me to write this book was my desire to somehow work out my family’s racist history and the role it played in who I would become.

Still today I ask: What can I do to make up for the racist actions taken on black families by my family? How can I shed who my family was? What right as a white woman do I have to say I stand with you against these wrongs? Never once in my life have I been turned away from an establishment because the color of my skin is white. I have never had to worry about my daughters being arrested or killed by the police because they were racially profiled.

In 2015—one year after Michael Brown was shot and killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri—my beautiful grandson, James, was born. His father, my son in-law, is black. James is intelligent, handsome, and kindhearted. And when I give him a tight hug, I pray that by the time he becomes the upstanding young man he is meant to be, life will be different, that somehow racism with be eradicated from our land. But this is what my grandmother would have called “pie in the sky.” I have no doubt that racism will still be battled in our institutions, schools, government, and families. This country has had some of the finest leaders, but still racism spreads like a wildfire. As a child of ten, I watched protestors knocked to the ground by fire hoses and billy clubs. Now I watch protestors staring into the faces of police officers dressed in riot gear, ready to teargas them. I see the concern poured out about the destroyed property, but little mention of the young lives taken too soon. The electrical current that runs through these gatherings must be addressed in a calm, loving way. Am I so naïve for believing in goodwill, equality, and love?

What can I do to make this country into a better place for my grandson? A place where he can thrive, create, and build a bridge into the future for generations forward to travel?

What can I do?

Listen. Listen to what the young people in these crowds are saying. Let down my defenses. I don’t have to be the “good white person” forever spending my energy on overcompensating for my family’s racist past. Speak out against those that make passive/aggressive racist remarks in my presence. This kind of subtle racism is more lethal than a bullet in a gun. Be there. Really be there and aware. Stand up for the wronged.

May we somehow roll the stone away and reveal the power of love and acceptance for all.

TO PURCHASE Roll The Stone AwayFoxTale Book Shoppe or Amazon

To learn more about Ann Hite and her literature, please visit her author website: Ann Hite- A Southern Novelist, Storyteller From Birth

Please share and like on your social media and feel free to leave comments on “Memoir Series Part III: Where Do The Stones Come From? Please follow me at www.dawnmajor.com.

Live the story you want to write!

Memoir Series Part II: Interview with Ann Hite, Author of Roll The Stone Away

Memoir Series Part II: Ann Hite Interview

for Interview

Illustration by Jerry C. Hite

I’m excited to bring you part two of this blog series. The illustration above was drawn by Ann Hite’s husband, Jerry C. Hite, and provides a wonderful image of the “family” cemetery, also a setting in Roll The Stone Away. Hope you enjoy and stay tuned for a guest blog next week from Ann Hite.

There are quite a few revelations, secret, lies you uncovered about your family. Which one or ones were the most shocking or surprising for you?

Finding out my grandmother’s last name was not really her last name was the crack that caused the dam to burst. Until this point in my life, I was convinced Mother’s “spells” were our family’s biggest secrets. I never saw her having a tangled past. I never gave the cause of her mental illness much thought. She had always been the odd mother. I was used to it. When two beautiful, elegant women approached me after Mother’s funeral, I never imagined they were extended family carrying a truth that would make me question everything I had been told. Had my mother known her name had been changed? What prompted this lie that trickled down to placing a false last name on my grandfather’s headstone? This event suggested I would encounter more revelations. And, I did, many. One being Henry Lee Hawkins—my great grandfather, Granny’s father—murdered Asalee Hawkins—my great grandmother, Granny’s mother.

What advice would you give writers considering writing a memoir, particularly writers that are dealing with trauma?

Early on in writing this book, I took Jessica Handler’s workshop on writing about trauma, Braving the Fire—also the name of her book. She suggested using index cards to write one event that would be covered in the memoir. After I filled the index cards with scenes I wanted to write about, I placed them into an envelope and walked away from them for a week or so. When I came back to the cards, I took a random one and wrote about it. The order didn’t matter. Actually, it was comforting to write out of order. I never do this with fiction. A writer must read. If you want to write a memoir, read memoirs. And, most important, writers of memoir have to be on the other side of the events that drive the book. Forgiveness is of the upmost importance. Remember to forgive doesn’t me you forget. It doesn’t mean you pretend it never happened. It most certainly doesn’t mean you have to love the offender or offenders. You will still get angry. Forgiveness in a memoir allows the writer to look at all sides of the story and people involved. Then the reader can decide how they feel about what happened. Most of all, write your truth even if others involved are still alive. Your truth will differ from theirs. Both are valid. Trust yours.

