You will recall from my blog post last Monday that Second Look Books in Harrisburg, NC was hosting a “Meet & Greet” for me on Saturday afternoon. I tend to see the glass half-empty or sometimes completely empty. Try as I might, I tend to expect the worst. The worst rarely happens, but I’m not to be deterred in my expectations.
I approached the Meet & Greet” with a fear that no one would come. After creating an “event” on Facebook last week and sending it out as an invitation to several hundred people, I only received “coming” responses from four people. One of them was driving an hour to get here and I was afraid she would regret making that effort if she came and the event was a big flop.
As usual, I had it all wrong. Lots of people came! Six of my classmates from high school came. I’ve known two of them since the first grade, but we hadn’t seen each other in years. Four of the classmates were there at the same time, so we had a mini-reunion.
A number of friends I know from church came. Others came who I’d never met, so I now have some new friends. Various people shared their memories of Harrisburg. Ours is a fast-growing and fast-changing small town. It was barely a village from I was born. The roads and schools can’t keep up with the growth.
Many of the changes are good, but most of us on Saturday were glad we grew up when we did – back when everybody knew everybody and traffic was nonexistent. We talked about how we used to have to drive five miles or more to a grocery store and now we have a multitude of supermarkets to choose from.
It was a privilege to write the local history newspaper column for six and a half years. It was indeed a privilege to interview so many older residents and write down their experiences and memories. Having those 175 newspaper articles in book form now is a dream come true.
It was gratifying on Saturday to see and hear how excited and appreciative others are that I wrote the articles and that things finally fell into place for me to publish them in book form: Harrisburg, Did You Know? Cabarrus History, Book 1 and Harrisburg, Did You Know? Cabarrus History, Book 2.
Who knows? Maybe Saturday’s event was just the impetus I needed to nudge me to get back to work on my novel! A few short days ago, I was disillusioned. I was ready to give up on it. Dear friends and new friends gave me a real boost on Saturday. I’m ready to continue now!
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read. If you need some suggestions, I know of a couple of local history books I’d recommend.
Take time to nurture friendships.
Remember the people of Ukraine, Nashville, Louisville, Fort Lauderdale, and Dadeville. There are lots of hurting people out there.
Where? Second Look Books, 4519 School House Commons in Harrisburg
When? Saturday, April 15, 2023
What Time? 2:00 – 4:00 p.m.
Copies of Harrisburg, Did You Know? Cabarrus History, Book 1 and Book 2 have arrived and been autographed.
Photocopies of my 11×14-inch “Harrisburg in the 1900s” two-map sets have been made.
Business cards and bookmarks are printed.
Saturday, April 15 is the big day for my Meet & Greet at Second Look Books in Harrisburg, North Carolina! I’ll be there from 2:00 p.m. until 4:00 p.m.
Please drop by, even if you’ve already purchased both books.
The bookmarks and Harrisburg maps are free while supplies last.
I drew the maps based on detailed memories that Mr. Ira Lee Taylor shared with me while I was writing the “Did You Know? local history column for Harrisburg Horizons newspaper (2006-2012.)
One map covers from along NC-49 to Back Creek. The other map covers from Back Creek to Reedy Creek and where McKee Creek flows into Reedy Creek.
Mr. Taylor told me where such things as the telephone switchboard, spoke factory, two cotton gins, railroad houses, corn fields, cotton fields, and livery stable were in the early 1900s.
He told me where the various stores and post offices were. Being the town’s only mail carrier for several decades, he knew where everybody lived, so I included much of that information The map show where the roads were (and were not) before the coming of the high-speed rail.
In case you arrived in Harrisburg after the two-story red brick old Harrisburg School was torn down, this set of maps will show you the layout of the school grounds. The school property is where School House Commons Shopping Center is now.
The maps also show the locations of the Oak Grove Rosenwald School and the Bellefonte Rosenwald School that you read about in Harrisburg, Did You Know? Cabarrus History, Book 1.
