Maybe it's tough to imagine now, when all a creative small-town girl needs to reach into the wide cultural world is an Internet connection and a desire to hear music from anywhere, from everywhere, but it used to be that whole sounds and styles of music were geographically defined. We had 'em here: Atlanta hip-hop in the '90s, jangly Athens rock before that. Music made by diverse people who still walked the same streets and ate at the same restaurants. And Memphis in the '60s and '70s had that, too. Author Robert Gordon tells the story of that sound in his new book, Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion, published in November.
To some ears, the Memphis-based Stax label put out the most searing, most soaring, most enduring, and most danceable American music at the time. Its raw, emotional soul music stands in counterpoint to the sweeter Motown sound of the same time - though they're complementary, like the Beatles and the Stones, scratching two different itches on the same body. Artists like Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Sam and Dave, Wilson Pickett, the Staple Singers, and William Bell - all backed by integrated house band Booker T. & the M.G.'s - became stars thanks to the efforts of the Stax Records crew.
Take a minute today to revisit Andrew Aydin's story of the influential comic book, Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story. As Aydin notes, the comic book helped radicalize a number of important organizers in the Civil Rights movement:
In January of 1960, Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story found its way to Greensboro, N.C., and into the hands of 18-year-old North Carolina A&T State University student Ezell Blair. After reading it, Blair decided to show it to his roommate, Joseph McNeil. Blair and McNeil had been in contact with local civil rights activists but, as the story goes, it was when McNeil finished reading the comic book that he made a decision of historic importance, declaring, "Let's have a boycott!"
In it, Warnock, who inherited King's former pulpit as current senior pastor of Ebenezer, addresses the spiritual depletion of the black church, which he says has largely abandoned its mission of communal uplift and providing a voice for the voiceless in recent decades for an increased focus on personal prosperity.
During a recent interview with Michel Martin of NPR's "Tell Me More," he advocated for a return to the kind of values for which Dr. King stood, including speaking truth to power, even in the age of the first black president, and fighting for equal rights for members of the LGBT community:
MARTIN: Do you feel that that kind of challenge to authority has been quiet these recent years in part because there is an African-American president in the White House and many people of color, including African-American preachers like yourself, feel that it would be, you know, disloyal, unhelpful to criticize this president or this leadership in such a pointed fashion now?
WARNOCK: Oh, Michel, I think that there is a deafening and shameful silence on the part not only the black church, but of the community of faith in general in America. And that's been the case for a very long time. As we are debating issues that have to do with the soul of America - wealth, inequality, minimum wage. As we deal with the fact that 25 percent of the world's prisoners are housed in the United States of America. And so in the book I call the black church because it has been the conscience of America to rediscover its liberationist's roots. And speak truth to power no matter who's in the White House.
MARTIN: But, there are other ways that, though - in which African-American pastors have been very prominent in the recent era, some. I mean, we're obviously talking about, kind of, a big group of people with lots of different points of view. But a number of African-American pastors have become prominent in the fight against LGBT rights. For example, opposing same-sex marriage, you know, on the one hand. And also, another group of pastors who've become prominent around the so-called prosperity gospel - do you have an indictment of them - and who feel very strongly in encouraging people to seek material success? What's wrong with that?
WARNOCK: This is why we need a conversation between our pastors and the best of our theologians, specifically those in the black theology movement. The black church was born fighting for freedom. At our best, we've never fought against anybody's freedom. And so in this conversation about marriage equality, about the concerns raised by our gay and lesbian sisters and brothers, part of what the black church needs to be reminded of is the fact that those who supported slavery, those who argued vociferously for slavery, had every bit as much scripture, if not more, on their side of the argument as those who argued against slavery. So we really need an honest conversation about the nature of Christian faith. And I argue that at its best, the Christian faith is about freedom. It's about justice. It's about liberation. It certainly is about the formation of individual spirituality, but that spirituality ought to send one into the world fighting for something other than one's own personal prosperity.
Listen to the interview in its entirety below the jump:
The 2014 CL / WRITE CLUB Atlanta Fiction Contest Word Fight Rekindle Your New Year's Hangover Party on January 9 at the Highland Inn Ballroom had four things going for it: a wordy name, stellar stories, Larceny Bourbon cocktails, and Jeffrey Butzer. Winners D.C. Hodgens, Kate Sweeney, and Alex Gallo-Brown read their winning stories from this year's Fiction Contest issue. With the largest crowd in the history of the contest, everyone was a winner even if they lost the battle.
The winner of this year's Townsend Prize will be announced at an award ceremony on Thurs., April 24, 2014 at Atlanta Botanical Garden's Day Hall. The National Book Award-winning author Jesmyn Ward will be the keynote speaker.
The 2014 Townsend Prize for fiction finalists are:
Accidents of Providence by Stacia Brown
The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont
Someone Else's Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson
Where You Can Find Me by Sheri Joseph
Pickett's Charge by Charles McNair
I Want to Show You More (stories) by Jamie Quatro
A True History of the Captivation, Transport to Strange Lands, & Deliverance of Hannah Guttentag by Josh Russell
A Place at the Table by Susan Rebecca White
Emerson's Brother by Philip Lee Williams
God Carlos by Anthony Winker
In January of 2013, George Saunders published his seventh book, a collection of stories titled Tenth of December. That same week, The New York Times Magazine published a cover story titled, "George Saunders Has Written the Best Book You'll Read This Year." Attention and praise followed in unusual degrees. It was, oddly, a breakout year for an already celebrated author.