At your reading you mentioned that while writing your memoir you realized that some of your fictional characters were based on your family members. Will you expand upon that?

I never write a character with the idea of basing them on someone I know like a family member. The similarities happen organically, and I don’t discover this until I’m in the publishing edits. In my third novel, Where the Souls Go, the characters Grace Jean and Pearl are different sides of my mother’s personality. The characters AzLeigh and Grandmother Todd are different sides of my grandmother. The character Mrs. Platte represents the many women in my childhood who tried to help me through complex family dynamics. In my first novel, Ghost on Black Mountain, the villain, Hobbs Pritchard, is actually my mother. Characters that stay with the readers and haunt them long after they finish the book are little slices of us and the people we know.

You mentioned the biblical symbolism behind the title. Will you share the inspiration?

“Roll the Stone Away,” the title, was inspired by the image of the women going to the tomb of Jesus and finding the boulder rolled away from the entrance. They understood the body wasn’t there. Christ and the resurrection were revealed, a new life. Hope in the darkest of times. Revealing each of my stones breathed new life into my existence. Hope. I gained confidence to shoulder the family history and accept members for who they were without sugarcoating their stories.

Your haints and your family spirits are not simply metaphors or characters. Maybe they are in your fictional works, but you admit to seeing them. What has been the reaction to that admission?

I have been surprised by those who wait for me after an event to tell me their experiences with spirits. These readers come from all walks of life. The majority of these experiences have been positive. I have many who want to “give” their stories to me for use in a book. I do explain they have to write their stories. It seems most people love a good ghost story, but I have had one negative experience. When I was on tour for The Storycatcher and Lowcountry Spirit, I did an event in Northeastern Tennessee at a beautiful library. This building was nicer than any in the small town that had a large retirement community. I could tell from the lavish rooms inside the library, the donors loved books. I talked about the writing of The Storycatcher and Lowcountry Spirit. I talked about the ghosts and folklore that populate these two books. When it was over, I excused myself and went to the restroom. The author I was traveling with was approached by an elderly woman, who gave her a wherefore about my ghosts, how the devil was behind them, and I had to get right with God. I found this a strange response. We were in Appalachia, and I was taught by my Appalachian relatives to believe in ghosts, haints, spirits. These great aunts were Godfearing folks with deep faith. While I completely respect this woman’s right to believe what she does, I do not agree with her. My experiences with ghosts can’t be explained away. I have never gone looking for them. And I won’t lie that the surprise of them showing up can be shocking. But I’m not afraid of ghosts. And I love writing about them.

You have found your niche, returning to settings like Black Mountain and Sapelo Island frequently. Do you anticipate returning to your ancestral homeland again, or have you released all of your stones with Roll The Stone Away?

I promised myself I would not write another memoir. But in January UPS dropped off a package from my brother. Inside was all my father’s military records, photos, and memorabilia from us kids. My brother expressed his desire I write the story about Dad. So you never know.

In your memoir you talk about always wanting to write and mention that you were a technical writer? What advice would you give creative writers wanting to make the leap into writing professionally?

A professional writer is one who sends off their work and gets rejections. Stephen King papered his wall with rejections. Write and don’t talk about it until you finish. Read, read, read. Deconstruct the books you love. This will teach you much.

Can you tell us about your writing process?

Because I am the mother of four children—all but one gone to live elsewhere now—I learned to write anytime of the day and night. And anywhere. I begin all first drafts with pen and paper. The connection is different, more personal. When I begin my second draft, I use a software program called Scrivener, written by writers. I love it! The third draft is when I begin reading aloud. I also use music as I write.

I noticed on your author website that you teach writing? What do you offer?

I teach a master class of five or six students with the goal to finish a book project. We work for 8 weeks, once a week, and take off 8 weeks with assignments to complete. Then we meet again. The group is close and have developed a true trust.

Finally, what is next for Ann Hite?

I have a short story collection, Haints on Black Mountain, that will be published by Mercer University Press in fall of 2021. The first book, Going to the Water, in a new series set in the Nantahala Gorge, North Carolina will be published by Firefly Southern Fiction, date TBA. My first nonfiction narrative about Lucille Selig Frank, Leo Frank’s wife, has been contracted to Mercer University Press. And finally, I am very excited about a new series set in Westview Cemetery here in Atlanta. This was inspired by historian Jeff Clemmons’s stories and his book Atlanta’s Historic Westview Cemetery. It’s rare to find a fellow cemetery lover. He is the biggest champion for this series that will be filled with haints.

