The 20th Annual Alabama Writers Symposium



Photo: Alabama Writers Symposium Facebook Page

Hailed as the literary capital of Alabama, Monroeville has produced several notable authors. It would only make sense then, for Monroeville to be the home of one of Alabama’s most celebrated literary events, the Alabama Writers Symposium.

Every spring, writers, scholars and readers gather in Monroeville for two days of readings and discussions, as well as workshops. In addition, two awards are presented during the Alabama Writers Symposium: the Harper Lee Award for Alabama’s Distinguished Writer and the Eugene Current-Garcia Award for Alabama’s Distinguished Literary Scholar. Last year, an additional award was added: the Truman Capote Award for Alabama’s Distinguished Writer of Literary Non-Fiction or the Short Story. These awards are made possible by a grant graciously provided by George F. Landegger.

This years Symposium is extra special, as this will be the 20th Annual Alabama Writers Symposium. The Alabama Writers Symposium is hosted by the Monroeville branch of Coastal Alabama Community College, formerly known as Alabama Southern Community College.

The 20th Annual Alabama Writers Symposium will kick off on Thursday April 20th, with a memoir writing workshop at Coastal Alabama, taught by writer, poet, editor, and teacher, Jennifer Horne. Discussions will begin at noon on Thursday, in the courthouse of the Monroe County Heritage Museum. Featured speakers for Thursday will be: Jacqueline Trimble, Nancy Anderson, the Alabama Bicentennial Panel, Brad Watson and Kirk Curnutt.

On Thursday evening, a dinner and awards presentation will be held at the Monroeville Community house. Michael Knight will accept the Truman Capote Award for Alabama’s Distinguished Writer of Literary Non-Fiction or the Short Story. Knight resides in Knoxville, Tennessee and is employed by the University of Tennessee, where he teaches creative writing. Knight is the author of a book of novellas entitled “The Holiday Season”; two novels, “Divining Rod” and “The Typist”; and three short-story collections, ” Dogfight and Other Stories,” “Goodnight, Nobody,” and his latest work, “Eveningland.”

This years Eugene Current-Garcia Award for Alabama’s Distinguished Literary Scholar will be given to Alabama Writers Symposium veteran Kirk Curnutt. Curnutt is an English professor, as well as a chair of English at Troy University. Curnutt has penned fourteen books, three of which are novels. His scholarly works mainly center around Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein. In addition to teaching and writing, Curnutt is also the co-director of the Alabama Book Festival.

Finally, The Harper Lee Award for Alabama’s Distinguished Writer will be presented to Brad Watson. Watson is an alumnus of the University of Alabama. He has written several books including: ‘The Heaven of Mercury,” “The Last Days of the Dog-men,” “Aliens in the Prime of their Lives,” and “Miss Jane.” All of his works have either been nominated for, or have received awards. Watson currently teaches creative writing at The University of Wyoming.

On Friday morning, attendees will gather back at Coastal Alabama, where featured speakers will resume discussions. Friday morning keynote speakers will include: Jeanie Thompson, Kyes Stevens with the Alabama Prison Arts + Educaon Project, Frye Gaillard, Michael Knight, Deidra Suwanee Dees with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, Don Noble and Jennifer Horne.

A luncheon will then be held at the Monroeville Community House, with guest speaker Yaa Gyasi. Gyasi’s debut novel “Homegoing” made quite an impression in the literary world, even being nominated as one of Oprah’s Ten Favorite Books of 2016 as well as one of Time’s Top Ten Novels of 2016. A book signing will follow the luncheon.

Don’t worry, the party doesnt end there! Guests will return to Coastal Alabama for afternoon discussions and book signings. Those speaking Friday afternoon include Miriam Davis, Jaime Primak Sullivan, T.K. Thorne, Sue Brannan Walker and Katherine Clark.

Tickets were previously sold for the awards gala and luncheon, as well as an optional ticket to the opening night presentation of the play “To Kill a Mockingbird” on Friday night. However, all discussions on Thursday and Friday are free and open to the public. There will also be several opportunities throughout the weekend to meet these distinguished writers and speakers and to have books signed as well.

The 20th Annual Alabama Writers Symposium is sponsored by George Landegger, the Alabama State Council of the Arts, and the Alabama Humanities Foundation. In addition to Coastal Alabama Community College, the Symposium is hosted by The Monroe County Heritage Museum, The Association of College English Teachers of Alabama, as well as The Alabama Writers Forum.

