Bill’s letter about Kathryn & Charlie, 3 Bombshells, and an Alabama Odyssey

Below is the most beautiful letter I have ever received about a book. I am especially grateful for this letter because it was written to us by Lucy’s beloved Milton professor from Sarah Lawrence College, Dr. William Shullenberger, just after her graduation in Bronxville in late May.

 

And today is our day off, but we are heading to Selma tomorrow for another storytelling workshop. We have art & storytelling workshops all week long at the following libraries.

 

 

June 18th 2:00 pm – Selma Dallas County Public Library

1103 Selma Ave Selma, AL 36703-4498

(334) 874-1725

 

June 19th 10:00 am – Gadsden Public Library

254 College St. Gadsden, AL 35901

(256) 549-4699

 

June 20th 10:00 am – Carl Elliot Regional Public Library

98 18th Street East Jasper, AL 35501

205-221-2568

 

June 21st 11:00 am – Choctaw County Public Library

124 North Academy Avenue, Butler, Alabama 36904

(205) 459-2542

 

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I’m also including two pictures, one of Norah with “Bill” when he lectured on Milton in Tuscaloosa in the spring and another that he took of Lucy and her painting of Milton next to Marilyn Monroe. He called it “Three Blonde Bombshells.” I’m also including a link to my favorite Milton essay by Dr. Alison Chapman about teaching PARADISE LOST at Donaldson Prison near Bessemer, Alabama.

 

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BILL’S LETTER

 

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 Dear Kerry and Lucy,

After the hustle and bustle had largely died down yesterday, and I spent some time putting the clutter of my office in a little bit more order, it was late middle afternoon and I knew I needed some refreshment, but that it was too late to get a lunch. So I went over the Starbucks in Bonkersville, and actually found a table to sit, and savor some coffee, and sample about half of one of their Panini’s.

I’d brought my bag with me and realized what I wanted to do to re-center and re-ground myself was to read your lovely book about Kathryn and Charlie.  Lucy, you’ll remember that I’d gotten to see the proofs of it, a little quickly, but it was so nice this time to just sit with the published version and let their story of friendship and affection and mutual respect unfold before my eyes and in my heart–it was just what I needed yesterday, and brought the events of the week–and of the years–into a deep and tender focus.  They are such a wonderful partnership in art and respect and innocence (Blake’s Innocence that is unassailable goodness) and love; and their mutual arts–Kathryn the storycatcher, Charlie the master of bricolage, assemblages of the tossed-away junk and bric-a-brac of our throwaway culture into eccentric and luminous discovery-forms–well, they are such noble and good people, the way that the ‘noble swineherd’ Eumaios in the Odyssey is so good.  That the story of their friendship unfolds in Selma is all the more wonderful; and that they got a gang of like=minded citizens together to blow their combs on the library lawn is a wonderful image of what Jesus meant by ‘the kingdom of heaven is in the midst of you’.

I love both the simple, pristine, generous, affection prose, and the beautiful, folksy, plainly and affectionately observed images, which tune to one another so beautifully.  Maybe my favorite moment, and page-spread, among the many, is near the center of the book:  ‘Kathryn told Charlie about catching stories . . . //  Then they were quiet, gazing at the plum sky of sparkling stars over France.’   What a beautiful pair of sentences–the attunement of the feeling of placid affection and trust to the deep providential beauty of the cosmos is just beautifully suggested.  And then, to gaze at the image of them gazing at the stars, their silhouettes haloed by the night sky, their ankles crossed, on that solid wood bench of earthmaterials as they lose themselves in the wonder of it all, it’s perfect.  It made me think, Lucy, of what I told you all of one of my favorite sentences in English prose, when Bloom and Stephen pass out of Bloom’s house in the predawn night, and behold:  ‘The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit’ (Ulysses 17.1039).  It is so hard to render the sublime in the ordinary moment, but there it is.

And then I came to the ‘About Kerry and Lucy’ page and there you were, the storycatcher and the collage-maker and image-capturer; and then I became conscious of what I think I knew was happening all along, that this is also not just a collaboration of two artists but as much a story of your friendship as it is a story of the friendship of Kathryn and Charlie.  And, as I know you know, such trusting and transforming friendships, between parent and child, mother and daughter, are so rare, and because so rare, inspiring.

