Kerry Madden is the author of some of my favorite books set in Appalachia (GENTLE'S HOLLER, etc.) and of southern creators such as Harper Lee. She has a lyrical soul when it comes to relaying the stories and relationships of southern folk. And Nothing Fancy is no exception. Kerry is here today to share her thoughts...
I came to write Nothing Fancy About Kathryn & Charlie by accident. To put it very simply, Kathryn Tucker Windham was a white storyteller, and Charlie Lucas was a black folk artist, and they were best friends who lived next door to each other in Selma, Alabama. They met when Kathryn was 81 and Charlie was 49. I’d given my UAB students an assignment to write a picture book about friendship. We’d been reading James Marshall’s George & Martha stories, and Kathryn and Charlie reminded me of George and Martha in their playful silliness, curiosity about the world, and deep respect and affection for each other. And since I was making my students write a picture book, I figured I should try to write too – maybe even show them it was done. Ha.
Charlie under a portrait he did of Kathryn
I ask Kathryn about Harper Lee and when she read To Kill A Mockingbird, and Kathryn says, “She’s delightful. Fun to be with. . . I don’t remember when I read it, but it’s a wonderful book. When she nominated me to the Alabama Academy of Honor, I was shocked. I still am shocked. I met her when I was inducted, and we’ve been friends for about five years. She’s so much fun. Nobody knows this. Her sister, Miss Alice Lee, is a lovely woman.”So Kathryn was irresistible to me as a subject. I kept visiting her after I moved to Alabama, and I met Charlie too. I sent her drafts of my storybook, and she gave me notes to fix what I’d got wrong. Eventually, Mockingbird Publishers published Nothing Fancy About Kathryn & Charlie in 2013.
I tell her the story that I had heard about Miss Alice Lee when she was on the committee to select a minister for the Methodist Church. One man’s name came up and all Miss Alice said to the committee was, “I’m too old to be preached to by a fool.”
Kathryn bursts into laughter, and we stand up to stretch. It’s been an afternoon of stories and sweet tea. We go outside to visit Charlie Lucas’s art in her backyard. Charlie is Kathryn’s best friend, and he lives next door and together their two backyards have bloomed into his sculpture garden. His work is everything from wheels to ironing boards to shovels shaped into faces and bodies with secrets and stories behind each piece. On the garage hang four long ironing board faces, all coveting something. Kathryn says, “One of those ironing board sisters has had a baby, but they’re not saying who. There’s the baby above them. The judge will decide.”
We take some more pictures of the sculpture garden, and soon it is time to say good-bye. Kathryn says with a big smile, “Come on back anytime! And bring your mother too.” She addresses this to Kiffen as we’d told her what a storyteller she was after raising thirteen children. She waves until we drive out of sight.
The red Alabama sun sinks in the sky behind us, and I recall the storyteller’s Donald Davis’ quote: "How do you kill Grandma? Don't tell any stories about her. If one generation passes without telling and hearing stories about family, it's as if those people and events never existed." I think of the story Kathryn told us of an old man who was listening to her storytelling at the National Storytelling Festival, and how it brought back so many memories of his own boyhood. He had been estranged for years from his brother, but after listening to her he called his brother right there in the storytelling tent. I think of her how she described her father, a man who told her when she was growing up, “Don’t you ever get involved with things – it’s the people in this world who are important.” He told her it wasn’t the “three R’s of reading, writing, and arithmetic” that mattered. He said, “You need the 4 L’s. Listening, learning, laughing, and loving.”
And in the summer of 2013, I traveled with my daughters, Lucy and Norah, (and dog, Olive) to rural Alabama libraries across the state to offer art and writing workshops for children with creative grant from UAB to cover travel expenses. We took Lucy’s original art from the book to share with it to the young artists, and together we read them the story of the friendship between storyteller, Kathryn Tucker Windham and folk artist, Charlie Lucas of Selma, Alabama.
Kerry and Lucy
Kathryn's tomatoes by Lucy
Charlie by Lucy
Here are more links to the trip and how the story came back to be written, but it was a magical summer to get to travel with my girls and my dog to these wonderful old libraries all over Alabama and get kids to make trees and tell and write stories. I also felt like Kathryn was there in the face of every laughing kid, since she passed away before the book was published. I miss her everyday.
A Tale of Two Friends
The Storyteller and the Artist
Professor spent summer sharing lessons of friendship
Nothing Fancy Blog Tour (with pictures)
Kerry's writing nook...
We have TWO giveaways with three potential winners this week! Kerry is generously giving away two copies of NOTHING FANCY along with a copy of GENTLE'S HOLLER Must live in the continental US to win - enter below!
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Kerry is also offering a SKYPE writing workshop. WOW! Please only enter this one if you are a writer and can put a small workshop together! Since it's via Skype it can happen anywhere!
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