Saunders will be in Atlanta on Tues., Jan 7 at 7 p.m. to speak at the Highland Inn Ballroom Lounge to celebrate the paperback release of the Tenth of December. I caught up with Saunders last week to talk about the book, writing, and the past year.
Is it safe to assume that this has been a good year for you?
Oh, yeah, the best. I wonder what was going wrong all of those other years.
It was about a year ago that New York Times piece came out and it just kind of - I don't know - it was a multiplier. I thought I was doing pretty good before that, but this year the crowds got bigger, the attention was more. I always feel inclined to be a little cynical about it, but honestly it was so much fun. I have no complaints.
Were you able to keep writing during the promotion for the book?
When the book came out in hardcover, it was a month straight of just mayhem. But then, you would look up and there'd be seven days where you weren't doing anything. Then, I had a great summer where I didn't do anything but write for three months.
So, I think I made some good progress on this new thing, but it was different than my usual. My usual routine is just to write everyday for four, five, six, or seven months. I had to kind of take it when I could get it with this. Now, I'm just starting to reel that in a bit and I'm going to not travel after May for a couple of years. But, you're right, that was the biggest challenge.
We see Robert Woodruff, thin cigar dangling from his lips, alongside a quick note from Randy Gue. Jelani Cobb waxes poetic on a portrait of the Reverend Hosea Williams in mid-explanation. The cartoonist Ed Dodd grips a big pipe with his grin next to a little remembrance from Candice Dyer. Bill Arnett, whose collection is featured in this week's issue, gets a particularly poetic treatment from Kevin Sipp. The cumulative affect has the tone of a sentimental token, but also a focused, eloquent reminder of people whose lives continue to be felt in Atlanta today.
Constance Lewis and Jerry Cullum collaborated to make the book as companion to Lucinda Bunnen: Georgia Portraits, now on exhibition at the Atlanta Preservation Center's Drawing Room Gallery.
Lewis wrote me this week to explain a little more about the project, saying, "We wanted it to be a poetic little keepsake - something that served as an alternative to the traditional galley catalogue/guide - that reminded us both of the "chapbook" from the old Nexus days; and, we wanted to bring the vintage photographs into a contemporary dialogue by asking a handful of local, knowledgeable curators and writers to select a photograph from the series and give a short, spontaneous response (within a tight framework of 250 words only and a two-week deadline). It was a very 'spontaneous' undertaking that is very likely to become a larger volume in the future."
The book, which is available in a limited edition of 150 copies, is available at the Atlanta Preservation Center for $20.
Meltzer is the host of Decoded, a History network show that seriously explores wing nut conspiracy theories. The book is very much a companion piece to that breezy yet oddly straight-faced treatment of crackpot theorizing. The intent is never to actually prove or disprove, say, the existence of UFOs at Area 51 or who killed JFK, but rather to give just enough consideration to theories of "The Babuska Lady" or large-eyed ETs to render them "unanswered."
I caught Meltzer on the phone this afternoon and asked him, "How it is possible to ever know anything?" He almost balked at trudging through some epistemology 101 philosophizing and then conceded, "Everything is perspective ... One writer will take a document and say a thing about it and another writer will take the exact same object and say that it proves the exact opposite thing." Thus, the fun with the fascimile documents folded into each chapter of History Decoded. They can mean whatever you want them to mean.
Brad Meltzer discusses History Decoded at the Morris and Rae Frank Theatre at the MJCCA tonight Thurs., Oct. 24 at 6:45 p.m.
This book has everything your friend probably loves: an awkward, bumbling protagonist with a street smart, comic relief sidekick, scheming lawyers, a love interest subplot, strippers, the CIA and the mob.
All these factions come together as the main character, Eben Burnham - a young lawyer working at his family's firm - aims to develop, with the help of his physics professor friend, technology that constructs computers to run on the laws of quantum physics. Quantum physics plays a big role in the novel, as Eben is an amateur physics buff. The references to physics and how Eben integrates their principles into understanding his daily life starts out interesting, but is overdone and, adding little to the development of the character or the plot, makes the story drag.
As per a press release sent out this afternoon, the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, host to many authors including recently Colum McCann and George Packer, is "closed pending a resolution." This means that events, like next week's lecture by Deni Bechard about Empty Hands, Open Arms are scrambling for new locations. In the case of Bechard, the Decatur Library has stepped up to host the event on Mon., Oct. 7 at 7:15 p.m.
With the resolution of the shutdown uncertain, the fate and location of other upcoming events now seems unclear. Former Poet Laureate Billy Collins is scheduled to speak at the Presidential Library on Wed., Oct. 23 in support of his new collection, Aimless Love. We'll keep you update as to the status of these events as they change.
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