TO PURCHASE Roll The Stone AwayFoxTale Book Shoppe or Amazon

To learn more about Ann Hite and her literature, please visit her author website: Ann Hite- A Southern Novelist, Storyteller From Birth

Please share and like on your social media and feel free to leave comments on “Memoir Series Part II: Interview with Ann Hite, Author of Roll The Stone Away. Please follow me at http://www.dawnmajor.com.

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Review: Roll The Stone Away: A Family’s Legacy of Racism and Abuse by Author, Ann Hite

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Part I: Review of Roll The Stone Away: A Family’s Legacy of Racism and Abuse by Author, Ann Hite

I have yet to meet Ann Hite, well, I met her virtually, but I’m not sure that counts. I attended her virtual book reading sponsored by FoxTale Book Shoppe. I could see her, but my camera was acting funny, so she never saw me. We share a mutual friend in author Ray Adkins, who suggested I reach out to Ann, that she would be good fit for what I’m attempting to do with my site—to promote Southern authors. Of course, I’ve heard of Ann Hite. Her novels were on my list to read. They just got pushed up to the front after reading Roll The Stone Away, and I jumped down the Ann Hite rabbit hole this month and read both Lowcountry Spirit and The Storycatcher. I’m glad I waited and read her fiction alongside her new memoir; it really added a unique perspective to understanding and appreciating her work. I hope you enjoy my review. This is part one of a series of three posts about the author, Ann Hite, her new memoir, and memoir writing. 

The British measure weight in stones. One pound equals fourteen stones. There are twenty-nine stones or chapters in Roll The Stone Away by Southern author, Ann Hite. By American measurements that is 406 pounds. That’s a lot to carry for one person. Imagine standing on a scale, but rather than seeing your physical weight, you see your mental weight: all the shame pressing down on the scale saying you aren’t good enough, the sins of your family, the secrets you have yet to let go of, your mistakes. It weighs so much more than your actual weight. As I mentioned, each stone is a chapter, but each stone also symbolizes what the young Ann Hite begins to carry as a baby, later through her teens, and finally into adulthood. She carries the weight of what her mother and grandmother inherited, and in turn, they carry what they inherited. I’m not trying to be caddy, but Hite’s family has some Game of Thrones type secrets haunting them and she literally rolls that stone away and reveals them. I’ve read several memoirs and probably my biggest dislike is all the complaining and wallowing. I realize this sounds harsh, but I think the point of a memoir, at least the difference between a memoir and a good memoir, is how the author deals with the truth at the end. For me, a good memoir, and that is what Roll The Stone Away is, must confront, heal, and forgive. Some memoirs don’t get the last two parts, and yes, Hite’s story becomes increasingly heavier and heavier as the truth becomes heavier and harder to tell. However, at the end, Hite releases her stones. She heals and forgives, and reader is left with hope.

The cover features a hummingbird hovering over a flower. It’s lovely. The title itself is a Biblical reference to the tomb of Jesus. Then, your eye travels downward to a statement at the bottom of the cover you simply cannot avoid–A Family’s Legacy of Racism and Abuse–and the book takes on a new hue. You know immediately that tied up in this pretty picture of hummingbirds and flowers is something so ugly you want to cover it up. The cover is quite fitting when you consider the romanticism of the Antebellum South and the ugly history it tried to secret away. Initially, I thought, “I don’t know if I can handle this right now. Abuse is difficult enough, but racism?” That’s the point, though. What do you see when you look racism in the face? You may be surprised to see your own face or your family’s face, as Hite discovers an ancestry not only linked by domestic and sexual abuse but also to racial cleansing and lynching. Her family was present for the lynching of Leo Frank, her great-grandfather served on the jury of Ernest Knox and Oscar Daniels, and was instrumental in segregating Forsyth County. It’s not just a memoir of Hite’s ancestry, but a memoir of the Jim Crow South, the terror of the KKK, and of some of Georgia’s most disturbing acts of violence.