So I hope you can see why I am so moved by, and grateful for, your gift–it is a perfect ‘graduation present’ for me!  I hope you’re barnstorming–and workshopping tour through the rural south will be a great odyssey, and I can’t think of anything better to be doing.  ‘We are our imaginations, and we die with them’, the critic Harold Bloom once wrote in explaining Blake’s fierce commitment to Imagination as the source of everything that matters in the world.  So, you are seeding and vivifying imaginations in the lives of the innocent who might otherwise be crushed.  Lucy, I don’t know that we’ll ever live next door to each other, but I will always keep your ‘Blond Milton’ on my wall and in my heart; and I am so glad that we have, in the last couple of years, formed a friendship too.

Thank you both, so much, and keep on keeping on!  I hope you had a lovely evening of it, and sorry I couldn’t have been there with you.

Ever,
Bill

 

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NORAH AND BILL IN TUSCALOOSA

 

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THREE BLONDE BOMBSHELLS

 

 

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MILTON’S CAPTIVE AUDIENCE:

Teach­ing Par­adise Lost in a Max­i­mum Secu­rity Prison by dr. Alison chapman

http://www.uab.edu/news/latest/item/853-uab-professors-prison-outreach-teaches-the-freedom-of-words?tmpl=component&print=1

http://www.uab.edu/uabmagazine/fall2011/cover/lifesentences/miltons-captive-audience

http://pms-journal.org/back-issues/nine/2009-memoir-chapman/

 

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Library Visit Number Four at the Hale County Library in Greensboro, AL!

Hale County, part of the Black Belt.

Greensboro – Catfish Capital of Alabama.

We began the morning with Lucy reading to us some James Agee/Walker Evans’ NOW LET US PRAISE FAMOUS MEN stories as we drove to Hale County Library in Greensboro, Alabama just southwest of Tuscaloosa and Moundville.

JAMES AGEE/WALKER EVANS LINKS

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/04/business/media/james-agees-article-as-cotton-tenants-three-families.html?emc=eta1&_r=1&

http://www.theawl.com/2013/06/james-agees-cotton-tenants-and-why-were-only-reading-it-now

The librarian, Carolyn Hemstreet, greeted us at the door and helped us carry our many art supplies, books, pictures etc into the little library on Main Street. The kids started showing up fast, and we began this workshop with stories of friendship and saying good-bye. (I’ve lived in 12 states, so I had to learn to say good-bye at a very early age.) But we talked about how Kathryn and Charlie met at 82 and 49 and became best friends, and how friendship can happen at any age if you’re lucky enough. The kids were so great and such good listeners, asking questions too.

Then Lucy talked about how she decided to illustrate the book which was by finding scraps of material, pine needles, buttons, sticks, a burlap sack from a bag of rice, and we showed the children some of her original art, which they matched up with the pictures in the book along with the book dummy she made when we were first starting out last summer.

Then we talked about gardens and trees and of all the trees we love – pecan, maple, oak, peach, orange, magnolia, palm, crepe myrtle, and so many others. Then kids began to make trees only this time we also talked about “drawing hearts too” and one girl, Hannah, drew a tree in the shape of a heart with the branches as the different ventricles. She wrote about what scared her (spiders), what excited her (family game night), what made her sad (dead animals on the side of the road) and what made her happy (visiting Alabama to see her Aunt Peggy.)

The kids just took off and began creating trees and stories. One boy, Curtis, said, “This man is hot and he is going to pick an apple off his apple tree because it’s a hot day, and he’s really thirsty.” His tree was of his family roots. It was really special listening to the kids describe their trees and families. Kids hung tire swings and wooden swings made of popsicle sticks from their trees and lots of buttons for fruit.

And Norah made friends with two sisters, Belle and Vivian, and the librarian said, “Look, they’re kindred spirits, aren’t they?” Long after the workshop ended the three were still talking. Vivian and Belle both drew pictures of their farm and the trees on the farm. 

After the workshop, we headed to PIE LAB for some amazing pies and barbecue, and a whole blueberry crunch pie found its way home with us.

At the counter at PIE LAB, a man said to me, “You’re famous.”

I said, “Not me.”

