Last year, the Tennessee Humanities Council (THC) was forced to come up with creative ways of funding its annual literary event, the Southern Festival of Books. Originally funded by private and public monies, THC hit a snag when it was slammed with the double-whammy of congressional budget cuts and the loss of a five-year grant. Donna Tauscher, public information officer for the Humanities Council, and Janice Zeitlin, a longtime festival supporter and curator/owner of Zeitgeist Gallery, discussed various fund-raising possibilities and came up with the idea of A Literary Salon. Held last August, the event was a modest success, drawing more than 150 people to hear John Egerton, Steven Womack, Ann Patchett, and John Baeder read from their works in the intimate settings of Zeitgeist and AKA Gallery.
Last year’s respectable turnout paved the way for another salonone that may prove to be even more important and exciting than the first. In September, essayist, novelist, and poet Wendell Berry will make a rare public appearance as the sole reader at this year’s literary salon. A shy and reclusive man, Berry seldom participates in conferences or readings, preferring instead to spend time with his wife Tanya on their farm near Port Royal, Ky.
Since 1964, when Berry moved to Kentucky to escape the tumult of the New York publishing world, his writing has increasingly emphasized the values of history, place, life, and our responsibility to both land and community. Although his poetry is better known, Berry’s essays have earned him high praise: Last year, Utne Reader noted his status as “one of America’s most eminent ecological thinkers” and featured him prominently in its “100 Visionaries” issue. Listed at No. 10, Berry rated much higher than Czech President Vaclav Havel (No. 39), Spike Lee (No. 56), and Jeremy Rifkin (No. 80).
Berry’s latest book, A World Lost, is set in 1944 in the fictional small town of Port William, Ky.a place that has inhabited the author’s writing for 36 years. The novel tells the story of a young boy, Andy Catlett, struggling to understand the murder of his uncle. Scheduled for publication by Counterpoint in October, advance copies will be on sale at the salon, and it’s possible that Berry will be available to sign copies.
A Literary Salon takes place 4-6 p.m. Sept. 8 at Zeitgeist Gallery in Cummins Station. Tickets are $25 in advance or $30 at the door. Call 320-7001 for tickets and information.
A couple of years ago, when Stephen King went on tour to promote Insomnia, he decided to do things a little differently. Instead of flying from city to city, visiting the big chain bookstores in cities like Chicago, New York, and L.A., King crossed the country on a motorcycle and stopped only at independent bookstores, including Nashville’s Davis-Kidd Booksellers. He explained at the time that he was concerned the larger stores were driving the smaller mom-and-pop bookstores out of business. And since the independents were the very stores that had helped King gain an audience in the first place, he wanted to return the favor.
In the end, King’s tour drew some attention to the plight of smaller stores, but it certainly didn’t stop the chains from expanding. What’s more, King clearly chose to visit some rather large independent stores: Davis-Kidd isn’t exactly a small, mom-and-pop operation. In fact, with four stores across the state, the retailer has decidedly reached the big-time. Even 10 years ago, when it was much smaller, the store was blamed, in part, for the closure of several independents, most notably the much-lamented Mills Bookstore.
The tables turned last year, however, when several chains arrived in the Nashville area. Many customers wondered how the presence of these large storeswhich were able to offer significant discountswould affect Davis-Kidd. Indeed, the store admits that it has seen a drop in sales, but its marketing department has responded by aggressively pursing authors for book signings. The hard work shows: Davis-Kidd averages about three signings weekly with both local and best-selling authors; by comparison, Barnes & Noble hosts just one signing a week.
Angie Howard, Davis-Kidd’s PR and events coordinator, tries to look at the store’s current situation in a positive light. “Competition makes everybody do their best,” she explains. “We’ve always had a lot of signings, but we’ve been developing relationships with publishers to bring more authors here. Nashville is not one of the top places to send authors; they typically go to Chicago, New York, and L.A. If they come to the South at all, they go to Atlanta. If another big bookstore makes Nashville more attractive, that’s great.”
While mega-size bookstores might help draw big-name authors, the dwindling number of independents means there are fewer stores willing to champion lesser-known writers. Indeed, it was the small, independent bookstores that first stocked the now best-selling authors Anne Rice, Stephen King, and Pat Conroy when some of the larger chains wouldn’t give them self space. As Davis-Kidd continues to straddle the line between the chains and independents, let’s hope the store continues to maintain and develop an independent spiritNashville already has more than its share of faceless corporate retailers.
Daniel Cooper, a Scene contributor and an editor for the Journal of Country Music, recently won a major award for his book, Lefty Frizzell: The Honky-Tonk Life of Country Music’s Greatest Singer (Little, Brown and Company). Cooper’s biography on the man Merle Haggard once called “the most unique thing that ever happened to country music” was a third-place winner in the Seventh Annual Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Awards, sponsored by BMI, New York University, and Rolling Stone magazine. Committee members, which included Pat Baird, Dave Marsh, and Chet Flippo, spent the past year reviewing more than 40 titles before they finally settled on the year’s best three books about contemporary music and musicians. First place went to You Send Me: The Life and Times of Sam Cooke by Daniel Wolff with S.R. Crain, Clifton White, and G. David Tenenbaum, while Rage to Survive by Etta James and David Ritz won second place.
Jim Clark and Ken Beck, authors of Aunt Bee’s Mayberry Cookbook, have just written a follow-up. Aunt Bee’s Delightful Desserts: More Than 350 Recipes From Mayberry, America’s Friendliest Town features recipes for traditional Southern deserts such as Checkerboard Chess Pie, Peekaboo Pecan Pie, and Miss Crump’s Peanut Butter Pie. Many of the recipes were contributed by fans of the Andy Griffith Show, and a few cast members, including Don Knotts, Howard Morris, and Jim Nabors, sent in their recipes as well.
Beck, who writes a TV and movie trivia column for The Tennessean’s Showcase section, and Clark, who founded The Andy Griffith Show Rerun Watchers Club, first collaborated on Aunt Bee’s Mayberry Cookbook in 1991. The book has gone on to sell close to 1 million copiesan astoundingly large sales figure for a cookbookmaking it one of Rutledge Hill Press’ biggest sellers. In addition to their work documenting culinary specialties from the town of Mayberry, the pair has added to the TV cookbook genre with Mary Ann’s Gilligan’s Island Cookbook and Granny’s Beverly Hillbillies Cookbook.