Have you attended a past Symposium? Are you attending this years 20th Annual Alabama Writers Symposium? What events and/or speakers are you looking forward to most? I am looking forward to ALL of it, but I am most excited to attend the memoir writing workshop, the awards gala and to hear Yaa Gyasi speak at the luncheon on Friday. We hope to see you there! [Read more…]

Go Set a Watchman Review

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

It has been a few months since our town was in a frenzy over the Go Set a Watchman book release. We have sold over 10,000 copies to date and continue to sell more every day. We currently still have plenty of first edition, first printing special editions for anyone who either hasn’t read the book yet or wants to get one for a gift.

It personally took me a month and a half to finally sit down and read Go Set a Watchman for myself–the reason wasn’t that I had anything against it but it was because I promised our loyal customers I wouldn’t read it until everyone received their copy and had a chance to read it. So when I finally got to sit down with my cup of coffee and settle in on a new adventure with Scout Finch, I was thrilled! I couldn’t help but wonder what was beyond each page as I devoured it. And much to my satisfaction, it was better than I ever thought it would be.

Many of you are probably thinking that’s an unlikely opinion considering how many professional critics thought otherwise of Harper Lee’s first novel. From reading other reviews, you would think they had their nose in the air more often than they had it in the book. They seem more interested in reading as a job than for relaxation and enjoyment. I like to place myself in the shoes of the main character and explore the story unfolding with its twists and turns just as the character does. In this case, the character was Jean Louise Finch, a character I never imagined I would get to play the part of again. The journey was an emotional one and a very enjoyable one as well. To the people who believe it’s a continuation of the story of To Kill a Mockingbird, I’d say that I don’t believe they opened the cover. The story was nothing like it in any regard. And, for a story not edited and refined for the press, I must say it was rather perfect. You could feel Harper Lee’s intense passion for equality in Go Set a Watchman, and I truly believe she had tears flowing when she wrote parts of it. You have to place yourself back in time when she wrote it to truly appreciate what she was writing. It wasn’t considered acceptable for a woman to talk openly like that or to defend racism with that kind of passion. I believe her publisher sent her back to the drawing board to re-write her overly passionate novel into something more palatable—something from a child’s perspective—so as to help numb her harsh message about the injustices of racism in the South. Can you imagine if this novel would have been the one that went to print in the 1960s? Imagine the uproar there would have been over a woman defending racism with as much passion as she did. She was years before her time, and we all owe her a debt for her courage and forethought. I actually put down the book at the end wanting more. What happened to Jem Finch? What happened at the trial? Does Jean ever get married? Does she get a happy ending? All of those answers are stuck inside the mind of one of the greatest literary writers of our time, and as far as I know, they aren’t going to be put to paper.

Many opponents to Go Set a Watchman were offended by the changes in the character of Atticus Finch. They feel he is no longer the perfect and just lawyer they loved reading about as a child. They want to see him in the same manner as young Scout did: as an idol on a pedestal. They are unwilling to think of him as a man—an imperfect man who has flaws and lapses in judgment just like the rest of us. Atticus isn’t a saint anymore, and even though people do not want to tarnish their view of him, he is forever changed.

What are your thoughts on the novel? Did you love it, hate it, or are you still heartbroken over the fallen Atticus Finch? Either way, we would love to hear your opinion!

Celebrate the First Day of Fall with a Good Book

first day of fall

Fall is finally here! Arguably the best season of them all—the season of leaves and pumpkins, scary movies and hayrides, Halloween and Thanksgiving. For those of us who live in the South, it may not feel quite like fall yet, but don’t fret—there was never a problem that a well-chosen book couldn’t solve!

Here a few titles to get you in the autumn mood. Turn down the air, put on your favorite sweater, grab your pumpkin spice latte, and curl up with a good book!

A Fall Reading List

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

J.R.R. Tolkien The Hobbit FallStart out with this classic from J.R.R. Tolkien—the one book that started it all, the prequel to The Lord of the Rings. Right off the bat, Bilbo Baggins in his hobbit hole, scurrying and flustered from the unexpected company of dwarves who landed on his doorstep, will put you in the fall mood. Tolkien’s beautiful descriptions of nature will not disappoint, and you can follow it up with a movie marathon! Peter Jackson directed both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogies, for your viewing pleasure.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

For a little old-fashioned horror with a touch of mystery, check out Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. This classic ghost story was one of the first to develop the “strangers in a haunted house” motif, and it will give you some great ideas for Halloween costumes and decorations. For some extra scares, check out one of the two movie adaptations, both titled The Haunting—one made in 1963 and the other 1999. If you like Jackson’s style, also check out the short story “The Lottery,” one of the inspirations for The Hunger Games.

