Monday, October 8, 2018

Hampton Sides' Latest Book

Posted By on Mon, Oct 8, 2018 at 9:57 AM


A small peninsula jutting out of Asia into the Pacific Ocean, separating the Yellow Sea on the west from the Sea of Japan on the east, Korea has been much in the news of late. Or rather, North Korea has, with talks of the looming denuclearization and occasional reminders of President Trump’s abiding infatuation with Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un lobbed into the Twitter-verse. But North Korea as a separate entity from its half to the south is a relatively new development, dating only to the end of World War II, when the world’s two newest superpowers, the U.S. and the Soviet Union, split the country at the 38th parallel. Thus, after some 35 years under the rule of Japan, one nation became two, governed from communist Pyongyang in the north and the U.S.-backed Seoul in the south.

“It’s one people, it’s one culture, it’s one language. It should never have been separated” says Hampton Sides, Memphis native, award-winning author, editor-at-large of Outside magazine, and author of the just-released On Desperate Ground (Doubleday). “That tragedy lives on today.”

Sides is currently on a book tour for On Desperate Ground, his riveting account of the U.S. intervention in Korea, specifically the Marines’ battle at Chosin Reservoir, where U.S. troops were ambushed by wave after wave of Chinese soldiers. Sides called me from his hotel room to discuss his new narrative history, squeezing our conversation in between a delayed flight and a booksigning later that night. Sides book tour will land him in Memphis, Monday, Oct. 8th, for a talk and booksigning at Novel.


“I have historical ADD,” Sides says when I ask him what drew his attention to the conflict at Chosin. “I have to move around or I stagnate.” Sides’ far-ranging interests are evident in the diverse subject matter of his previous novels. Though his PEN Award-winning Ghost Soldiers, a WWII account of the an Allied prison camp raid, is not far off in tone from On Desperate Ground, his other books run the historical gamut, with perhaps one common thread: “A lot of my stories focus on human endurance and survival and what happens when people are confronted with extreme circumstances.”

During a book signing in Virginia, Sides was approached by a “grizzled old man” who suggested the author should cover the Chosin Reservoir. Sides noticed the man’s hand when the old timer handed him a business card — the man, a veteran of the conflict at Chosin, had missing digits; he’d lost them to frostbite while in the mountains of North Korea. During the conflict, temperatures dropped to 35 degrees below zero, and 85% of the men involved suffered from frostbite: “A lot of them say they’re still trying to get the cold out of their bones.”

Throughout On Desperate Ground, Sides pays attention, not only to star players like General Douglas MacArthur, U.S. President Harry Truman, and Chinese leader Chairman Mao Zedong, but also to civilians and the grunts on the ground. “The lifeblood of this book was interviews with these guys,” Sides says, referring to the soldiers who lost pieces of themselves to cold and Chinese bullets on a mountain range in North Korea. The author spent almost four years on research for the book, much of it consisting of interviews with veterans whose voices have been hitherto unheard, who were not followed by a coterie of journalists, as was MacArthur. “I wanted to cut back and forth between the guys on the ground and the decision makers,” Sides says.

Those decision makers make up the primary “protagonists” and “antagonists” of the book. Marine General Oliver P. Smith, the evident protagonist, led the U.S. intervention in Korea, first the liberation of South Korea from North Korean encroachment, and then a push into North Korea to throw off the communist yoke and unite the country under U.S.-influenced rule. The invasion of the north was instigated by MacArthur, who had come to believe his own press after his successes in the Philippines in WWII, and by MacArthur’s favored lieutenant, Army General Edward Almond. Whereas Smith believed intelligence about Chinese troops who had infiltrated North Korea in secret to support their communist allies, and took measures to slow the break-neck march north and save as many of his troops as possible, MacArthur and Almond denied the reports and, in doing so, spent the lives of their men recklessly.

If there is an antagonist to Sides’ book, he says it is MacArthur and his yeasaying staff. “MacArthur never spent a single night on the ground in the entire Korean War,” Sides reports. And so, leading from Tokyo, where he supervised the occupation of Japan, MacArthur vastly underestimated the resistance his troops would face. Almond was MacArthur’s man on the ground in Korea, and he pushed the advance with little concern for potential consequences. Though “quite brave,” Sides says, Almond was “almost criminally out of touch.” Sides went on: “I think he has a lot of blood on his hands. He and MacArthur both.”

But the generals and presidents are not the only subject matter of On Desperate Ground. Most riveting to my mind was the story of one civilian, a transplanted North Korean living in Seoul, who survived the siege and liberation of Seoul only to volunteer to accompany U.S. troops into North Korea as a translator. “Part of the book I’m most proud of is the story of the North Korean civilian Dr. Lee [Bae-suk],” Sides says, emphasizing Lee’s importance as a way of gaining perspective on the conflict. “We forget that there are civilians on the ground who experience [war] in such tangible ways.”

