Pretty Southern

What does it mean to be a Southerner in the 21st century?

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Atlanta Street Artwork

2012-12-30 14.23.43There’s something beautiful about the broken.

In a growing city like Atlanta, our eyes pop at the sight of new condos, commercial buildings, and restaurants that seem to surface in our neighborhoods without limit. But the crumbling infrastructure and dilapidated real estate that once was has a mystic, ethereal, restful beauty about it that has always tugged at my curiosity and landed me in places seldom visited by the the sensible adventurer. (more…)

Lamb In His Bosom

Pop quiz: who was the first Georgian to win a Pulitzer Prize for the Novel? Here’s a hint: it’s not Margaret Mitchell. In 1934, Caroline Miller’s “Lamb in His Bosom” – a Southern novel about a pair of young newlyweds in rural Georgia on the brink of Civil Warfare – took home the esteemed honor. “Gone With the Wind” would win a few years later in 1937 and it was because after reading Miller’s work, Harold S. Latham, editor at Macmillan Publishing Company, sought out other Southern novels and authors, then found Margaret Mitchell.

Mitchell wrote in a letter to Miller, “Your book is undoubtedly the greatest that ever came out of the South about Southern people, and it is my favorite book.” Like “Gone With the Wind” Miller’s novel is a testament to the power of a Southerner’s spirt. Her heroine, Cean (pronounced Cee-Ann) who married and gave birth to 14 children (mostly girls!) in the antebellum South. Cean grows before the reader’s eyes as a young, naive bride to mature as a wise woman who (like Scarlett O’Hara) relies on her gumption to survive. The novel’s title is taken from the Bible: “He shall feed His flock like a shepherd; He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom,” (Isaiah 40:11) and reflects the Cean’s faith in God despite the harshness of her life.

Perks of Being a Wallflower

In the fall of 2012, Pretty Southern was privileged to interview Stephen Chbosky, author of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”. This best-selling novel was translated to film this year, which the author was also able to adapt to screenplay and direct himself. “Perks” is a story of three friends coming into their own starring Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller. After 15-year-old Charlie (Lerman) is taken under the wings of two seniors, Sam (Watson) and Patrick (Miller), who help guide him to “the real world”, Charlie ends up falling in love with Sam. Simultaneously, he is struggling to cope after the suicide of his best friend, (plus his own mental illness) while fighting the unrequited battle in high school of finding true friends. The introvert freshman is perhaps the mouthpiece of Chbosky’s own quest to discover meaning in a cruel world, as the author describes penning his first novel after a terrible breakup. Click here and fast forward to minute 3:30 to see our interview with “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” writer & director Stephen Chbosky.

Chbosky also wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation of Rent, and was co-creator, executive producer, and writer of the CBS television series Jericho, which began airing in 2006. He is currently working to finish his second novel while raising a baby girl, Maccie Margaret, with his lovely wife, Liz. Follow him on Twitter to keep up with this brilliant author. Thanks again to the New York Public Library and Google for hosting this great hangout.

Joseph Conrad Loved an Atlanta lady

The other day, my mother-in-law presented me with a news clipping from 1991. Keep in mind y’all, this was back when The AJC was still The Atlanta Journal in the morning and The Atlanta Constitution in the afternoon. “This seemed like something Pretty Southern,” my Momma J told me when she presented me with the yellowed page.

And indeed it was. The headline from this article read “Conrad’s lover from Atlanta”. This story turned out to be a book review on “Joseph Conrad: A Biography” by Jeffrey Meyers. The book critic who penned the story was S. Keith Graham, for whom Google did not turn up any search results. Well, my mother-in-law found him worthy of historical preservation. I am glad she did.

The British author who penned “Heart of Darkness” was actually in love with a Southern woman. Jane Anderson, an Atlanta native, was the fabulously gregarious daughter of Ellen Luckie (a.k.a. the family for whom Luckie Street is named). While this was supposed to be a book review about Conrad’s biography, the the critic did a fantastic job of digging deeper into the story.

From Goodman’s review: “When Conrad, 58, met her during World War I, she was a beautiful war correspondent for British papers, just 28 years old (and probably the mistress of Lord Northcliffe, the British newspaper magnate). Her Georgian accent and fun-loving manner thoroughly charmed not only Conrad (whom she called ‘the greatest writer in the world’) but also his gluttonous (and devoted) lump of a wife Jessie and their two sons.”

The journalist goes on to cite the biographer (Meyers) who informs the reader, “Jane was Conrad’s last (and perhaps first) chance to sleep with a beautiful well-born woman…He knew this and seized the opportunity.” Meyers cites in his work that the Georgia-girl-journalist later went on to marry a Spanish count (which she served prison time for her loyalty to the fascists during the Spanish Civil War). In the 1940s, she was indicted “along with poet Ezra Pound” on a charge of “treason for broadcasting Nazi propagande (in her case from Germany) against America and its allies. And, though she was arrested following World War II, she subsequently disappeared, perhaps under the protection of Spain’s Franco.”