Some things you’ll learn about in my two books
There are stories of local heroism from 1771 and the detailed memories of a World War II US Army veteran who told me about his training for D-Day through to the end of the war.
There are stories about the original Hickory Ridge School, which was a one-room school on Hickory Ridge Road.
There are stories about the Rosenwald Schools that served the black students in the early 1900s.
There are stories about the man from Russia (actually, Ukraine) who settled in Harrisburg in the 1920s to practice medicine until his death in 1960. He was a country doctor who made house calls
There are stories about the construction of the Charlotte Motor Speedway and the first World 600 Race when the track was in such bad shape that chunks of asphalt broke the windshields out of some of the race cars.
There is information about the 22-mile syenite ring-dike that Harrisburg sits in. It’s what remains of an ancient volcano.
Until my next blog post
Remember the people of Ukraine – where Dr. Nicholas E. Lubchenko was born and lived until young adulthood.
I hope to see you on Saturday!
In case you don’t have a good book to read, please consider purchasing my local history books. They’re available in paperback at Second Look Books. They’re also available in paperback and for Kindle from Amazon.
Even if you don’t live or have never lived in Harrisburg, North Carolina, I think you’ll find some interesting stories that you can probably relate to if you are of a certain age. And if you a child, teen, or young adult I think you’ll find it interesting to read about how life used to be in our sleepy little farm village of a couple hundred people in the early 1900s that has grown to nearly 20,000 people in 2023.
What? Author Meet & Greet
Where? Second Look Books, 4519 School House Commons in Harrisburg
The first documented gold discovery in the United States was here in present-day Cabarrus County, North Carolina in 1799. The discovery by a little boy playing in Little Meadow Creek led to gold fever in the area. Numerous gold mines were dug and mined to various levels of success.
In fact, there was enough gold found in the southern piedmont of North Carolina that a branch of the United States Mint was built in Charlotte in 1836 and 1837. It opened for the production of gold coins in 1837.
A trip to the National Archives at Atlanta (which is in the Atlanta suburb of Morrow, Georgia) a few years ago gave me the opportunity to look at ledger books from the Mint in Charlotte. Within those pages I recognized names from my community.
I’m blogging about some of that information today to give you an example of the type of documented local history I included in Harrisburg, Did You Know? Cabarrus History, Book 2. Although the book (and Harrisburg, Did You Know? Cabarrus History, Book 1) concentrate on Harrisburg, both books do include articles about other communities in Township One.
One of the communities rich in history in the township is Pioneer Mills. Little more than a quiet crossroads now, it was a center of activity in the mid-1800s after the discovery of gold and the opening of Pioneer Mills Gold Mine.
I recognized names such as John C. Barnhardt from the Pioneer Mills community as taking 123 ounces of amalgam to the Charlotte Mint on August 31, 1843, for which he was paid $2,340.33. That was no small sum of money in 1843!
Robert Harvey Morrison, on whose land the Pioneer Mills Gold Mine was located, was paid more than $4,000 for the gold bars and amalgam he took to the Mint from late in 1846 into early 1850.
Other names I recognized in the Mint ledgers included two other Barnhardts, Robert R. King, three men with the surname Treloar, and R.B. Northrop.
Comparing US Census records, Charlotte Mint records, and various years of Branson Business Directories helped me get a better idea of what the Pioneer Mills Community must have looked like 150 to 180 years ago. There was a general store, a dry goods store, a blacksmith, a school, and a post office, In 1869, Pioneer Mills Community had three physicians.
Gold mining brought people from Canada, Great Britain, and New York to Pioneer Mills. Gold mining, no doubt, brought some undesirable people into the community, which led the wife of the pastor of Rocky River Presbyterian Church to say in the early 1870s that Pioneer Mills “is no place for a preacher’s son!”
If you’d like to read more about the history and people of Cabarrus County, North Carolina, you might enjoy Harrisburg, Did You Know? Cabarrus History, Books 1 and 2. They are available in paperback at Second Look Books in Harrisburg and in paperback and for Kindle from Amazon.