The Complete Tales of Edgar Allan Poe

The Complete Tales of Edgar Allan PoeIf you like being scared, but don’t like being grossed out, Poe is for you. His writing style is both beautiful and readable—he will impress and terrify you. Plus a short story is a great way to pass the time between apple picking and hayrides. Check out “The Raven,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “The Fall of the House of Usher.”

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Really any Harry Potter book will do, if you’re a fan of the series and can jump in anywhere. If you’ve never read Harry Potter, or if it’s been a while, start from the beginning. J.K. Rowling is a master storyteller—you won’t want to put it down. Between shopping for school supplies, the beautiful candle-lit castle, wizard robes and pumpkin beer, if Harry Potter doesn’t put you in the fall mood, nothing will.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

Based on a true story, Berendt’s novel is a classic Southern Gothic tale with a few modern twists—a great way to get ready for the Halloween season. It’s got everything you need—voodoo, cemeteries, mystery and chills. For a bonus, check out the great film version of the same name, starring John Cusack and Kevin Spacey and directed by Clint Eastwood.

Happy Fall from Ol’ Curiosities & Book Shoppe!

Do you have a special book that gets you in the mood for Fall or Halloween? Let us know!


Seven Novels Set in Small Towns

Vintage Old Town Photo

Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square.

Great Depression
“Maycomb was a tired old town.”

In literature, small towns can serve as microscopes—the good and the bad in life are magnified and closely examined. Human relationships are tested, explored and expanded. The actions of characters affect not only themselves and their close friends and family, but also ripple throughout the community. A small town can also serve as microcosm, a contained whole representative of something larger—a state, our nation, or humanity in general.

In the case of Maycomb, Alabama—the fictional setting for Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird—the town served to present and examine the racism that permeated small southern towns—a racism that infected the justice system, as well as the day to day lives of the those in the community. It also showed the devastating effects of the Great Depression, as well as the resilience that carried our nation through that dark period.

Here at Ol’ Curiosities & Book Shoppe, To Kill a Mockingbird is one of our favorites. In honor of Maycomb, here are seven more novels set in small towns.

7 Books Set in Small Towns

Cold Sassy Tree

Historical novel Cold Sassy Tree, by Olive Ann Burns, is set in the fictional town of Cold Sassy, Georgia. The name of the town comes from the sassafras trees that grow there. Nature is often a motif in small town stories, as small towns are closer and therefore more connected to nature. Cold Sassy Tree is about a scandalous marriage and the town’s reaction to such, as well as a young boy growing up.

The Notebook

The Notebook Nicholas Sparks Small TownMost of Nicholas Sparks’ books could be on this list, so The Notebook is representative of a larger group of similar works. Sparks sets his (many) novels in small towns in North Carolina. The Notebook tells the love story of Noah and Allie, who meet and fall in love in New Bern, NC. In an interview with CliffsNotes, Sparks explains why he likes to set his novels in small towns:

I think that setting a novel in a small town taps into a sense of nostalgia among readers. People tend to believe life is different in small towns, and frankly, it is different. The pace of life is slower, there’s less traffic, and people tend to know their neighbors; each town has its distinct idiosyncrasies and charms.

Anne of Green Gables

Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery, is set in a fictional town on Prince Edward Island—Canada’s smallest province. Modeled after the town of Cavendish, where the author grew up, the novel’s setting is a charming small town with sprawling farmland, mysterious woods and a beautiful coastline. Those interested in the Anne of Green Gables experience can visit Avonlea Village, a small park attraction in Cavendish modeled after the fictional town.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

In Fannie Flagg’s novel, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, elderly Ninny Threadgoode narrates the adventures of her youth spent in Whistle Stop, Alabama. Ninny and her friend Ruth ran the Whistle Stop Cafe in the 30s. As in Mockingbird, in Fried Green Tomatoes we see the effects of the Great Depression on small southern towns. The novel and the town are filled with quirky characters, humor, mystery, terror and triumph.

Salem’s Lot

Salem's Lot Stephen King Small TownsStephen King’s second novel, Salem’s Lot, is set in Jerusalem’s Lot, Maine. Writer Ben Mears returns to his small town home after 25 years only to discover the town is filled with a great evil. In his memoir On Writing, King described the novel as “Vampires in Our Town.” A theme of the story is that horrors can be hidden anywhere, even in small towns where everyone thinks they know their neighbors.

