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Novelist Walker Percy once said that the only remaining unexplored territory in southern literature was the Jewish southerner. Famous all over Town, the first novel from southern storyteller Bernie Schein, stakes a claim on Percy’s unexplored terrain with a comically candid multigenerational account of two Jews, a lowcountry native and a northern transplant, at the epicenter of momentous events in the sleepy southern coastal hamlet of Somerset, a fictitious stand-in for Schein’s native Beaufort, South Carolina. Schein’s diverse and memorable cast includes southern Jewish lawyer Murray Gold and his foil, displaced New York psychiatrist Bert Levy; emotionally scarred USMC drill sergeant Jack McGowan and his alluring and unconventional wife, Mary Beth; corrupt and adulterous sheriff Hoke Cooley, his deeply conservative wife, Regina, and their violent son, Boonie; African American madam and later city councilwoman Lila Trulove (also Hoke’s mistress), her brilliant daughter, Elizabeth, and her conflicted Harvard-bound son, Driver; fallen southern belle turned voice of a generation Arlanne Palmer; remorseful Vietnam veteran and flamboyant transvestite Royal Cunningham; and inspirational schoolteacher Pat Conroy. Famous all over Town also uses its web of interconnected storylines to make its setting, the eponymous town itself, a central character with a personality and an arc as complete as that of any other member of the deftly rendered cast. Delving beneath the surface of the southern status quo, Schein’s tale follows these interconnected lives through the private and public upheavals in small-town life from the turbulent 1960s to the eve of the new millennium, confronting the ramifications of the civil rights era, Vietnam, Watergate, and—closer to home—a deadly version of the infamous Ribbon Creek incident. Somerset’s colorful citizens also confront their own repressed memories, conflicted identities, burgeoning ambitions, and romantic entanglements. Even as events unfold to often-uproarious effect, Schein’s novel holds true to a deeply realized sense of intimacy and authenticity in the interactions of its myriad characters as revelations expose how these disparate lives are conjoined in surprising ways. Shifting points of view place readers squarely in the mindsets of many of Somerset’s key citizens as Schein lovingly and laughingly invites us to reconsider what it means in the modern south to be white, black, Jewish, Christian, military, civilian, sane, insane, old, young, male, female, gay, and straight—and to be of a place rather than merely in it. Best-selling southern novelist and self-described “Florida cracker” Janis Owens, author of American Ghost, The Cracker Kitchen, and other books, provides a foreword.
On a placid Blue Ridge mountain lake on Labor Day Weekend in 1935, three locals sightseeing in an overloaded boat drown, and the cotton mill scion who owns the lake is indicted for their murders. Decades later Ben Crocker--witness to and reluctant participant in the aftermath of this long-forgotten tragedy--is drawn once more into the morally ambiguous world of mill fortunes and foothills justice. The son of mill workers in Carlton, South Carolina, Crocker is caught between competing loyalties to his family and future. Crocker wanted more than a rough-hewn life on a factory floor, so he studied accounting at the local textile institute and was hired as bookkeeper to the owner, George McCane, a man as burdened by his familial ties as Crocker and even less prepared for the authority of his mantel. McCane's decision to renovate the Carlton Mill and lay off families connected to the Uprising of '34, one of the largest labor strikes in U.S. history, puts Crocker in the ill-fitting position as his boss's enforcer. Days after the evictions, the surprise indictment lands McCane in a North Carolina mountain jail and sinks Crocker even deeper into the escalating tensions between mill workers and the owners. While traversing mountain communities in McCane's defense, Crocker must also manage the forced renovation of the Carlton Mill, negotiate with labor organizers led by local hero Olin Campbell, collaborate with McCane's besotted brother, Angus, and fend off his father's and wife's skepticism of his own social aspirations. Hanging distractingly over Crocker's upended life is his burgeoning infatuation with Novie Moreland--the young widow of one of those McCane is accused of killing. Though unrequited, Croker's relationship with Novie proves to be a beacon of hope amid the shadows of political and social machinations in the darkest chapter in his long life. As the union retaliates and the McCane murder trial is settled, it is uncertain who the winners and losers have been in this generational clash of workers and owners, labor and capital, those tied to the land and its people and those who exploit both. When Crocker looks back from 1988 at these two crucial years in his life in the mid-1930s, he is left to wonder if he did right by himself and those closest to him. Against all better judgment, Crocker knows he must seek out Novie Moreland once more if he is ever to find closure with the past.