And on that historical note, Hite chose to use footnotes. I thought it an interesting choice in a memoir, but don’t be deterred, because like I said, Hite’s family history is tied up with the South’s history. I could have gone either way, with the text added to the memoir or the footnotes. Do read them. You may begin seeing how your family history it connected to a larger history—politically, culturally, geographically. Those pieces of iconic Atlanta, like Rich’s Department Store, where Ann’s grandmother, Inas, worked have a way of connecting the reader on a deeper level, especially if you grew up in Georgia. I also worked at Rich’s a hundred years ago (sadly now Macy’s), and I lived in Marietta Square, and my sister still resides near the Square. I recognized Joyner Avenue where Ann and her mother once lived in Marietta as well as Holcomb Bridge Road. The landscape has changed over the years, but these road and places still exist, and I can look upon this landscape of strip malls and gas stations and see a little further back now.

One of my favorite quotes from the memoir is as follows: “Each person’s story has a root system that, when examined, unearths more questions than answers.” Hite speculates about how her great-great-grandparents would have felt, constantly questioning, and even forming imaginary stories. In the front of the book there are photographs of various family members, and Hite looks deeply into their eyes, their expressions, and wonders about her great-great grandmother’s, Asalee’s expression: “Little does she know that in twelve  years she will die by the hands of her husband…[her expression revealed] mostly resolve, maybe even surrender, as if she had accepted that her life was as good as things would get. But many women in in the early 1900s were photographed with the same expression. It was a trying time, especially in the rural south.” Sadly, this is the history of many women during this time, trapped in marriages of abuse. And yet, domestic violence is very present today and escalating in this time of quarantine. Hite’s personal story reminds us that while it may be easier to obtain a divorce in moderns days, the economic impact on women and children (even today) is epic. Hite doesn’t elaborate too much about her first marriage, but you get the impression she followed in her ancestor’s footsteps and came out the other side. Again, the reader is prodded to move past and heal.

Teachers of creative writing advise to “write what you know,” and Hite took that to heart in her memoir and in her fictional work. She draws from her environment to create her settings. Her fictional works are placed in locales such as Darien and Sapelo Island in South Georgia, a land bloodied by slavery. Her main characters feature the Geechee slaves and haints (ghosts or spirits usually associated with the Old South, typically the Gullah people or Geechees, descendants of African American slaves that resided in the Barrier Islands and Carolina Coast). The spirits of her family, or her haints, are not merely metaphors, but are literally present. Ironically, I find myself reading her works and sadly reflecting on the death of Ahmaud Arbery, who was recently shot and killed while taking his daily jog in Brunswick, Georgia. Brunswick is in close proximity to the settings of Hite’s novels.  Her fictional work is not simply designed to entertain; her haints are as real as her living characters. They recall our sordid past, although with the recent death of  Arbery one must reflect about how far away the past is from our present.

It’s easy to see how Hite developed into a storyteller herself. It started at a young age, listening intently to the family stories, or alone at home with only her imagination: “I began to craft long, intricate stories of a girl—always a girl—on an adventure…Many ghosts were added to the mix. There were the stories my great-aunts told about encountering dead family members…I would work on these stories until Mother’s car came down the gravel drive. She frowned at my “pretending” and said others might think I was imagining things. I was: a whole world.” In her fictional work, the strongest root magic resides in the storycatchers. Hite reminds us over and over again about the power of storytelling; her storycatchers “untangle” stories for others, rectify wrongs, and expose the truth. Hite is the original storycatcher and her words are as strong as any of her characters’ conjure magic, because they have the power to heal.

TO PURCHASE Roll The Stone Away: FoxTale Book Shoppe or Amazon

To learn more about Ann Hite and her literature, please visit her author website: Ann Hite- A Southern Novelist, Storyteller From Birth

Please share and like on your social media, and feel free to leave comments here on “Part I Review of Roll The Stone Away Review” by Dawn Major. 

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The Lost Art of Letter Writing

Post officeIn this time of quarantine, when I cannot see my family or friends unless I sign onto some form of technology, I find myself taking pen to paper. My good friends know I have no fear of stamps nor pens, as I often send random postcards with quotes or cards for no good reason other than I recall the joy of getting something pretty and well-composed in the mail once upon a time. I am a rare species, though. Perhaps one day I will be wiped out, totally extinct. Children on school trips will discover my letters, my cards inked in blue or black, and stare upon my cursive as if looking upon ancient hieroglyphics. The wall text will explain that prior to phones, text, emails, blogs, and discussion forums, that prior to Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Zoom, or Tik-Tok, people used pens, (an instrument for writing or drawing with ink, typically consisting of a metal nib or ball, or a nylon tip, fitted into a metal or plastic holder) and wrote (the activity or skill of marking coherent words on paper and composing text) letters (a written, typed, or printed communication, especially one sent in an envelope by mail or messenger) to each other, and sent them via the mail (letters and packages conveyed by the postal system). It all sounds so old-fashioned, huh?