Forgetful, though, is not a charge one could level at Sides. The Memphis native takes great care to give background and context to the trials American troops faced at Chosin. And this attention to detail serves to bring into greater focus the horrors of the Battle of Chosin, from frostbite to miscommunication to waves of Chinese soldiers. The vista crystalizes in the mind’s eye, a frozen hell.

“There’s a lot of unfinished business,” Sides says, pointing out that there was an armistice to end the Korean War but no actual peace treaty. “The DMZ [Demilitarized Zone] is one of the most militarized places on Earth.” And whatever the news brings, whatever uncertain future exists for the two neighboring nations, with On Desperate Ground, Sides gives readers a crystal-clear and compelling glimpse into the past.

Hampton Sides signs On Desperate Ground at Novel, Monday, October 8th, at 6 p.m.


Tags: , ,

Friday, February 23, 2018

Tayari Jones Reading at the Orpheum

Posted By on Fri, Feb 23, 2018 at 12:42 PM

Last summer, Richard Alley wrote in the Flyer’s Book column about a welcome new nonprofit in Memphis dedicated to the promotion of marginalized Southern writers and readers. “In the same way that the visual arts, live music, indie films, and theater have their advocates, so should the writer and reader,” Alley wrote, heralding the arrival of the Center for Southern Literary Arts (CSLA), the brainchild of Molly Rose Quinn, Jamey Hatley, and Zandria Robinson. Now, less than a year later, after three sold-out events, the CSLA is bringing Tayari Jones, a writer of prodigious talents and seemingly infinite heart, to the Orpheum to discuss her new novel, An American Marriage, which was just named as Oprah’s Book Club 2018 selection.

Jones’ tight and heart-wrenching novel tells the story of Roy and Celestial, a hardworking couple of newlyweds living in Atlanta. They met in college, but the original meeting didn’t take, and their relationship began in earnest when they bump into each other in New York years later, Roy the only African-American man in a group colleagues in town on business, and Celestial the only black woman in her masters program. Both of them from the South, the pair trade eye rolls when one of Roy’s coworkers drops the word “yankee” for Northerners, a common bond kindles between the two, and their relationship grows.
The story of their meeting is told in flashback; when the reader meets Celestial and Roy, the young pair are a little over a year into their marriage. Though they are far from flawless, they’re all the more sympathetic for their grounding in reality. While Roy works to help his wife start her artisan doll business — she calls them poupées at Roy’s suggestion — he still comes home occasionally with phone numbers scribbled on the back of his business cards. He swears he doesn’t call them, but they are working to recover trust and, they hope, prepare for the next stage in their life together.

When Celestial and Roy stay at a hotel in Eloe, Louisiana, while visiting Roy’s parents for Thanksgiving, the trajectory of their lives is changed forever. Roy is accused of rape, and, though innocent of the crime, he is arrested and convicted. Celestial knows her husband is innocent, but she must find a way to live with the years stretching ahead of them, far longer than they have been together. Celestial struggles, and sometimes the examples of love she sees around her serve only to underscore her fears, offering no encouragement. She never doubts Roy’s innocence, but she was just beginning to lean into her role as a wife when she is forced to come to terms with an entirely new life, one that she never bargained for.

“I knew that things like this happen to people,” Celestial writes to Roy, “but by people, I didn’t mean us.” Both Celestial and Roy were faced with challenges in their lives before being forced to meet head-on the challenge of such gross injustice. Neither Celestial nor Roy did anything wrong, but still they are both being made to pay for a crime. “It’s not that they were naïve,” Jones says of the characters she created. “They both thought they had circumvented this kind of situation.” Roy grew up poor in a small Southern town, where some of the old men say the only options open to a young black man are six or 12. “‘That’s your fate as black man. Carried by six or judged by twelve,’” a fellow inmate who goes by the moniker Ghetto Yoda tells Roy.


“Class does not necessarily save you,” Jones says. “It improves your chances, but it doesn’t inoculate you.” Jones writes with compassion and understanding that makes these characters seem ready to step off the page and plead their case. As in life, no one is entirely innocent of wrongdoing, but neither are there antagonists. There is no “bad guy,” just a night that went the wrong way, setting off a chain of circumstances and injustices, but also setting up opportunities for understanding, forgiveness, and redemption. In An American Marriage, the hurts inflicted cut both ways, and Jones’ confronts stereotypes without being stereotypical. She paints a complete and compelling picture by allowing her characters the breathing room to come to terms with and finally admit their own mistakes — and their needs.

Though not entirely epistolary, the novel is told in part as a series of letters sent back and forth from the prison in Louisiana to a comfortable home in Atlanta. When I told Jones that the letters made up one of my favorite sections of the novel, the author confessed a love for writing that came as no surprise. “I am a letter-writer in real life,” she says before asking me to include a word of advice in this column. “People always ask me about my advice to people who want to write,” Jones says. “I believe that people with the most important stories don’t have time to write every day.” The author said that we are in need of everyone’s stories, now more than ever.
Tayari Jones reads from and signs her novel An American Marriage at the Orpheum Theatre, Tuesday, February 27th at 7 p.m. $15.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Digital Baldwin @ Rhodes College

Posted By on Mon, Jan 30, 2017 at 12:20 PM

Presented by Rhodes College, this presentation will highlight aspects of James Baldwin's works and their relevance in today’s cultural moment.