He said, “Yeah, you were on the cover of the newspaper today. Our Greensboro paper.”

I told him I hadn’t seen it yet, and he asked, “Are y’all fixing to eat lunch? I’ll go get you one.” And sure enough, he showed back up with the newspaper, and then we were.

Lucy said, “Slow news day,” but it was really fun to see our workshop announced on the front page, and 15 kids came to get summer reading started.

Anyway, PIE LAB is fantastic! 

http://pielab.org/

Afterwards, we drove to the Rural Studio of Auburn in Newbern, Alabama also in the Black Belt, where architectural students from Auburn build homes in the community out of recycled materials. Lucy and Norah both loved it! Danielle, in the office, gave us a tour of the grounds. Here is a link to the Rural Studio. I could have spent all day going around looking at the houses and park structures the students build, including a fire station in town too. It’s a whole different part of the South seeing a place like the Rural Studio.

http://www.ruralstudio.org/

Finally, we ended the day driving up one of the roads to where James Agee and Walker Evans spent time with the families in NOW LET US PRAISE FAMOUS MEN. (Carolyn, the librarian, said, “The book is only one small part of the story of Hale County. This was a very literary and cultured and somewhat affluent community, and a lot of people were not really very happy with the book.”) Anyway, as we headed up the winding road that grew more narrow, Lucy and Norah both agreed it was a road like in the film, SPIRITED AWAY (and I might add A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND too) because of the way the road changed from paved to red dirt and snaked up into the hills.

We didn’t stay too long.

But it was a lovely day of storytelling in Alabama, and oh! I almost forgot! At library, at the end of the workshop, a lady named, Peggy, who knew Kathryn, taught us to play hair combs, and I played “Amazing Grace” and “Jingle Bells” with Curtis. We’re still getting the hang of it.

Olive found her bone, which made her very happy in the midst of the kids at the library.

Here are some pictures. Thank you Hale County Library! 🙂

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Library VIsit Number Three in Scottboro, AL on the “Nothing Fancy” Tour! :)

Today was Scottsboro! Lucy’s a morning person, and Norah is not, although you will see by the first picture of the beautiful milkshake from Payne’s Drugstore on the town square that Norah had definitely revived herself with chocolate and maraschino cherries. Setting out, the GPS said one thing, and the I-Phone map said another, and because traffic was crazy through Birmingham with I-20 closed, we opted for the back-roads to Scottsboro, arriving at 9:59 for 10:00 a.m. workshop. YIKES! But the kids were ready and waiting – around 25 or so, and after telling some stories about Kathryn & Charlie being storycatchers and artists, the kids created everything from trees to gardens to the Hulk to flying cars to grape vines to tire swings to tomato plants to grape arbors with purple buttons to wrangling cowboys. They were such a great group of kids ranging from age three to sixteen with adults in the back listening too. I do believe this is the most fun book tour I’ve had getting to travel with both my daughters.

But we have realized that the only thing we’re missing is that we don’t have any hair combs. Kathryn always led “Comb Concerts” at the Selma Dallas County Public Library, so we’re making a visit to the store tonight for more buttons and some wax paper and hair combs to see if we can’t get the kids to play some music too. Here is an interview with Kathryn talking about playing the combs.

http://www.dailyworld.com/VideoNetwork/990332451001/Kathryn-Tucker-Windham-Giving-comb-lessons

Tomorrow is the Hale County Public Library in Greensboro, which is the “Catfish Capital” of Alabama. http://www.flickr.com/photos/deepfriedkudzu/27783128/

And guess who made a surprise visit to the workshop with kisses all around? 

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Library Visit Number Two in Birmingham, AL!

Just a ten minute drive over to this reading/workshop! It was nice turn out with about 10 kids who giggled at the way Charlie made art out of old found objects and then were thrilled to make their own “Charlie art” by gluing buttons, fabric, puzzle pieces, and string onto paper bags. Some made trees, but others saw the paper lunch bags and got the idea to make puppets out of them! Then our friend, Nancy, gave us the idea to create gardens out of all the materials, just like the garden that Kathryn and Charlie had growing between their houses. Great idea! We’ll try that one out next. Thanks so much to the Birmingham Public Library and Vincent, the children’s librarian, for a great second workshop of the tour! Next stop is Scottsboro, TN! Here are some shots from the morning:ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

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First Library Visit in Trussville, AL!

