Monday, March 16, 2009

Condolences to an Atlanta Peace Corps Family

Ours is a Peace Corps family, so to speak. My wife and I first met at a gathering of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers in Atlanta. We had both been back from our respective tours with the Peace Corps--she in Mali, me in Albania--just a few months. We spent the months of our early courtship comparing stories from our service, and competing in terms of who had acquired the most numerous and more interesting forms of dysentery while abroad. She won.

We both put a lot of stock in what the Peace Corps represents, despite the good and bad cliches about the organization.

In yesterday's Atlanta-Journal Constitution, and again today in the local media, there is a story about a young woman from Cumming, Georgia (an Atlanta suburb) named Kate Puzey. Miss Puzey, aged 24, was serving in the Peace Corps in the West African nation of Benin as a teacher. She gave her life this past week in the service of that nation's children, and while showing the best face of the United States abroad. According to news accounts, she was very proud of her service in the Peace Corps, and felt a great deal of warmth toward the people whom she was serving.

Ms. Puzey kept a blog of her experiences in the Peace Corps. It may be found at

She sounds like she was a pretty terrific young woman, and our family extends its condolences to her family and friends the world over--and it sounds like she had them, the world over.

Visit the Fallen Peace Corps Volunteers Memorial Project:


Power Lines by Jason Carter. This book, by Georgia author, former Peace Corps volunteer, and grandson of Georgia author and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, recounts the younger Carter's experience as a Peace Corp volunteer in South Africa. It goes some way at describing why someone might want to take on the challenge, and what stands to be gained by doing so.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

For these stressful times, try a little bookstore balm. Georgia author Philip Lee Williams.

Some years ago I had the opportunity to work with author and poet Philip Lee Williams in conducting a reading and book signing for his then new book The True and Authentic History of Jenny Dorset. The reading was to take place at the bookstore where I was working at the time.

On the day before the reading was to take place, Phil gave me a call at the store. He wanted to know if--all things considered--we still wanted to go through with the event the next day. "Do you think anybody is going to come?" he asked.

I thought about it for a moment and decided that my guess was as good as his. "Let's go ahead and do it, " I said, "I think people might like a chance for something to take their minds off things." So, the reading went forward.

The next evening at the store, I was pleased, and a little surprised, to see that an audience of some twenty people had gathered to hear Phil read and discuss his book. Always the bookseller, I was also glad to see that most of the people in attendance had at least one copy of his new and other other books in hand for purchase. Still, on that day, even sales didn't seem important.

My being surprised to have an audience that day had nothing to do with Phil and his book. He is well-known and has a loyal following of readers, and deservedly so, in my opinion. That day, however, our little book signing had some pretty serious competition for people's attention.

Some of the people in the audience that day seemed to know each other. Some were obviously acquaintances of the author, either friends from the substantial Athens' literary community, or colleagues and students from the University where Phil teaches. Most of the crowd, however, were clearly strangers to each other.

It was interesting to watch people that day. The best way to describe the mood of the group that had come for the reading was one of quiet--but intense--friendliness. People were somber, for sure. But it wasn't like, say, a funeral. The people in attendance seemed to look around at each other, making a point to give polite--maybe even reassuring--smiles of acknowledgement to these other strangers.

I introduced Phil, who was there to read from his new historical comedy. He welcomed everyone, and thanked them for coming. Then he stated that, before moving on to the book reading and discussion, he'd like first to read several pieces of verse that he had brought along. He thought that, all things considered, they might be fitting for the occasion. I don't recall the poems that Phil read from that day. I wish that I did. I suppose that I wasn't paying enough attention, being too caught up in watching the responses of the audience.

As Phil read, the people in the audience listened politely. People nodded their heads in acknowledgement of the words that he read, and some had smiles on their faces. Two of the ladies in the audience who were smiling also had tears in their eyes. Phil finished reading the verse, and paused for a few moments to let everyone take it in, and if necessary, regain their composure. He then introduced everyone to Jenny Dorset, read, took questions, had people laughing (laughing!), and autographed books.

Even after the signing was officially over, people stuck around for a while. Just chatting with strangers and maybe feeling normal.

That reading and signing took place on the evening of September 13, 2001.

Phil Williams is the author of 13 books, including his 2004 Civil War novel, A Distant Flame, which won the Michael Shaara Award. He teaches creative writing at the University of Georgia.

Phil will be reading from his new book, Elegies for the Water: Poems, at 7 pm on Thursday, March 12 at the Athens, Georgia Barnes & Noble. The book is just out this month from Mercer University Press. Call 706.354.1195 for more information about the reading.

The news these days seldom seems to be good. Recession. War. Dreadful statistics about just about everything. A lot of screaming and yelling, too. And it seems as if we are all ALWAYS in a damned hurry.

Your local bookstore has some help for what ails you. Good luck everybody.


In the Morning: Reflections from First Light by Philip Lee Williams

The Heart of a Distant Forest by Philip Lee Williams

RMR (poetry)

Monday, March 2, 2009

Georgia Spring, Wordsmith's Books & March Events

In my last post, I stated that the weather was turning warmer.

Welcome to springtime in Georgia. It snowed all day yesterday. But the snow clouds had a silver lining--the weather was bad enough to close down my school (where I work) today, but not bad enough to close my children's daycare (they would have been upset to miss today's Dr. Seuss birthday festivities on any count). The weather for the coming weekend is supposed to be in the seventies.

There are not enough bookstores in the world, and I am sorry to say that it appears that Atlanta is losing another. According to their website today, Wordsmith's Books in Decatur is closing its doors after just two years. Good luck, guys. These are tough times. Your customers will no doubt miss you.

These are tough, anxious times. Book people might look for a little relief at one of the following events coming this month:

Monday, March 2
Brad Gooch will discuss Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor
Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta
Reception at 6 pm/program begins at 7 pm
$ for MMH members & $10 for non-members

Tuesday, March 3
Mary Kay Andrews discusses Deep Dish
Barnes & Noble Buckhead, Atlanta
7:30 pm
Call 404.261.7747 for more information.

Tuesday, March 3
Barbara Brown Taylor will discuss "Downtime: The Sacred Art of Stopping" and autograph her book, An Altar in the World.
7:30 pm.
Agnes Scott College in Decatur
Call 404.471.6430

Downtime? I wonder if Ms. Taylor fishes?

Tuesday, March 3
Writers on Writing Program--The Sophomore Slump: Writing the Second Book
Panel featuring authors Jack Riggs (The Fireman's Wife), Renee Dodd (A Cabinet of Wonders) and Tom Mullen (The Last Town on Earth)
7:15 pm at the Georgia Center for the Book/Decatur Library

Wednesday, March 4
A Cappella Books & The Opal Gallery
Rodes Fishburne discusses Going to See the Elephant
7 pm

Thursday, March 5
Women's Poetry Night featuring Andrea Cohen (Long Division) and Lynn Pederson (Theories of Rain)
A Cappella Books
7:15 at the Decatur Library

Sunday, March 8
Debra Conner, An Afternoon with Peggy Mitchell
The Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta
Program begins at 4 pm
$5 members/$10 non-members

That's just a week's worth, and no where complete. Check the links on this website for other literary events coming to Georgia.

Good luck, everybody. Watch the ice.


George, Being George--George Plimpton's Life edited by Nelson Aldrich. They just don't make them like Mr. Plimpton anymore.

Double Whammy by Carl Hiassen (Bass fishing. Murder.)