A writer and social critic, Baldwin often published works providing insights on race, spirituality, and 
humanity that also have become references for post-civil rights discussions of race in America. Free and open to the public, the event is presented by the Memphis Center at Rhodes as part of the college’s Communities in  Conversation series. Digital Baldwin will feature Professors Zandria Robinson and Ernest Gibson of Rhodes College and Professor Terrence Tucker of the University of Memphis. Each will introduce, screen, and discuss a video clip of Baldwin as a means to inform, to contextualize, and to highlight aspects of Baldwin’s work.

This conversation follows from prior events at Rhodes and in Memphis featuring Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jesmyn Ward, who along with the #BlackLivesMovement, have turned Baldwin’s work into the cultural touchstone of the moment.

The Rhodes College Communities in Conversation series provides the insights of scholars, philosophers, historians, journalists, and other thought leaders on the big issues faced nationally and around the world. Find Communities in Conversation on on Twitter @Rhodes_CiC, or on Instagram @cic1848.

Digital Baldwin
Thursday, Feb. 2nd
6 p.m.
Hardie Auditorium of Palmer Hall
Rhodes College

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Going to Jackson: James Cherry to Discuss and Sign His New Novel

Posted By on Thu, Dec 15, 2016 at 12:09 PM


Let’s not forget our neighbors to the east. This Saturday at ComeUnity Café in Jackson, Tennessee, author James E. Cherry will be reading from, discussing, and signing his latest novel, Edge of the Wind. The Clyde Gilmore Jazz Combo will perform and refreshments will be served. 

In the highly suspenseful Edge of the Wind (Stephen F. Austin State University Press), Alexander van der Pool, a sensitive but deeply troubled 25-year-old black man, is off his meds and has begun hearing voices, especially that of Bigger Thomas, Richard Wright's iconic character. Having been holed up in his sister's bedroom in southwest Tennessee for two months, Alex has done nothing but read and write poetry. He is convinced that writing poetry is his life's calling and sets out to visit a local community college to have his work evaluated. But life takes a terrible turn when those at the college reject him and his work and try to kick him out. Alex takes matters into his own hands and holds the literature class hostage.


Noted poet Nikki Giovanni has said of Cherry: “Let me say it plain: James E. Cherry can write.”       
And local author Arthur Flowers says, “Cherry is a master of the word, providing light in darkness, dropping knowledge and taking no prisoners.”


Cherry is the author of six books, including Loose Change, Still a Man and Other Stories, Shadow of Light, and Bending the Blues. He has been nominated for an NAACP Image Award, a Lillian Smith Book Award, and as a finalist for the Next Generation Indie Book Award for Fiction. His work has been published nationally as well as in Nigeria, Canada, France, and China. Cherry has an MFA in creative writing from the University of Texas at El Paso and resides in Tennessee with his wife, Tammy.


James E. Cherry

ComeUnity Café

218 E. Main Street

(Jackson, Tennessee)

Saturday, Dec. 17th

1 p.m.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Dr. Cary Fowler Returns Home to Celebrate His New Book on the Global Seed Vault

Posted By on Wed, Dec 7, 2016 at 2:46 PM

Memphian Cary Fowler is returning this weekend to discuss and sign his new book, Seeds on Ice: Svalbard and the Global Seed Vault.


Fowler attended Rhodes College and is best known as the “father” of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. He has been described by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as an “inspirational symbol of peace and food security for the entire humanity.” The Seed Vault provides ultimate security for more than 850,000 unique crop varieties, the raw material for all future plant breeding and crop improvement efforts. Fowler proposed the creation of this Arctic facility to Norway, headed the international committee that


 developed the plan for its establishment, and now chairs the international council that oversees its operations.


This big, beautiful book is the comprehensive story of how the Vault came to be. Its breathtaking photographs by Mari Tefre offer a stunning guided tour of the vault, the windswept beauty and majesty of Svalbard, and the enchanting community of people in Longyearbyen.


More on Fowler:

He served as the executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust from 2005 to 2012. Fowler has received several honorary degrees, including an Honorary Doctorate of Law degree from Simon Fraser University, and an Honorary Doctorate of Humanities degree from Rhodes College. He received the Right Livelihood Award with Pat Mooney in 1985 for his work in agriculture and the preservation of biodiversity. Fowler has also received the Vavilov Medal from the Russian Academy of Agricultural Sciences. In 2010, he was one of 10 recipients of the 16th Heinz Awards (with special focus on global change). In 2012, he was awarded the “Wind Beneath my Wings" award jointly with his wife Amy P. Goldman at Bette Midler's annual “Hulaween” party. He was the baccalaureate speaker at the 2013 Rhodes College commencement ceremonies and received the 2015 William L. Brown Award for Excellence in Genetic Resource Conservation from the Missouri Botanical Garden. He is the author of the books, Unnatural Selection: Technology, Politics, and Plant Evolution, and Shattering: Food, Politics, and the Loss of Genetic Diversity (with Pat Mooney).