Even though we gave ourselves more than enough time to make it up to Trussville, traffic made us about twenty minutes late! We figured that the first visit couldn’t be perfect in order for the bar to not be set too high for the rest of the trip… that makes sense, right? Anyway, the visit itself went over very well! After talking about the book, we introduced our new art project! We had the kids create trees out of paper bags, buttons, puzzle pieces, string, pastels, and markers. The idea was to mimic Charlie’s style of collecting found objects and turning them into bits of art and it proved to be a hit! Thank you Laura and Maura, the lovely librarians who set the tour off on a fabulous foot! Next we have Birmingham then Scottsboro! Here are some pictures of us chatting and making trees: ImageImageImageImageImageImage

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Alabama Library Dates for NOTHING FANCY ABOUT KATHRYN & CHARLIE

We will be touring Alabama libraries this June to share the journey of Nothing Fancy About Kathryn & Charlie and offer free workshops in creative writing and found-object art to kids of all ages. Lucy will be posting photographs and stories from the road.

BOOK TOUR DATES for our picture book, “Nothing Fancy About Kathryn & Charlie” at Alabama Libraries across the state doing writing/art/storytelling workshops. Come see us if we are near you. We’ll also be posting pictures of the art and stories gathered along the way on the back roads of Alabama. Here is one of my favorite pictures on my way to a school visit in Monroe County.

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The ferry to Monroe Intermediate School in Lower Peachtree, Alabama in 2008

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2013 BOOK TOUR DATES for our picture book, “Nothing Fancy About Kathryn & Charlie” at Alabama Libraries across the state doing writing/art/storytelling workshops. Come see us if were are near you. 🙂

 

June 10th 6:00 pm – Trussville Public Library

201 Parkway Dr  Trussville, AL 35173

(205) 655-2022

 

June 12th 10:30 am – Birmingham Public Library

2100 Park Place · Birmingham AL 35203

(205) 226-3600

 

June 13th 10:00 am – Scottsboro Public Library
1002 S Broad St Scottsboro, AL 35768
(256) 574-4335

 

June 14th 10:00 am – Hale County Public Library

1103 Main St  Greensboro, AL 36744

(334) 624-3409

 

June 18th 2:00 pm – Selma Dallas County Public Library

1103 Selma Ave Selma, AL 36703-4498

(334) 874-1725

 

June 19th 10:00 am – Gadsden Public Library

254 College St. Gadsden, AL 35901;

(256) 549-4699

 

June 20th 10:00 am – Carl Elliot Regional Public Library

98 18th Street East Jasper, AL 35501

205-221-2568

 

June 21st 11:00 am – Choctaw County Public Library

124 North Academy Avenue, Butler, Alabama 36904

(205) 459-2542

 

June 24th 4:00 pm – Page & Palette

32 S Section St  Fairhope, AL 36532

(251) 928-5295

 

June 25th 10:00 am – Monroe County Public Library

121 Pineville Rd, Monroeville, AL 36460

(251) 743-3818

 

June 25th 1:00-5:00 pm. Super Institute in Monroeville, AL

Mocking Bird Moments: A Study of the Novel and Film

http://www.alabamahumanities.org/programs/super-teachers/summer2013/

11 W Claiborne St  Monroeville, AL 36460

(251) 575-4193

 

June 26th 1:00 Dothan Houston Public Library

212 W Burdeshaw St  Dothan, AL 36303

(334) 793-9767

 

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FIRST STOP: ALABAMA SCHOOL LIBRARY ASSOCIATION

We will be touring Alabama libraries this summer to share the journey of Nothing Fancy About Kathryn & Charlie and offer free workshops in creative writing and found-object art to kids of all ages.

Our first stop was this morning at the Alabama School Library Association at Irondale Middle School with Lanier Scott Isom, GRACE & GRIT, the story Lilly Ledbetter and novelist, Michael Morris, THE MAN IN THE BLUE MOON and A PLACE CALLED WIREGRASS. (Thank you, Elizabeth Hester!)

LANIER SCOTT ISOM http://www.lanierisom.com/site/

MICHAEL MORRIS http://www.michaelmorrisbooks.com/

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