Stories Past, Present, and Future
An affectionate satire of the culture of self-indulgence, The Final Days of Great American Shopping exposes the American obsessions with money, mass marketing, and material objects. In Belladonna, a gated subdivision in upstate South Carolina, readers meet acolorful cast of characters doing their best to buy happiness in a series of sixteen closely linked stories from the past, present, and future. Whether speed dating, test driving cars, upsizing to dream houses, flying helicopters, or lusting after designer shoes, these small-town spenders have good intentions that often go hilariously awry as they search for emotional and spiritual comfort. Gilbert Allen is a master at character development and the individuals in this collection are no exception. Among them are the childless, emotionally distant couple Butler and Marjory Breedlove; the harried appliance salesman John Beegle and his precocious, pole-dancing daughter Alison; and the one-handed soccer wunderkind Amy Knobloch. Also featured are Ted Dickey the mastermind of the Mental Defectives self-help book series and the undefeated Speed Dating Champion of the World; Jimmy Scheetz, the pragmatic philanthropist behind Ecumenical Bedding; Ruthella Anderson, a retired first-grade teacher addicted to Star Trek and to extreme couponing; and the mysterious Gabriella, an aging Italian beauty who presides over Doumi Shoes. Arranged chronologically, the stories span nearly a century. While most are set in the recent past or in the immediate future, the book’s title story is set in 2084. It depicts a dystopian shopping mall worthy of George Orwell, John Cheever, or Flannery O’Connor, and raises the question, “Can America survive international terrorism, ecological apocalypse, and demographic disaster to morph triumphantly into the USAARP?”
"Lord, I'm glad I'm a hermit novelist," Flannery O'Connor wrote to a friend in 1957. Sequestered by ill health, O'Connor spent the final thirteen years of her life on her isolated family farm in rural Georgia. During this productive time she developed a fascination with fourth-century Christians who retreated to the desert for spiritual replenishment and whose isolation, suffering, and faith mirrored her own. In Flannery O'Connor, Hermit Novelist, Richard Giannone explores O'Connor's identification with these early Christian monastics and the ways in which she infused her fiction with their teachings. Surveying the influences of the desert fathers on O'Connor's protagonists, Giannone shows how her characters are moved toward a radical simplicity of ascetic discipline as a means of confronting both internal and worldly evils while being drawn closer to God. Artfully bridging literary analysis, O'Connor's biography, and monastic writings, Giannone's study explores O'Connor's advocacy of self-denial and self-scrutiny as vital spiritual weapons that might be brought to bear against the antagonistic forces she found rampant in modern American life.
Letters from the Mountains to the Lowcountry, 1837-1939
The intoxicating “champagne air” of Flat Rock, North Carolina, captivated residents of lowcountry South Carolina in the nineteenth century because it offered them respite from the sickly, semitropical coastal climate. In Flat Rock of the Old Time, editor Robert B. Cuthbert has mined the collections of the South Carolina Historical Society to publish a documentary history of the place and its people. While many visitors came and went, others chose to become permanent residents. Among the Flat Rock settlers were some of the most distinguished South Carolina gentry: Blakes, Rutledges, Hugers, and Middletons. They established the Episcopal parish church of St. John in the Wilderness Church, where many of them are buried. They also supported a local economy that helped provide livelihoods to native residents who supplied them with goods and services. Visiting each other daily, they swapped news and gossip, sharing their joys and burdens. Lowcountry families refugeed to Flat Rock during the Civil War, thereby escaping the devastation of the coast but not the revolutionary consequences of the war, such as emancipation, occupation, and economic collapse. And through it all they wrote letters. Some refugee-residents sent off missives every day, describing the delicious weather, the activities of their neighbors, and the entwining relationships of family, faith, business, and recreation that sustained Flat Rock. The century chronicled in Flat Rock of the Old Times is viewed with a combination of nostalgia and clear-sightedness, not only by Cuthbert but also by his correspondents. Guided by the editor’s copious introduction, annotations, and textual apparatus, readers experience the conjunction of people and place that was Flat Rock.