My stepson sent a Mother’s Day card to his bio-mom this week, and I assumed he knew how to fill out the address. First, he wrote MOMMA in great big letters across the front even though I explained it was going via snail mail, and I had already put a stamp on it. Then, he wrote her address in the top left-hand corner (not centered in the middle, slightly leaning towards the right). Finally, I took over and wrote her address under MOMMA with a C/O inserted. I’m not making fun of him. He was never taught. This was a revelation for me. Perhaps, it was a failure on our part for not teaching him how to address a letter earlier. I recall practicing this ancient craft in school. I challenge you parents out there to have you teenager or child compose and send a letter, and please share your comments on the exercise here.

This is by no means an attack on schools, teachers, or curriculums, but along with the lost art of letter writing, cursive is no longer taught, or at least in the schools my son attends. It’s not necessary. In fact, most of the time kids simply type; it has become outmoded. I realized that it was my job as a parent (not the teachers) to teach longhand. One summer—being the wicked stepmother I am—I bought poor Harry a cursive workbook so he could at least learn to write his signature. I cannot tell you how many times I wrote my name over and over as a teenager imagining the time I would be a famous author and could sign something loopy and extravagant (this was typically during Algebra class). I’m still waiting on that fantasy to come true, but at least I have conquered the signature. My point is, I think part of the issue here is the physical act of writing. Yes, it takes effort to write. Hell, it hurts when you are out of practice. Even when you write “Happy Holidays, Love (Insert Family Name)” fifty times during the holiday season, your hand cramps up and you lament. It’s still fun to put stamps on, though. That part feels like playing with stickers. It’s during these times I grumble and protest, “Why am I responsible for the Christmas cards? It’s sexist. Next year, it’s your turn, boys.” I wouldn’t have it any other way. I even have a special Christmas pen I use to write my cards, which I caught my husband casually using, taking notes on a work call the other day. At these times, I reminisce about Sister Evil–the principal from my middle school who more than once made me write an entire dictionary page. When I put letter writing into that context (an entire dictionary page!), how hard is it really to compose a few kind words about your life to send to your family and friends?

This brings me to the part where I honor those great letter writers that inspired my reflection on letter writing. My favorite letter writer is Uncle Jeff, who is famous for his Christmas cards. Year after year, my family await the pages of travels and tragedies, and snicker at the great detail he puts into stomach maladies. Oh, he goes there, folks. And then, out of the blue, two Christmases ago, Uncle Jeff sent out the standard holiday greeting. No synopsis of the year they had. No dodgy stomach ailments. The whole family complained, “We have been cheated! Uncle Jeff, where is our annual holiday letter?” He explained, “No one else puts any time into writing letters, why should I?” He was absolutely right, of course. We’re all guilty of factory line cards with only our signature to connect us to the recipient. Don’t be this person who simply stamps their name under Happy Birthday, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza, or Happy Whatever, but say something. Something quirky about your week, heck, tell them about the bad sushi you ate two months ago. I assure you the reader will find it amusing. It worked for Uncle Jeff, it’ll work for you. Uncle Jeff did bring the letter back the following year, but an abridged version and less candid.

Along with the the exercise of torturing your children with letter writing, I have one final thought and challenge for my readers. Flashback: In an effort to expose students to different cultures and to help kids in other countries practice writing in English, in the seventh grade my teacher told us to select a country and gender; we were getting pen pals. I always went for the Italian boys, by the way. I couldn’t wait to get airmail envelopes, with exotic stamps, filled with the thinnest, sheerest, most delicate paper on earth. You can actually still get a pen pal, but if you go that route, do be careful giving out personal information and certainly don’t wire your pen pal any money. Nowadays, most sites offer cyber pen pals. I’d list the sites I found, but I’m not going to be liable for when your not so “pally” pen pal hacks your email. My years working in financial crime have tainted me. So, to avoid that (sorry pen pal sites), treat your friends and family like your new pen pal and send a card, letter, or postcard. No typing allowed. Just you, your quill (how romantic), and your words. It is time to resurrect the letter writing!

Live the story you want to write!