 “The Global Seed Vault is an extraordinary project, and Seeds on Ice is an extraordinary book — in equal measure fascinating, beautiful, and haunting.” — Elizabeth Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction

Fowler has been to the top of the world to ensure the safety of the diversity of crops globally. Make the trek to The Booksellers at Laurelwood on Saturday to hear all about it.

Dr. Cary Fowler
The Booksellers at Laurelwood

Saturday, Dec. 10

2 p.m.

Dr. Cary Fowler
  • Dr. Cary Fowler

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Jim Dees to Discuss Oxford, Faulkner, and the Year That Was 1997

Posted By on Tue, Dec 6, 2016 at 10:39 AM

In 1997, Jim Dees was a cub reporter for the Oxford Eagle, learning the intricacies of handling breaking news, obit craftsmanship, and the post-deadline drink. He was 40 years old. It would go on to be an exciting and tumultuous year for Oxford, Mississippi, our neighbor to the south.



To celebrate the centennial of local hero William Faulkner’s birth, the town fathers had decided to erect a statue of the scribe on the town square just across from the courthouse. In the wake of what seems like a benign enough idea, the sleepy town erupted in conflict over where the statue would go, whether it would be standing or sitting, and just who would have ultimate control over such decisions. The town mayor squared off against the Faulkner family with sculptor Bill Beckwith caught in the middle. And Dees was there to record it all.


Other things happened that year — the rap group 2Live Crew came to town for a show that raised some eyebrows and some ire, and a group of citizens took exception to the idea (and action on behalf) of some trees being bulldozed. Sam Phillips showed up, as did Henry Kissinger, James Brown, Shelby Foote, the FBI, Willies Nelson and Morris, James Meredith, and ’90s-era celebrity attorney Johnnie Cochran.


In his new book, The Statue and the Fury: A Year of Art, Race, Music and Cocktails (Nautilus Publishing), Dees — now the host of the Thacker Mountain Radio program — recounts all of the ups and downs of the circus that was 1997 with humor and in downhome detail. He’ll be at The Booksellers at Laurelwood this Friday evening to discuss and sign the book.

Dees is also the author of Lies and Other Truths: Rants, Raves, Low-Lifes and Highballs, and the editor of They Write Among Us: New Stories and Essays From the Best of Oxford Writers.

"Only Jim Dees could take a small-town controversy and turn it into the backbone of such a terrific book. This is the kind of inspired eye for detail and recognition for the absurd that Robert Altman would have loved. A truly unique reflection on a storied Southern town at a turning point. I’m so glad Dees was there to document it all and write this funny and insightful true story." — Ace Atkins

"The Statue and the Fury reads like a fever-dream. The writing of Jim Dees turns out to be just as gonzo as his shirts, and that’s saying a lot. For those of us who wish we could live year-round in Oxford, this wild book is as close as you can get without having to pay property taxes." — Harrison Scott Key


Jim Dees

The Booksellers at Laurelwood

Friday, Dec. 9

6:30 p.m.


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Art of the Short Story

Posted By on Wed, Nov 23, 2016 at 10:17 AM

In Margaret Skinner’s new short story collection, Cold Eye (Sartoris Literary Group), the spectre of death hovers over characters, brushing up against them at times while keeping a slight, threatening distance at others. In “Wapanocca,” a family floats along in a boat that might as well be named the S.S. Tension as they fish and keep mum on the issue at hand — the father’s fatal illness. The boy is happy to fish and eager to help his mother, whose sickness is the very marriage itself. In the title story, a young man faces his own mortality as he tries to face life with breast cancer and with a girlfriend with one foot out the door. Even in “Lou Groza,” though death may not be sitting at the bar of Alex’s Tavern, the circle of life is an ever present theme as a young man comes face to face with the father he’s never known.

Skinner, a former University of Memphis Department of English writing instructor, has served as Nida Tomlin Watts writer-in-residence at Sweet Briar College, and received the Walter E. Dakin Fellowship in fiction at the Sewanee Writer’s Conference. She has published two novels — Old Jim Canaan and Molly Flanagan and the Holy Ghost — and her mastery of language and grace is condensed and moving in her short fiction.

This is the perfect time of year to get acquainted, or reacquainted, with short fiction. As the holidays approach, our time is more and more taken up with family, end-of-the-year tasks, juggling a suddenly skewed work-and-home life, and everything else that goes along with the most wonderful time of the year. When that wonderful time gets to be too much, slip away with a favorite collection, or your tablet full of downloads.