Frontier Bon Vivant
Each day thousands of revelers trudge down DuVal Street in Florida’s Key West, but few know for whom the street is named. In Florida Founder William P. DuVal, James M. Denham provides the first full-length biography of the well-connected, but nearly forgotten frontier politician of antebellum America. The scion of a well-to-do Richmond, Virginia, family, William Pope DuVal (1784–1854) migrated to the Kentucky frontier as a youth in 1800. Settling in Bardstown, DuVal read law, served in Congress, and fought in the War of 1812. In 1822, largely because of the influence of his lifelong friend John C. Calhoun, President James Monroe appointed DuVal the first civil governor of the newly acquired Territory of Florida. Enjoying successive appointments from the Adams and Jackson administrations, DuVal founded Tallahassee and presided over the territory’s first twelve territorial legislative sessions, years that witnessed Middle Florida’s development into one of the Old Southwest’s most prosperous slave-based economies. Beginning with his personal confrontation with Miccosukee chief Neamathla in 1824 (an episode commemorated by Washington Irving), DuVal worked closely with Washington officials and oversaw the initial negotiations with the Seminoles. A perennial political appointee, DuVal was closely linked to national and territorial politics in antebellum America. Like other “Calhounites” who supported Andrew Jackson’s rise to the White House, DuVal became a casualty of the Peggy Eaton Affair and the Nullification Crisis. In fact he was replaced as Florida governor by Mrs. Eaton’s husband, John Eaton. After leaving the governor’s chair, DuVal migrated to Kentucky, lent his efforts to the cause of Texas Independence, and eventually returned to practice law and local politics in Florida. Throughout his career DuVal cultivated the arts of oratory and story-telling—skills essential to success in the courtrooms and free-for-all politics of the American South. Part frontiersman and part sophisticate, DuVal was at home in the wilds of Kentucky, Florida, Texas, and Washington City. He delighted in telling tall tales, jests, and anecdotes that epitomized America’s expansive, democratic vistas. Among those captivated by DuVal’s life and yarns were Washington Irving, who used DuVal’s tall tales as inspiration for his “The Early Experiences of Ralph Ringwood,” and James Kirke Paulding, whose “Nimrod Wildfire” shared Du Val’s brashness and bonhommie.
Portraits and Interviews
In 1989 Susan Johann was hired to photograph Christopher Durang for a magazine article about his play Naomi in Her Living Room. The playwright was known for his outrageous comedy, so Johann anticipated a session with a rather wild, young eccentric. To her surprise, the man who came to her studio was mild mannered and buttoned down. Johann found this twist captivating, and it was then that this project was born. Over the ensuing twenty-year period, she photographed more than ninety playwrights, including many winners of the Pulitzer Prize and other prestigious awards. Johann photographed Wendy Wasserstein, Anna Deavere Smith, August Wilson, and Nilo Cruz in the weeks after they won the Pulitzer. Tony Kushner sat for his portrait between the productions of part 1 and part 2 of Angels in America. Eve Ensler came to Johann’s studio during the week she was previewing her famous one-woman show, The Vagina Monologues, and George C. Wolfe sat for her the morning after his play Spunk opened at the Public Theater. Each playwright was photographed in Johann’s studio using the same film, a single light, and a plain backdrop, creating a portrait that captures and distills something essential—an intimate view. Her interviews explore the writers’ personal and creative journeys including their inspirations, roadblocks, and obsessions, which influenced their work on paper and on the stage. Even those who know Edward Albee’s plays intimately, for example, may be surprised by his incisive wit and inimitable voice as revealed in his interview with Johann. Beyond the book, Focus on Playwrights is also a live, multimedia presentation in which Johann narrates an inside look at creativity—the theater and photography. It has been given at such venues as the New Dramatists in New York, the Eugene O’Neill Theater, the Tryon Fine Arts Center and at the Photo Expo in New York.