Please share and like on your social media, and feel free to leave comments here on “The Lost Art of Letter Writing” by Dawn Major. 

Part III, Mystery Writer Series: “A Little Mystery” by C.L. Tolbert, Author of Out From Silence

“Very few of us are what we seem,” Agatha Christie, “The Man in the Mist”

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I hope you all have enjoyed my mystery writer series with author C.L. Tolbert. This is the final post in the series where we get to hear directly form Tolbert, herself, where she demystifies how she became a mystery writer. 

A Little Mystery by C.L. Tolbert

My interest in mysteries began early on, when I was eight, and my younger brother inherited our cousin’s Hardy Boys Mystery library. There were well over fifty books in the collection, and I read the entire series in one summer. I was hooked!

Graduating to Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the eighth grade, I discovered warm and comforting worlds created by these two writers, even though their stories centered around gruesome murders. This was true even for Doyle. The back streets of London might be frightening or creepy, but Sherlock Holmes always returned to 221B Baker Street. I wanted to go back to the environments they’d created and visit them over and over, which was a key to the success of both writers. The murders and intrigue which needed to be solved kept the reader hooked, but the sense of place kept the reader coming back. Louise Penny echoes this style today. Her imaginary village, Three Pines, in Quebec, Canada, is a homespun oasis. This village with it’s shops, restaurants, and quaint characters give solace to the harsh brutality of the murders committed there.

When I first started writing fiction, one of my mentors pointed out that my plot-driven manuscript needed to include more passionate exchange between the characters because “murder is a highly emotional thing.”  She was right. But it has to be done just so, and Louise Penny does it perfectly. I’ve learned that even though not all homicides are motivated by emotion, there must be a motivation for a murder in a mystery novel, whether it is passion, revenge, money, or all three.

Mysteries move at a quick pace. They are about solving problems in layers. Some of those layers are analytical, or driven by logic, and some are emotionally driven. I’ve read a good number of the classics (Tolstoy, Hugo, Bronte, Austin, etc.) and more recent literary fiction, but still find writing an emotional scene more challenging than an action scene.

I have a Master’s in Special Education and a law degree. I taught learning-disabled students for ten years, and then practiced law for thirty years before I retired. I’m drawn to problems. I like solving them and want to help people with them. All of this is reflected in my books.

In my Thornton Mystery Series, Emma Thornton is a single mother of twin boys. She’s created a home for them, which is where they find solace and strength. The first story, Out From Silence, is in the fictional town of Jonesburg, Georgia where Emma is a law student and clerk for a local attorney. She helps represent a young deaf defendant accused of killing his girlfriend. The second story, The Redemption, takes place in New Orleans where Emma and the boys have moved since Emma has accepted a position with the faculty at a law school in the city. She takes on a case where a young boy has been accused of a double murder. Each story has a strong sense of place, as well as gritty realism.

I have a few ideas for the third mystery which will come out in 2021 and can’t wait to start writing it. I love the process of creating the story—the plotting, outlining, writing—until I get to the rewrite! I look forward to all the challenges that lie ahead.

To purchase Out From Silence via Amazon.

Please share and like on your social media, and feel free to leave comments on “A Little Mystery,” by guest blogger C.L. Tolbert.

About C.L. Tolbert:

In 2010, Cynthia Tolbert won the Georgia Bar Journal’s fiction contest for the short story version of OUT FROM SILENCE that is now the first full-length novel of the Thornton Mystery Series, which was published by Level Best Books in December of 2019. OUT FROM SILENCE is Tolbert’s first novel and was nominated for Georgia Author of the Year under the first novel category through the Georgia Writers Association. She is currently writing her second novel in this same series entitled THE REDEMPTION, which is set in New Orleans and scheduled to be published in December of 2020.

She has a Master’s in Special Education and taught children with learning disabilities before moving on to law school. She spent most of her legal career working as defense counsel at large corporations and traveled throughout the country as regional and national counsel. She also had the unique opportunity of teaching third-year law students in a clinical program at a law school in New Orleans where she ran the Homelessness Law Clinic and learned, firsthand, about poverty in that city. The experiences and impressions she has collected from the past forty years contribute to the stories she writes today.

She has four children, and three grandchildren, and lives in Atlanta with her husband and schnauzer. To learn even more about C.L. Tolbert, visit her author website at: www.cltolbert.com

To contact C.L. Tolbert:  cindy@cltolbert.com.

Live the story you want to write!