Favorite collections of mine include Island: The Complete Stories by Alistair MacLeod, The Whore’s Child and Other Stories by Richard Russo, Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut, Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger by Lee Smith, Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger, and The Stories of John Cheever.

As I write this, I’ve just learned that William Trevor died at the age of 88. A prolific writer and master of the format, he had 47 stories published in The New Yorker alone. (I learned of his death on Twitter, home of the shortest stories you’ll read anywhere.) In the Spring 1989 issue of the Paris Review, Trevor said of the short story form: “I think it is the art of the glimpse. If the novel is like an intricate Renaissance painting, the short story is an impressionist painting. It should be an explosion of truth. Its strength lies in what it leaves out just as much as what it puts in, if not more. It is concerned with the total exclusion of meaninglessness. Life, on the other hand, is meaningless most of the time. The novel imitates life, where the short story is bony, and cannot wander. It is essential art.”

I discussed the art of the short story with Nat Akin, director of story booth at Crosstown Arts, a program that works with inner-city schools to promote reading and writing, and he adds to Trevor’s philosophy. “I think I’m drawn to the exactness and mystery that the short story has to simultaneously set its sights on,” he says. “I’m not faring all that well with the plate-spinning I find novel writing to be — you’ve got to keep track of a lot of moving parts. (It’s also why I would have been a horrible waiter. Too many people to keep satisfied at once.) Another late, great master of the story, Barry Hannah, compared writing short stories to trying to kick-off and receive in a bathroom. As a writer, that idea appeals to me, the simplicity the form demands. As a reader, I can find a good story leaving me thinking about it for days after, like it ‘woke me up’ somehow. That experience is much rarer for me with novels. And there are so, so many good stories — in print journals and online — and story collections being published today.”

Akin isn’t just a proselytizer of short prose, he recently had his story “At Home with the Spirit” in the literary
 journal Waxwing.

Take time this holiday season to visit your favorite bookstore or library and ask for copies of literary journals or anthologies. Think of it as a gift to yourself. On your way to that family gathering, stop by the newsstand and pick up a New Yorker — last week’s issue featured “Flower Hunters,” a piece of short fiction from Lauren Groff, author of Fates and Furies. A couple of weeks before that saw Jonathan Lethem, whose new novel, A Gambler’s Anatomy, just came out. I’m halfway through that book and loving it.

Speaking of the just-released, Michael Chabon’s Moonglow released this week. I was lucky enough to read a friend’s advanced reader copy and I have to say it is fantastic, harkening back to The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and The  Yiddish Policemen’s Union — Jewish lore, footnotes, and all. To further the intrigue of Chabon’s world, he has a short story (in which Nine Stories plays a part) on the New York Times’ website. “The Sandmeyer Reaction” is the seedling that would sprout Moonglow. It was unexpectedly cut from the manuscript. “That’s surprising to me, at any rate,” Chabon writes in an introduction to his story, “because the incidents related in ‘The Sandmeyer Reaction’ were central to my idea of the novel and its protagonist almost from the start.”

Another favorite, Andrew Sean Greer, author of the novels The Confessions of Max Tivoli, The Path of Minor Planets, and The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, among others, has a new one — Less — coming out next year. He recently released the short story “Darkness” as a free digital download.

The story, as was Lethem’s, is a rich appetizer in anticipation of the larger meal. But the curiosity works both ways and readers, once devouring novels, will often find themselves wanting to move on to the impressionist paintings of the short story, that “explosion of truth.”

Skinner’s Cold Eye was just released by Sartoris Literary Group. You can read about the Mississippi press and its founder, James L. Dickerson, in this week’s Flyer. Dickerson told me in a phone interview that he’s planning an anthology of Southern writers in the very near future and he’ll be depending heavily on Memphis writers to fill those pages.

While I’ve got you on the line — if  you’ve hung on this long — don’t forget that Memphis magazine is currently taking submissions for its annual Short Fiction contest. You love to read them, now try your hand at writing! Deadline is February 1st and guidelines can be found by clicking here.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Short Stories and Art with Ke Francis at Burke's Book Store

Posted By on Thu, Nov 10, 2016 at 11:01 AM

Leave all your worries behind and come out to visit with Ke Francis, the founder of Hoopsnake Press in Tupelo, as he reads a selection of short stories Friday evening at Burke's Book Store. An exhibit of his work will begin immediately after at Jay Etkin Gallery (two doors south of the bookstore).

Francis is a narrative multi-media artist who has an extensive national and international exhibition record. During an active 40-year career, he has exhibited with, collaborated with, and curated exhibits with some of the most influential artists of this century, including Sam Francis, William T.Wiley, Bill Christenberry, Terry Allen, Kenneth Noland, Robert Rauschenberg, Wendell Castle, Albert Paley, and  Robert Stackhouse. His creative works in book arts, painting, printmaking, and sculpture have won grants and awards from the Rockefeller Bellagio Study Center, The Southern Arts Federation, The Susan B. Herron Award (Mississippi Arts Commission), the Beck Foundation, the Polaroid Foundation, and the Deep South Humanities Council.