The Grass Harp

Like his first novel Other Voices, Other Rooms, Truman Capote’s The Grass Harp is about a young boy leaving home to live with relatives. He deals with the strangeness of his new surroundings and an intense, haunting feeling of loneliness. Like Harper Lee, Capote spent much of his childhood in Monroeville, Alabama, and used the town as a model for the small southern town in this and other novels.

The Casual Vacancy

J.K. Rowling’s first novel after her hugely popular Harry Potter series, and her first adult novel, The Casual Vacancy is about a vacant council seat in the small town of Pagford in the West Country region of England. The vacancy causes much scandal in the small community. For those expecting Harry Potter, you’ll be sorely disappointed, as this book couldn’t be more different. But The Casual Vacancy stands on its own—in it, Rowling examines greed, politics, class, drug use and small town life.

Did we miss your favorite small town book? Did you grow up in a small town? Let us know!

The Voices of Innocence? Child Narrators in Literature

child narrators

An adult book with a child narrator can be a surprising read. It is often the case that the innocence of youth or a child’s lack of life experience can reveal more about the world and human nature to those of us already in adulthood. A novel narrated by a child could be about growing up, the loss of innocence, or the moral ineptitude of adults, or all of the above, but one thing’s for sure—entering the mind of a child hardly ever makes for a dull read!

Here are 9 Novels with Child Narrators

anthony burgess a clockwork orangeAlex, A Clockwork Orange

Anthony Burgess’s dystopian novel, published in 1962, is about a morally decrepit society, where children run around in gangs and commit heinous acts of violence. The novel is narrated in the first person by Alex, who is a 15-year-old sociopath. Alex’s narration makes for an interesting, if not disturbing, read. Burgess created entirely new words for his novel, as the young generation speaks in odd slang. The effect is both interesting and disquieting.  A Clockwork Orange was adapted into a critically-acclaimed film in 1971 by Stanley Kubrick.

Susie, The Lovely Bones

The best-selling 2002 novel by Alice Sebold is told from the perspective of Susie Salmon, a young girl raped and murdered, who is watching the world she left behind from heaven. What’s interesting about Sebold’s novel is her conception of heaven, which is unique to each person who resides there. Susie, who is only 14, must find a way to come to terms with her past and the life she left behind, while adapting to this new environment. In 2009, Peter Jackson directed the movie adaption of The Lovely Bones.

Jack, Room

Continuing with novels in the “creepy” category, we have Emma Donoghue’s Room with a child narrator. 5-year-old Jack was born in a small room, where he and his mother have been held captive all his life. His mother and “Old Nick” are the only people he knows, and he believes the room and the items in it are the entire world. Although sad and disturbing, Room is also driven by love, hope and a mother’s dedication to her son. A movie adaption is set to come out October 16 of this year.

Scout, To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird paperback
To Kill a Mockingbird

It’s no surprise that Scout makes our list, as Harper Lee’s classic novel is one of our favorites here at Ol’ Curiosities & Book Shoppe. Scout Finch narrates the novel as she reflects back on her time in the small town of Maycomb, Alabama as a child. She is a feisty and curious 6-year-old, and has since charmed readers for over 55 years. Harper Lee’s recently released sequel, Go Set a Watchman, catches up with Scout, who goes by Jean-Louise and who is now a grown up and returning home to visit her family.

Huck, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Mark Twain’s novel, published in 1885, remains a timeless classic and is often listed among the greatest American novels. Narrated by 13-year-old Huck, the story follows the boy and his friend, a runaway slave named Jim, as they flee home and travel down the Mississippi river. Huck Finn is often a subject of controversy—Twain uses satire to critique racism, but in doing so uses coarse language to portray the culture of the time.

Christopher, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Mark Haddon’s 2002 mystery novel is narrated by 15-year-old Christopher John Francis Boone, a young boy with autism who likely has Asperger’s Syndrome. Throughout the book, Christopher investigates the murder of a neighborhood dog and has exciting and frightening adventures along the way. Christopher’s unique way of thinking reveals a rich, lonely world that is often very disconnected from others. I highly recommend this gem of a novel with its unique child narrator.

Pi, Life of Pi

Yann Martel’s fantastical novel, Life of Pi, follows the adventures of 16-year-old Piscine Molitor Patel, who goes by Pi. Pi survives a shipwreck only to discover that he’s not the only occupant of his small life boat—he’s accompanied by a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan and a tiger named Richard Parker. Eventually his only company is the tiger, and Pi must rely on his courage and wits to develop a relationship with the animal. They end up spending 227 days on the water and go through some harrowing adventures. Life of Pi was adapted to film in 2012 by director Ang Lee.