By the way, you can visit the research room at the National Archives at Atlanta (in Morrow, Georgia) by appointment only. Visit the website for more information: https://www.archives.gov/atlanta.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read.
I hope you spend time with family and good friends.
And, as always, remember the people of Ukraine and count your blessings.
After a couple of months of not getting to read much for pleasure, February turned out to be just what I needed to get back in the habit of reading. My favorite genre, historical fiction, really came through for me last month.
The Diamond Eye, by Kate Quinn
I listened to this historical novel on CD. I was spellbound from disc one until the very end of disc 11. I yearn to write historical fiction so vividly. I long to captivate readers with fiction based in an era not their own. Kate Quinn has established herself as a master of the art and craft of writing historical fiction.
The Diamond Eye is based on a true story. Mila Pavlichenko lives in the part of the Soviet Union that is now Ukraine. She works at a library and adores her young son. When World War II transitions to the invasion of Russia by Nazi Germany, Mila does the unthinkable. She becomes a sniper for the Russian Army. And she excelled at it.
After her official kill count reaches 300, Mila becomes a national heroine and is sent on a tour of the United States to drum up support for the fight against Hitler. There, she meets President and Mrs. Roosevelt. Eleanor Roosevelt, seeing a bit of her own independent nature in the sniper, befriends Mila.
The book follows Mila through the war and how she constantly has to prove herself because she’s a woman and not automatically taken seriously. She’s called the usual names that men who are threatened by strong women call them.
It is a stunning novel and reminded me why I enjoy reading historical fiction. Yes, it’s fiction because conversations are imagined, but reading well-written historical novels is an enjoyable way to learn a lot of history.
The Home for Unwanted Girls, by Joanna Goodman
This is another gripping historical novel. I was so impressed by Saskia Maarleveld’s reading of The Diamond Eye, that I looked for other books she had recorded. That’s how I found The Home for Unwanted Girls. I thought that was an interesting way to find another good book!
The Home for Unwanted Girls is about an unwed mother in Quebec in the 1950s who is forced by her parents to give up her baby girl. The book shines a light on the ugly history of the orphanage system in Quebec at that time. When the orphanage is turned into an insane asylum and the orphans are forced to take care of the patients, the outcome for the girls seems hopeless.
This novel follows the life of one of those orphans and the 15-year-old mother who wanted desperately to keep her. The mother never gives up on finding her child, even though she is told the girl died.
The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World, by Jonathan Freedland
This book was spellbinding! It tells the stories of 19-year-old Rudolf Vrba and Fred Wetzler who did the impossible in April 1944. They escaped from Auschwitz! The book tells how Vrba studied the precision with which the Nazis conducted searches and exactly how long the guards searched when a prisoner was unaccounted for. He and Fred worked with two accomplices to plan the escape of Vrba ad Wetzler. Their two accomplices were to stay behind while Vrba and Wetzler escaped to take the truth of what was happening at Auschwitz out into the world.
It’s a fascinating read. It follows Vrba and Wetzler after their escape. The eye-opening part of the book was the aftermath of their escape. They testified and provided written descriptions of the horrors of Auschwitz. Their testimonies matched to the nth detail; however, their words and their physical conditions of malnutrition fell on deaf ears.
Winston Churchill didn’t want to bomb the rail lines going into Auschwitz because England bombed in the daytime. President Franklin D. Roosevelt didn’t want to bomb because it would be a diversion from plans. Jewish organizations in Europe refused to believe what was happening at Auschwitz because it was just too extreme. How can people do such things to their fellow human beings?
Along with the tragic murdering of Jews at Auschwitz, the fact that world leaders who had the power and where withal to do something about it in fact chose not to act is a gut punch.
My general takeaway from the book is that one’s life and future can be determined by someone else’s snap decision. Decisions were made on a whim by guards at Auschwitz every day that determined who lived, who died, and who escaped.