Ke Francis
Reading and art exhibit
Burke's Book Store & Jay Etkin Gallery
Friday, November 11
6 p.m.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Jonathan Safran Foer at the Jewish Literary and Cultural Arts Festival

Posted By on Mon, Oct 31, 2016 at 9:11 AM

Jonathan Safran Foer is the author of Extremely Loud and Incredible Close, and the bestselling work of nonfiction, Eating Animals. His first novel, Everything Is Illuminated, was named Book of the Year by the Los Angeles Times and the winner of numerous awards, including the Guardian First Book Prize, the National Jewish Book Award, and the New York Public Library Young Lions Prize. Foer was one of Rolling Stone's “People of the Year” and Esquire's “Best and Brightest.”

Foer will be a part of the Jewish Literary and Cultural Arts Festival at the Memphis Jewish Community Center this Tuesday evening.

Unfolding over three tumultuous weeks in present-day Washington, DC, his latest novel, Here I Am, is the story of a fracturing family in a moment of crisis. As Jacob and Julia and their three sons are forced to confront the distances between the lives they think they want and the lives they are living, a catastrophic earthquake sets in motion a pan-Arab invasion of Israel. At stake is the very meaning of home—and the fundamental question of how much life one can bear.

A conversation with Jonathan Safran Foer
Memphis Jewish Community Center
Tuesday, November 1
8:00 pm
$12/members; $15/non-members

Friday, October 28, 2016

An Evening With Geoff Calkins

Posted By on Fri, Oct 28, 2016 at 10:01 AM

When I first heard that Geoff Calkins, columnist for The Commercial Appeal, was making a sports book, I thought becoming a bookie was a sound choice for a second career (or fourth, if you count lawyer and radio sports talk deejay) as the dark storm clouds gather over the newspaper’s horizon. Turns out he made a book full of sports, which is a different thing altogether.

Published by Nautilus Publishing Company out of Oxford, After the Jump: Columns on the Best 20 Years in Memphis Sports is a collection of some of the writer’s favorite columns from what he’s determined to be “the best two decades in Memphis sports,” not just because of sport itself, but because of the transformative power it's brought to the city, the culture, and the people. Sponsored by Burke’s Book Store, he’ll be discussing and signing the book at AutoZone Park on Tuesday, November 1st.

Onetime Grizzly, Shane Battier, says of his writing: “Geoff Calkins chronicled my time in Memphis perfectly. I was lucky to spend two tours of basketball duty in Memphis. Geoff explained the significance and history that the Grizzlies made in my time like no one else. Reading his stories brings me right back to draft night, our first game and to our first playoff win. Geoff understands the people, the history of Memphis and the love of sports like no other journalist and weaves an amazing collection of stories about Memphis.”                       

As the Gannett Company continues to wrap its hands around the throat of The Commercial Appeal, effectively silencing 175 years of unique voices and wiping away all personality and character, a few have remained to articulate what it is they — and we — care about. Geoff Calkins is among that scant number and this collection is a great starter for where local sports has been and how it got to where we are, and Memphis along with it.

An evening with Geoff Calkins
Brought to you by Burke’s Book Store
Tuesday, Nov. 1st
AutoZone Park, Club Level (Home Plate Lounge)
Drinks and hors d’oeuvres at 6:30, with the reading and talk at 7:00 p.m.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

New food-centric books from Susan Schadt Press

Posted By on Tue, Oct 25, 2016 at 3:52 PM

Susan Schadt retired as chief executive officer of ArtsMemphis in 2015, and has spent her time since diving into the world of publishing with Susan Schadt Press and two new releases this fall.


The Chubby Vegetarian: 100 Inspired Vegetable Recipes For The Modern Table is the second vegetarian cookbook by Justin Fox Burks and Amy Lawrence. They have endorsements from TV host and author, Lloyd Boston; Chef Bryant Terry, former Memphian and host of two PBS series, Urban


Organic and The Endless Feast; and Joe Yonan, food writer; among many others. Their first book, The Southern Vegetarian (Thomas Nelson, 2013), was featured in The New York Times and The Washington Post, and several other national media outlets. The couples’ blog, The Chubby Vegetarian, has had over 3.5 million views.


Upcoming events:


Thursday, Oct. 27th

Book signing

Booksellers at Laurelwood

6:30 p.m.


Nov. 5th

Justin & Amy demo and signing

Rhodes College — Cajun Fest

11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m.


Nov. 6th

Book release party

Second Line

6 – 7:30 p.m.


Nov. 16th

Book signing

Babcock Gifts

4:30 – 6 p.m.


Dec. 10th

Holiday Market

Memphis Farmers Market

8 a.m. – 1 p.m.