A letter which Anderson herself wrote to Conrad appears in the biography. “[Joseph Conrad's] voice is very clear and fine in tone, but there is an accent which I never heard before…And his verbs are never right…His head is extraordinarily fine in the modeling, although the forehead is not high. There are certain planes about the eyes, however. It is the pose of the head, which is a little shrunken into his shoulders, which gives the impression of strength. His mouth…is full but sensitive. But is is his eyes which are the eyes of genius. They are dark…And in them is a curious hypnotic quality. ‘I would show you,” he said, “ze spire of ze cathedral as you would see it from ze hills – but my car is broken, and we do not go. Zis will be for anuzzer time.”

There’s a lost art to penning reviews. Back in my glory days at UGA, I was privileged to take Valerie Boyd’s critical writing class. Professor Boyd, the former arts editor from The AJC, taught us that all good journalistic principles apply to critiquing another artist’s work. A writer must be fair and balanced in telling the public the true story. This review by S. Keith Graham is a pretty fine example of an excellent critique and one I will transfer from my mother-in-law’s files to my very own.

To purchase the biography, click here to Amazon.

Naming A Pretty Southern Heroine

“Do you know what your name means, Vivienne Grace? And why your Christian name is after my mother, Vivienne?”

“Not exactly,” I admitted.
“Did they not teach you Latin at that fancy Magnolia Academy?”
“I took Spanish instead.”
“A lot of good that will do you.” stated Grand Mere. “Well mon petite. When your mama told me she wanted to name you Grace, I said that’s a fine name but would love for you to be christened Vivienne. It’s translation comes from the Latin ‘vivus’ meaning ‘alive.’ Your name was given to you recognizing our French heritage, where adjectives always come before nouns. Literally – you are the living personification of grace. And as such, everything about you is good.

For all your lovely innocence, the divine goodness which beams out of your pretty blue eyes, you’ve lived a false life. I knew from the start your daddy wouldn’t be good enough for your mama, and he’s proving it now.”

My eyes started to swell again, and Grand Mere realized she may have gone too far. The old woman sighed, and placed her manicured hand over mine.

“All I’m trying to say is you are too good for this, Vivienne Grace. In both Greek and Roman mythology, long before Jesus walked the earth, the Graces represented natural beauty, creativity, charm and the best life had to offer. You are all that and more. Get out of this world. It’s drowning in cheap whiskey and pretension.”

“Never forget the fact, you are a pretty Southern girl. Life can disappoint you sometimes. Circumstances you never anticipated will arise. I have always seen in my mind a picture of the fabulous lady you were meant to become. Dearest, think lightly on your troubles. Letting them pile up on your heart will break it faster than any dumb boy ever could.

“Remember the beautiful dreams you dreamed. Think upon your God-given talents. They are blessings from Heaven meant to help you succeed on Earth. Use your charms to live the life you want. Women, especially good-looking and intelligent ones, have so many talents they can rely on to see them through hard times. Add to that a decent amount of gumption, which you have in spades, and my dear that’s a force to be reckoned with.

“Grace, you are remarkable. There is so much ahead for you. Take this time to truly get to know yourself. You are so young. One day, when you’re old like me, you’ll look back and truly understand how you ever made it through this dark time.”

Grand Mere pulled me into a warm embrace. She held me, tighter than I could ever remember her doing before that weekend. I could smell her Chanel No. 5 perfume mingled with Vaseline lotion and White Rain hairspray. In her arms, I felt safe. Knowing I would be going back to New Orleans with her gave me such a comfort. I would be getting away from Atlanta, leaving Wesley and my family’s troubles behind me.

I looked up to my grandmother. Her pale green eyes sparkled like Mama and Macy’s but her nose and lips pursed into a smile which were like my very own. Although my face was burning with the flush from crying, I tried to muster a smirk.

“At least I’m going through the worst time in my life when I’m only 17. It’s hard to imagine I could ever be more sad.”

She shook me out of the hug, holding me at arm’s length. Her face changed from one of compassion to a reprimand a priest might give a confessing sinner.

“Vivienne Grace, it’s a very bad thing to think the worst has already happened. This gives one a false sense of security that nothing more terrible could ever occur. Let me tell you, mon petite. Things can always get worse. It’s better to be afraid of something. A lack of fear can sink one into further doom. Not living cognizant of future terrors will demand even more sacrifice when bad things happen. Always fear something, just as you always hold some things in this world the most dear.”

Editor’s Note: this is an excerpt working novel. Click here to read Chapter 1. All material belongs to the author and may not be republished or copied without written consent. Should you want to publish this story, well hell’s bells by all means please let me know! Any thoughts, feedback, likes, dislikes, please comment below and check back for more from this Pretty Southern novel.