It’s a book that will haunt me.
Since my last blog post
I continue to try to get the word out about my second local history book, Harrisburg, Did You Know? Cabarrus History, Book 2.
I also continue to ask people to go to my website, https://www.janetmorrisonbooks.com and subscribe to my newsletter. Subscribers receive a free downloadable copy of my first historical short story, “Slip Sliding Away: A Southern Historical Short Story.”
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read. I know where you can get a good historical short story to read!
I’m pleased to announce that not only did my second proof copy of Harrisburg, Did You Know? Cabarrus History, Book 2 arrive in a timely manner, but it was also in fairly good order!
The cover is now a reddish-brown instead of dark brown. (I don’t think I’ll try to self-publish any more books with a red cover! We all learn from our mistakes.)
There were still a few formatting errors that resulted from the last “chapter” (my research notes) being almost 30,000 words in length, but at least Carl Higgins’ World War II B-26 bomber was flying horizontally on page 467.
Although the manuscript was proofread and corrected several times, three typos got past me. I strive for perfection, but I’ve yet to see a perfectly printed book. I can live with three typos in a 536-page book.
Available on Amazon!
Harrisburg, Did You Know? Cabarrus History, Book 2 is now available in paperback and for Kindle from Amazon. Click on https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BW2QMLHC/ for the paperback or click on https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BXBQ1F79/ for the Kindle book. I shortened the Amazon URL so they wouldn’t look so intimidating. If they don’t work, just put the name of the book in a search on Amazon.
Available soon at Second Look Books!
The paperback book will be available in a few weeks at Second Look Books in Harrisburg.
The first issue of my newsletter!
Those of you who read my blog post last Monday and subscribed to my newsletter before March 1, received the first issue of the Janet Morrison Books Newsletter (clever name, eh?) on Friday. I hope you enjoyed the variety of information it contained.
If you’ve read my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, you were able to answer the trivia question near the end of the newsletter.
Please subscribe to my newsletter & receive a free short story!
I’m working hard to get my writing career off the ground, so please subscribe to my newsletter. I plan to send out a newsletter every other month, so be sure and visit my website, https://www.janetmorrisonbooks.com and subscribe so you won’t miss another issue. You’ll also receive a downloadable copy of my short story, “Slip Sliding Away: A Southern Historical Short Story.”
Thanks for being on this journey with me!
All these recent accomplishments are the culmination of a lifetime of studying local history and learning how to research and document it and 22 years of studying the craft of writing.
It’s been a bumpy journey. Thank you for having faith in me and offering encouraging words along the way! I have some loyal lifelong friends and just as loyal friends I’ve made through my blog and Facebook. I value each and every one of you.
Buckle up! I’m just getting started!
I’m working on a family cookbook, more historical short stories, and an historical novel. With my two local history books and first short story published, I look forward to concentrating on my fiction writing.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book (or historical short story!) to read.
Did you ever see the Sauline Players perform? Chances are you did if you went to school in the piedmont of North Carolina in the early- to mid-1900s.
As I write that, though, it occurs to me that I don’t know if they performed at the schools for black children. I hope they did, for their performances were a real treasure for those of us who lived in rural areas and didn’t have easy access to live theatrical performances.
Two of the 91 local history articles in my new book, Harrisburg, Did You Know? Cabarrus History, Book 1, are about the Sauline Players. I’ll share some highlights from those articles in today’s blog post.
When I researched the Sauline Players for Harrisburg Horizons newspaper in 2011, I was surprised to learn that the theatrical troupe was based in the small Gaston County town of Belmont, North Carolina. I have fond memories of their performances in the auditorium at Harrisburg High School in the early 1960s when I was in elementary school.
In 2010, I learned that Joseph Sauline was with another traveling acting troupe in Charlotte in the 1920s when that company went broke. Not to be outdone, Mr. Sauline stayed in the area and organized his own acting group — the Sauline Players.
An online search in 2010 led me to a Sauline Players listing on the acting resume of Ms. Joan McCrea. I was able to get in touch with her agent, who in turn gave Ms. McCrea my contact information. Imagine my surprise one day when I answered the phone and found actress Joan McCrea in Los Angeles on the other end of the line!
The ensuing correspondence with Ms. McCrea turned my single newspaper article about the Sauline Players into a two-part series.
If you want to know more about the Sauline Players and other local history articles I wrote for Harrisburg Horizons newspaper, look for my book, Harrisburg, Did You Know? Cabarrus History, Book 1.
Where to purchase Harrisburg, Did You Know? Cabarrus History, Book 1
Paperback available at Second Look Books, 4519 School House Commons, Harrisburg, NC
My book received a lot of positive and well-placed publicity last week. The proprietor of Second Look Books in Harrisburg tells me sales have been brisk.
I took a long enough break from formatting Harrisburg, Did You Know? Cabarrus History, Book 2 to design the cover for the paperback. Then, it was back to formatting. I’m pleased to have the cover designed so I could mark that task off my to-do list.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading a couple of books now. It’ll be interesting to see how many I get read in January.
The encampment of the Continental Army at Valley Forge began 245 years ago today. We’re all familiar with the image of George Washington leading his troops across the frigid Delaware River. We know that it was a bitterly cold winter, but there are some interesting facts I hope to surprise you with today.
1,700 to 2,000 soldiers died of disease at the six-month encampment.
Food for the troops was scarce. The Oneida delegation, allies of the Patriots, arrived in May 1778 with white corn. Polly Cooper of the delegation instructed them on how to safely prepare the corn for consumption and stayed after most of her fellow Oneidans had left. She received a shawl from Martha Washington in thanks for her assistance.
In December it went down to 6 degrees F., 12 degrees F. in January, 12 degrees F. in February, and 8 degrees F. in March.
It was the last time United States soldiers served in a racially-integrated army until the Korean War in the 1950s.
The volunteer drill master was Baron von Steubon, a Prussian military commander. The Prussian military drills and tactics he taught the troops were used by the United States military for the next 30 years.
It is thought that 250 to 400 women were in the encampment, serving as cooks, nurses, laundresses, and menders of clothing.
Mary Ludwig Hayes, a.k.a., Molly Pitcher, was at Valley Forge with her husband. She is remembered for jumping into service to help load a cannon at the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse after her husband was wounded.
Hannah Till was an enslaved cook for George Washington at Valley Forge. She purchased her freedom a few years later and became a salaried cook.
We hear a lot about our “forefathers” but not enough about our “foremothers!”
Since my last blog post
Look who’s reading my book! He must have found it on Amazon or in Harrisburg, NC at Second Look Books or Gift Innovations! It’s in short supply in Harrisburg until I get my next shipment. If you prefer an e-book, remember it’s available for e-book and in paperback from Amazon.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a wonderful Christmas or whatever holidays you are celebrating.
I hope you enjoy time with family and friends.
Remember the suffering people of Ukraine.
I’ll see you again here at my blog on December 26 – the last Monday in 2022!
On the first Monday of the month I usually blog about the books I read the previous month. There was a good reason that didn’t work out this month. My local history book, Harrisburg, Did You Know? Cabarrus History, Book 1, had been published and I couldn’t wait to announce it on my blog last week.
It was a good month for that to happen because I didn’t have any earth-shattering news about the books I read in November. Working toward getting several books published in the coming days and months left me little time to read.
Most of my reading time was spent on books about the craft of writing and history books I needed for research. Those aren’t necessarily the type books my blog readers want to know about.
Those books included Sketches of Virginia, by Henry Foote and Artisans of the North Carolina Backcountry, by Johanna Miller Lewis. The “Artisans” book was especially helpful as I worked on my novel.
I tried to read some fiction. It just didn’t work out well – partly because of my time constraints and partly because the books I chose didn’t grab my attention enough for me to make time for them.
I started reading Less is Lost, by Andrew Sean Greer. I really enjoyed his earlier book, Less. It was humorous. Less is Lost is probably humorous, too. I only got to page 12 in the large print edition. I’ll check it out again later.
I started reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce. It is an odd story about a man who sets out one morning to walk to the mailbox. He’s worried about a former co-worker who has cancer and lives far away. Instead of stopping at the mailbox to mail a letter to her, he just keeps walking. I got to page 66 in the large print edition. He was still walking. I didn’t have time to read the next 381 pages to see if he made it to his destination.
I started listening to Mad Honey, by Jodi Picoult. After falling asleep too many times to count and having to re-listen to the first several discs, when I got to disc number four I seriously questioned why I was trying so hard. I don’t know if it was me or the book. It just didn’t work out. I’ve enjoyed other Jodi Picoult books I’ve read, but this one just didn’t work for me.
Until my next blog post
Harrisburg, Did You Know? Cabarrus History, Book 1 is available on Amazon in many countries. Here’s the link to it in the United States: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1888858044/ for e-book; https://www.amazon.com/dp/1888858044/ for paperback. (Thank you, Rebecca Cunningham for cluing me in that there’s a way to shorten those outrageously long URLs Amazon gives a book.! This looks much better. I hope the links work!)
In case you live in the Harrisburg area and prefer to purchase Harrisburg, Did You Know? Cabarrus History, Book 1 locally instead of ordering it online, it is now available in limited numbers in Harrisburg at Second Look Books at 4519 School House Commons and at Gift Innovations at 4555 NC Hwy. 49. I’m pleased to announce that those local small businesses will have my book!
I hope you have a good book to read. If it happens to be Harrisburg, Did You Know? Cabarrus History, Book 1, then all the better!
There are many things that make the United States of America a special place. One of those is the Thanksgiving holiday we celebrated last Thursday.
Thanksgiving Day is a wonderful concept. It’s a holiday most workers get to enjoy as businesses close for the day. It’s a day set aside to reflect on the things you’re thankful for. It’s a day to gather with friends and relatives. It’s a day on which many of us eat more than we should.
It’s a day most of us think back on the Thanksgiving Days in the past. We remember loved ones who are no longer here. We remember the aromas in the kitchens of our childhoods.
Even in the chaos that sometimes accompanies large family gatherings on Thanksgiving Day, most of us are prompted to take a moment to think about our blessings.
Life is hard. Things – good and bad – happen. Illness and loss set us back, change our plans, and sometimes change the trajectory of our lives. The life we envisioned isn’t how things turned out.
One of the things I was thankful for on Thanksgiving Day last Thursday was the opportunity life has given me to pursue whatever interests I’ve had. Illness derailed my professional life when I was a young adult, but God has continued to open doors for me. I’ve learned from every experience.
There’s an old adage that says “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” but I’m living proof that you can.
I’ve heard it’s good for one’s brain to learn new skills. My brain must be about to explode. I’ve really been stretching its limits lately.
Since my blog post last week, I created a cover for a paperback nonfiction book. And it’s not just any old cover. The back cover sports a QR Code I created for my website! Not bad for this 69-year-old non-techy person.
Those of us fortunate to reach that age need to keep reinventing ourselves for as long as physical and mental health and our life circumstances permit. It’s easy to take those things for granted until they aren’t there.
Since my last blog post
I continued to work toward the publication of Harrisburg, Did You Know? Cabarrus History, Book 1. I continued to format and proofread Harrisburg, Did You Know? Cabarrus History, Book 2.
I revisited a short story I wrote several months ago. It’s beneficial to let a piece of writing rest for a while and then read it with fresh eyes and tweak it where it can be improved. I hope to publish a collection of short stories in 2023.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read. If I finish reading a book in November, I’ll blog about it next Monday. Writing and learning technology left little time for reading this month.
I try to plan my blog topics well in advance so I’ll have time to devote to writing each one. The fancy name for it is “editorial calendar.” Today was a day I had trouble settling on a topic. I’d made a list of possibilities, but none of them really grabbed me.
Reading Mr. Howell’s blog posts got me thinking about book censorship and the closely-related topic of cultural appropriation and reader sensitivities.
The very idea of a book being censored or people demanding that certain books be banned from public libraries, school libraries, and bookstores really gets my ire up. Book censorship is a slippery slope. Images of book burnings in Nazi Germany come to mind.
The American Library Association’s (ALA) annual list of the top books requested for banning or restricted reading is fresh on my mind. Here’s the link to the ALA’s website where you can see the list: http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee is consistently on that list. It’s on the list the ALA published earlier this month. One reason given for its being requested for banning is that the lawyer who represents the black man in court is white. The story is set in Alabama in the 1930s, so it is true to the time and place that the lawyer and all the jurors would be white. Racial injustice is the core theme of the novel. The book was published in 1960, and little had changed by then.
I believe we can learn the lessons of history by reading good historical fiction. It’s one thing to read a list of laws governing people of color in the United States in the 1930s, but how better to illustrate and shine a bright light on the laws – written and unwritten – prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1965 than to bring them to life on the pages of a novel and the subsequent movie based on that book?
Being a black man, Mr. Asim offers a different perspective than the one I can offer. His words made me stop and think. Perhaps I had read To Kill a Mockingbird with naive blue eyes. Mr. Asim is one of the most influential African American literary critics of this generation. If you’re not familiar with his work, please visit his website: https://jabariasim.org/about_jabari_asim/.
Among Mr. Asim’s sentences that made me reconsider my stance are the following: “Mockingbird, like Uncle Tom before it, often strikes me as a form of literary ointment for white guilt, meant to soothe outbreaks of conscience while dispelling perceptions of how pervasive white supremacy is. Its homespun patter and deep-fried homilies enable many readers to overlook its sketchily drawn black characters—little more than archetypes—and bask in the glow of Atticus Finch’s exemplary moral courage.”
Also, this: “Some days I can ignore Mockingbird’s mostly pedestrian prose and regard it as a cleverly subversive send-up of white racism, minus Mark Twain’s stylistic flair but dutifully echoing his irreverent tone.”
And this: “Other days I marvel at Mockingbird’s apparent prescience when, years before Fox News and talk radio, Atticus Finch says to his brother, ‘Why reasonable people go stark raving mad when anything involving a Negro comes up, is something I don’t pretend to understand.'”
What is To Kill a Mockingbird‘s place, then? It’s likely to be debated for decades to come.
Self-censorship, Cultural Appropriation, and Reader Sensitivities
Being a writer can involve self-censorship, and there are degrees of that when it comes to reader sensitivities. I’m not a published novelist, but as I work on my historical novel I’m ever-cognizant of reader sensitivities.
Most of us practice self-censorship in our communications with others. Some people who should self-censor are sadly unaware. As a writer, I feel the need to self-sensor. I don’t use racial slurs in my speaking or thinking, but that doesn’t mean I won’t need to include one in my writing in order to be true to time and place. It doesn’t mean I condone the use of such words. My challenge in writing a novel presented from multiple points-of-view is having the audacity to put myself in the skin of a person of color – especially a person of color who is male and enslaved in the United States in the 18th century.
Doing so is somewhat akin to cultural appropriation, which is a dominant culture adopting a practice that is inherent in or associated with a minority culture. I’m not doing that in my novel, but I am attempting to write thoughts, emotions, and conversations of three people of color. I want to be aware of possible reader sensitivities, but I don’t want that awareness to fundamentally change my writer’s voice.
I’m writing a novel set in the North and South Carolina backcountry in 1769. It includes two black male slaves, one free black woman, a Frenchman, and a number of white Scottish and Irish settlers. I’ve been working on this novel for many years. If I were to look at my first draft, there would be many cringe-worthy words and scenes. I started out really over-doing writing accents phonetically. It was tedious to write, and I’ve since learned that it’s not appropriate. It can be degrading, and it can be exhausting for the reader.
I’ve grown as a person and as a writer since I started the book probably a decade ago. I’m striving to make the final product true to the time and place. I’ve done extensive research – even into the laws on the books in South Carolina in 1769 that governed the fabric of the clothing slaves were permitted to wear.
If and when my novel is published, I hope no one’s sensitivities will be offended, but that’s probably wishful thinking. I’m attempting to write a book that will be entertaining and educational. I hope it will be a book that will cause readers to put themselves in the skin of the various characters and come away with an appreciation of history.
An Earlier Blog Post about Cultural Appropriation in Writing
Author and administrator of the “Writers on the Path to a Page-Turner” Facebook group, Barbara Kyle, wrote the following: “The move to self-censorship for fear of ‘cultural appropriation’ is a sad state of affairs. Author Morgan Jones eloquently champions the opposite position: ‘Fiction remains the best means we have of finding connection where there seems to be none; and the novel, of all forms, encourages a search that’s deep and sustained. By reading (or writing) one, you’ve travelled somewhere else. You’ve moved, if only slightly, towards others. In a world that finds and increasingly exploits division and difference, this in an invaluable, precious exercise.”
I think writers would do well to keep in mind the following question asked by John. W. Howell in his March 24, 2021 blog post referenced in my opening paragraph today: “Am I knowingly or unknowingly writing characters or a story which casts aspersions on anyone relative to their race, nationality, gender, sexual preference, religion, disabilities, or age?”
Mr. Howell goes on to say, “The key to the question is we may write something that we didn’t think would discriminate but did that exactly.” He also said, “The caution here is that if you are not part of a group you are writing about, be very diligent in your research. Some would say unless you are a part of a group, don’t write about them. I disagree since I do not want to believe that writers can only write what they know.”
In his follow-up blog post on April 12, 2021 (also referenced above in my opening paragraph), Mr. Howell gave Gone with the Wind as an example of a book that could be criticized on several fronts due to its glorification of the Southern plantation. A little later in his blog post he said the following: “Maybe because I’m an author, I hate to see a book be declared undesirable, but it does seem that we should embrace a discussion of any book that is outside our social norms. Include in the discussion why a text no longer reflects current attitudes. If we were to discuss why certain depictions in a book are wrong, we all would better understand each other. Maybe, more importantly, we could learn more about what actions and depictions are especially hurtful.”
I agree with Mr. Howell on that. Let’s not ban books from our library and bookstore shelves. Let’s read and discuss them and, thereby, learn to do better.
Since my last blog post
I enjoyed all the beautiful azaleas in our yard. I don’t think they’ve ever been prettier. All good things must come to an end – or so “they” say. Wednesday afternoon brought snow 100 miles away in the North Carolina mountains, and Thursday and Friday mornings brought record-breaking below freezing low temperatures to my house. I hope this was winter’s last gasp.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have at least one good book to read this week. I have more books checked out from the library than I can possibly read. It’s a nice dilemma to have.
Enjoy a relaxing hobby.
Note: Tomorrow is National Tell a Story Day in the USA. Don’t tell a lie. Tell a story. Tell a young person about one of your good memories. It will give them something to remember you by.
Note: Ironically, Wednesday is the anniversary of author Harper Lee’s birth in 1926. Some literary critics say a person who writes just one novel (such as Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird) is not a great author. (I know, I know. Her unpublished manuscript for Go Set a Watchman was published in 2015, so she actually wrote two books.) My example is still valid. Ms. Lee died in 2016, and until 2015 she was known as an acclaimed author who wrote “only” one book. I’m not saying the historical novel I’m writing is a great novel, but it gives me hope to know that Harper Lee “only” got one novel published during her lifetime. If I only get one novel published, I’ll be more than happy.
Note: Watch out for May! It arrives on Saturday. May is “Get Caught Reading Month”. Start making your plans for getting caught.