Reel Masters: Chefs Casting About With Timing And Grace features eight celebrated chefs and a foreword by Peter Kaminsky. The book employs a cookbook anthology model, incorporating stories, chef biographies, and recipes to tell the stories of chefs’ sought-after fishing spots or unknown gems. Through the voices and photographs of passionate fishermen, guides, chefs, and guests, the book


 captures the heart and soul of these revered retreats and the memories and traditions that make each so special. This time we are going fishing in the bayous , backwaters, and bays, and along the coastlines of the sporting South, from Toledo Bend, Louisiana, to Richmond, with stops in Venice, Pensacola, Charleston, and other treasured spots. 


Featured celebrated and award winning chefs:


Jeremiah Bacon, Charleston

John Besh, New Orleans

Walter Bundy, Richmond

John Currence, Oxford

Kelly English, Memphis

Chris Hastings, Birmingham

Donald Link, New Orleans

Kevin Willmann, St. Louis

Upcoming events:

Nov. 1st

Signing with Kelly English

Booksellers at Laurelwood

6:00 – 7:30 p.m.


Nov. 6th

Book release party

Second Line

6 – 7:30 p.m.


Monday, October 24, 2016

Pop critic Jack Hamilton discusses book Just Around Midnight at Stax Museum

Posted By on Mon, Oct 24, 2016 at 3:30 PM

Scholar and Slate pop critic Jack Hamilton will be signing and discussing his new book, Just around Midnight: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination, this Thursday at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music.

In his book, Hamilton addresses the issue of white artists' appropriation of black music, employing an interdisciplinary combination of historical research, musical analysis, and critical race theory to demonstrate how rock-and-roll "became white" during the 1960s. In doing so, he parallels Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” and Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” revealing that despite the songs’ similarities, Dylan was considered a rock genius, while Cooke is perceived as a master of “soul” — a disparity that resonates later in the 1960s with the conflicting perceptions of Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin, and Dusty Springfield later in that decade. 

Just around Midnight also details the infatuation that British bands had with African American music, charting the Beatles’ collaboration with Motown artists and the undertones of racial transgression in the Rolling Stones’ hit songs. Hamilton elucidates the implications of Jimi Hendrix’s ascent to stardom amidst an increasingly white rock and roll landscape, and describes how Carlos Santana, one of the major guitar virtuosos of the post-Hendrix era, challenged the boundaries of music’s racial imagination.

In her 1973 Harper’s magazine essay “Ripping Off Black Music,” Margo Jefferson equated white artists’ appropriation of black music to cultural plunder: “The night Jimi died I dreamed this was the latest step in a plot being designed to eliminate blacks from rock music so that it may be recorded in history as a creation of whites.” Just around Midnight enriches our understanding of racial perception and authenticity in America and reinforces that black musicians played a crucial role in establishing the rock and roll sound that came to define second half of the 20th century.

Jack Hamilton
Stax Museum of American Soul Music
926 E. McLemore Avenue
Thursday, October 27th
7:00 - 8:30 p.m.
Free admission

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Friends of the Library Fall Book Sale

Posted By on Thu, Oct 20, 2016 at 11:55 AM

It’s autumn! Forget what the thermometer says, I know it’s autumn because it’s time once again for the Friends of the Library Fall Book Sale. Beginning this Friday, Oct. 21st, and going on through Saturday, book (and film and music) lovers have the chance to get some great deals. Books, magazines, CDs, DVDs, sheet music, vinyl records . . . it’s all there for your perusing. 


Prices range from a quarter all the way up to $2. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Memphis Public Library & Information Center, its collections, programs, and resources throughout the18 locations citywide.


For more information about the Friends of the Library Fall 2016 Book Sale, call (901) 415-2840.


Friends of the Library Fall Book Sale

Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library meeting rooms

Friday & Saturday, Oct. 21-22

10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

(Members only preview sale is Friday, 8-10 a.m.)


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Meet the Incomparable Julia Elliott

Posted By on Tue, Oct 11, 2016 at 3:15 PM

by Jesse Davis

I had not heard of Julia Elliott before I picked up her first novel, The New and Improved Romie Futch, but I immediately felt drawn to the book. I liked the cover design — what appeared to be a primeval hog-dragon trampling swampland and belching flame. I flipped the tantalizingly titled tome over for a look at the details on the back cover only to find that Tin House Books, an imprint of one of my favorite literary journals, published the novel.

The New and Improved Romie Futch introduces the reader to the title character as he girds himself for yet another depressing bender. He is balding, pot-bellied, recently divorced, and his failing taxidermy shop is limping along like a maimed animal, not long for this world. A man with limited options, Romie lives in a small, Southern town, and he finds himself consistently in the shadow of one of his high school friends (now more “frienemy” than anything), an ATV salesman and a picture of stereotypical Southern masculinity. With a brief and disastrous encounter with his ex-wife — she glows; Romie glistens with alcoholic sweat; she is accompanied by her new beau; Romie slumps forlornly among his male cohorts — the scene is set for Romie’s transformation. What else, Romie is forced to wonder, could he possibly have to lose?