The Catcher in the Rye child narratorHolden, The Catcher in the Rye

A list of child narrators would be incomplete without J.D. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield, the young narrator of The Catcher in the Rye. The novel, published in 1951, is a widely read classic and its narrator a teenage icon. Holden is only 16 when he leaves boarding school to avoid being kicked out, again. He travels to New York City where he spends the last of his money on a hotel room, food and booze. Holden is filled with angst and thinks the world is full of “phonies,” including himself. In his article, “J.D. Salinger,” New Yorker contributor Adam Gopnick wrote: “In American writing, there are three perfect books, which seem to speak to every reader and condition: ‘Huckleberry Finn,’ ‘The Great Gatsby,’ and ‘The Catcher in the Rye.’”

Ava, Swamplandia!

13-year-old Ava Bigtree narrates Karen Russell’s 2011 novel Swamplandia! The novel is about the Bigtree family, a family of alligator wrestlers who live in a theme park called Swamplandia. With the theme park in financial distress, the Bigtree family tries to find ways to save their home and way of life. The vibrant novel combines elements of Bildungsroman, Magical Realism and Southern Gothic.

Did we miss your favorite child narrator? Let us know! We’d love to hear from you.


Idabel Thompkins: The Fictional Harper Lee

Other Voices, Other Rooms
Idabel in Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote
Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote

In 1948, Truman Capote published his first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms. Like To Kill a Mockingbird—the first novel of his childhood friend, Harper Lee—this novel drew many elements from real life and was largely autobiographical. Just as Lee put her friend Capote in her novel as the character of Dill, Capote had done the same 12 years earlier—he based the character Idabel Thompkins on his longtime friend, Nelle Harper Lee.

Who is Idabel Thompkins?

Other Voices, Other Rooms is the story of Joel Knox, a sensitive 13-year-old who is summoned to live with his estranged father after the death of his mother. Joel arrives at Skully’s Landing only to encounter all the traditional Southern Gothic tropes—an isolated, once-grand, now-dilapidated mansion inhabited by strange characters. Like the House of Usher, the Landing is slowly sinking into the ground. Other Voices, Other Rooms is also a bildungsroman—it follows Joel in his journey of growing up and discovering his true self.

On the journey to his mysterious and secluded new home, Joel encounters his neighbors—twins Idabel and Florabel. Initially, Joel likes Florabel better because she is friendly and pretty, whereas Idabel seems tough and mean. Upon getting to know them, Joel discovers that Florabel is shallow and insincere—she constantly complains about her sister and schemes to get Idabel’s beloved hound, Henry, killed. So it is with Idabel that Joel slowly develops a strong friendship.

A Sensitive Tomboy

Idabel swears, spits, drinks and smokes cigarettes. She’s described as a wild tomboy who refuses to wear dresses and loves getting into dangerous situations. Her best friend is her old hound Henry, and she tries to run away when her sister convinces their father that Henry is sick and needs to be put down.

Joel first sees Idabel in the small town of Noon City near Skully’s Landing. She’s making trouble, “whooping like a wildwest Indian” and throwing rocks on the tin roof of the barbershop. A gang of other children is following her around, making a ruckus. Capote describes Idabel:

It was a girl with fiery dutchboy hair. She was about his height, and wore a pair of brown shorts and a yellow polo shirt. She was prancing back and forth in front of the tall, curious old house, thumbing her nose at the barber and twisting her face into evil shapes.

But Idabel turns out to be a more complicated character than merely a collection of tomboy stereotypes. She’s not afraid to admit that she cries sometimes, and she feels very alienated from the world. Near the end of the novel, she’s entranced by the dwarf Miss Wisteria, a carnival performer who feels similarly isolated and alienated from the world.

Idabel develops a strong bond with Joel, who is an outsider for the opposite reasons—he doesn’t conform to masculine conventions, as she doesn’t conform to feminine ones. This is the same bond that Harper Lee and Truman Capote shared as children. They kept each other company in the lonely world of being different—with each other, they felt special, not strange.

Idabel and Harper Lee

In his 1948 review of Other Voices, Other Rooms, New York Times writer Orville Prescott deemed Idabel “the most successful characterization” in the novel. From his earlier statements, we understand this to mean she is the most real, the most developed character of the book, more so than even the main character. Perhaps Capote was so successful in writing Idabel because he knew Harper Lee so well, even more than he knew himself at the time.

Have you read Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote? What are your thoughts on Idabel? Let us know in the comments section!