Poetry and Prose Inspired by the South Caroliniana Library Digital Collections
Found Anew is an anthology of new poetry and prose from writers with strong ties to the Palmetto State that creatively engages with historical photographs found in the digital collections of the University of South Carolina's South Caroliniana Library. In their eclectic approach to ekphrasis—textual response to the visual—editors R. Mac Jones and Ray McManus have recruited an impressive group of poets and fiction writers, including National Book Award-winning poets Terrance Hayes and Nikky Finney (who provides the foreword); their fellow South Carolina Academy of Authors honorees Gilbert Allen, John Lane, Bret Lott, George Singleton, and Marjory Wentworth; Lillian Smith Award-winner Pam Durban, and others.
A Memoir of Travel
"I fly to faraway places in the hopes of finding the distinguishing thing. The frequent flier miles are a bonus." With a title borrowed from Samuel Johnson, insatiable globe-trotter Russell Fraser fondly recalls his travels in China, Peru, Italy, France, Russia, Scotland, the Persian Gulf, and the Antarctic in this series of meditations on the distinguishing elements of culture and history found in far-flung locales. Fraser establishes himself as a knowledgeable guide who combines an intimate familiarity with local history, a keen eye for culture, a companionable wit, and a penchant for speculation about the grip of the past on the present. Fraser's fascination with people leads him to banter and at times to argue with locals in his quest to discern the peculiarities of a given place, be it a communist training school near Milan or the best bar in St. Petersburg. His grand appreciation for discoveries that can be made only through travel is apparent in every poetically phrased description and artfully reconstructed dialogue. Fraser begins each essay with an autobiographical passage before turning to the place and moment at hand. This technique establishes camaraderie with our learned, informative, and entertaining guide as we walk deserts and frozen plains, Old World neighborhoods and Far Eastern danger zones, the lobbies of plush new hotels and the aisles of centuries-old cathedrals. In his ruminations, Fraser circles strategically between personal and global pasts—traveling in time as well as space—to put our modernity in perspective and to ponder facets of human experience found amid the regions he describes so vividly. The heart of Fraser's memoir is a two-chapter sequence devoted to meandering through his ancestral homeland of Scotland, a narrative that ably couples family history and travelogue. In the concluding essay, the author's adventure in Antarctica parallels a trip taken decades earlier by his great-grandfather Alexander V. Fraser, the first commander of the U.S. Coast Guard, and again he deftly juxtaposes the personal with the global and the past with the present. As Fraser advocates for the existence and importance of timeless truths about all corners of the world, he makes even the roughest of environments seem intriguingly beautiful with crystal clear prose evocative of the times and places through which he moves. His tales are peppered with the anecdotes, asides, and well-chosen quotations of a traveler steeped in knowledge of the world's history and its literature. A veteran of these escapades, Fraser uses his experience to hone his observations into a special brand of truth that comes from one who is equally adept at wandering the world and sharing authentic accounts of those sensational travels. From China to Peru is a welcoming invitation to traverse the globe, if only through the insightful memories of one well-versed in such passages.
The Artistic Journey of Eugene Thomason
A product of the industrialized New South, Eugene Healan Thomason (1895–1972) made the obligatory pilgrimage to New York to advance his art education and launch his career. Like so many other aspiring American artists, he understood that the city offered unparalleled personal and professional opportunities—prestigious schools, groundbreaking teachers, and an intoxicating cosmopolitan milieu—for a promising young painter in the early 1920s. The patronage of one of the nation's most powerful tycoons afforded him entrance to the renowned Art Students League, where he fell under the influence of the leading members of the Ashcan School, including Robert Henri, John Sloan, and George Luks. In all Thomason spent a decade in the city, adopting—and eventually adapting—the Ashcan movement's gritty realistic aesthetic into a distinctive regionalist style that used thick paint and simple subject matter. Eugene Thomason returned to the South in the early 1930s, living first in Charlotte, North Carolina, before settling in a small Appalachian crossroads called Nebo. For the next thirty-plus years, he mined the rural landscape's rolling terrain and area residents for inspiration, finding there an abundance of colorful imagery more evocative—and more personally resonant—than the urbanism of New York. Painting at the same time as such well-known Regionalists as Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood, Eugene Thomason embraced and convincingly portrayed his own region, becoming the visual spokesman for that place and its people.