So after seeing an online pop-up ad promising a radical, life-changing transformation, Romie throws a few articles of clothing into a duffel bag and signs up for the experimental treatment. This, dear reader, is where the novel gets weird, with new genres rearing their heads, chimera-like. What began as a fairly straightforward New-South-meets-Southern-Gothic foray into contemporary fiction is suddenly a story about low and high art verily vrooming with verbiage. It is also a postmodern grotesquerie that attempts to reconcile the varied, mismatched parts of the Frankenstein monster that, so Elliott would seem to suggest, is the essence of compartmentalized, modern existence. And I would be remiss if I did not give a tip of the hat to the novel’s brave willingness to wear the paranoid science-fiction hat from time to time. (The program in which Romie enrolls smacks of MKUltra, the CIA’s illegal, 23-year-long mind control program.)

The program works, however, and Romie gets smart. He gets super-smart, Flowers for Algernon smart. So are the voices he’s hearing in his head just in his head, or are they some sort of Project Monarch-like intervention undertaken by secretive men and women in lab coats? Is the so-called “hogzilla” terrorizing the countryside also the product of clandestine genetic modification? Is the world ready for a conceptual taxidermy art installation based, in part, on Foucault’s Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison?

The New and Improved Romie Futch is absurd in the most satisfying of ways. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the novel adequately interfaces with the inherent absurdity of contemporary life. While it would be easy to say that Romie’s sadness and loneliness — the original impetus for his enrolment in the experiment in the first place — get lost in the genre shuffle, it is really up to the reader not to let that happen. Romie’s loneliness is right there all along, just under the surface of the fizz and bubble of verbiage and concepts. In fact, it is only accentuated by Romie’s improvement. Whereas before, he hardly fit in with his contemporaries, post-treatment Romie has no peers. He is a true freak — too redneck to fit in with the academics with whom he can suddenly converse and too brilliant to be content pounding domestic beer with his old high school buddies.

Julia Elliott has crafted an achingly heartfelt novel, propelled by a page-turner of a plot all the way until Romie’s inevitable confrontation with the hopped-up “hogzilla.” The New and Improved Romie Futch, true to its postmodern and chimera-like form, deftly balances its strange mix of Southern Gothic and science-fiction, heartfelt and thought-inducing prose, and the result is an infinitely readable offering. Though the novel, with its gene-spliced hero and monstrous boar, is ideal for the Halloween season, it will surely stand the test of time. I’m calling it here and now — this one is destined for cult classic status.

Jesse Davis is a copy editor for The Memphis Flyer and a bookseller for the Booksellers at Laurelwood.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, comes to story booth

Posted By on Mon, Oct 10, 2016 at 3:22 PM

Memphis is becoming a literary hotspot and has had its share of renowned authors visit its bookstores, libraries, and reading spaces this year — Jess Walter, Chris Offutt, Jacqueline Woodson, Erik Larsen, Lauren Groff, and Jesmyn Ward, to name a few. Add to this list Pulitzer Prize-winner Robert Olen Butler, coming to story booth on October 13th to discuss his new novel, Perfume River.


Robert Quinlan is a seventy-year-old historian, teaching at Florida State University, where his wife Darla is also tenured. Their marriage, forged in the fervor of anti-Vietnam-war protests, now bears the fractures of time, both personal and historical, with the couple trapped in an existence of morning coffee and solitary jogging and separate offices. For Robert and Darla, the cracks remain under the surface, whereas the divisions in Robert's own family are more apparent: he has almost no relationship with his brother Jimmy, who became estranged from the family as the Vietnam War intensified. William Quinlan, Robert and Jimmy's father and a veteran of World War II, is coming to the end of his life, and aftershocks of war ripple across all their lives once again, when Jimmy refuses to appear at his father's bedside. And an unstable homeless man whom Robert meets at a restaurant and at first takes to be a fellow Vietnam veteran turns out to have a deep impact not just on Robert, but on his entire family.

“What I so like about Perfume River is its plainly-put elegance. Enough time has passed since Vietnam that its grave human lessons and heartbreaks can be — with a measure of genius — almost simply stated. Butler’s novel is a model for this heartbreaking simplicity and grace.” — Richard Ford

“This is thoughtful, introspective fiction of the highest caliber, but it carries a definite edge, thanks to an insistent backbeat that generates suspense with the subtlest of brushstrokes.” — Booklist (starred review)

From one of America's most important writers, Perfume River is an exquisite novel that examines family ties and the legacy of the Vietnam War through the portrait of a single North Florida family. 

Robert Olen Butler
story booth
438 N. Cleveland Street
Thursday, October 13
6:00 – 8:00 p.m.


© 1996-2018

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation