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Alabama: Places to Be and People to See

Posted: Apr 08, 2008

The Alabama Book Festival held in Montgomery, Alabama, is only in its third season and already it offers a unique opportunity for participants to meet and listen to over seventy authors, among them the Pulitzer Prize winning poet Natasha Trethewey (who is featured this month on Swampland), Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Rick Bragg who happens to be an Alabamian (pictured), Cassandra King  (featured on Swampland Conversations this past September), and a host of other novelists, poets, historians, storytellers, and even the author of the award winning cookbook A Love Affair with Southern Cooking. There will be six stages where authors will read and speak and where drama and music will be performed. This event will take place on Saturday, April 19th, at Old Alabama Town in Montgomery.

While all this excitement is going on in Montgomery, I will be chowing down on fried oysters and collard greens and other southern delights at Pickett Place on opening night of the Alabama Studio Weekend in the Quad Cities (Florence, Tuscumbia, Sheffield, and Muscle Shoals). This weekend is hosted by three award winning artists—designers Alabama Chanin and Billy Reid and photographer Robert Rausch—at various venues throughout the Shoals.

I look forward to two glorious days of art, music, design, and lots of good southern food. Did I mention food? The seven course dinner on Saturday night (held at Ivy Green) is being catered by chefs from Alabama such as Chef Steve Walton (named Alabama Chef of the Year for 2007), Chef de Cuisine Joshua Quick of the 360 Grille, Chef Ryan Matthews of the Marriott Shoals Conference Center, Chef Justin Herring of the Bronzeback Café Restaurant, Chef David Mashburn of Classic on Noble in Anniston, Alabama, Wallace Ricks, and sous chef Chuck Pilkinton. (Tickets for the dinner are $40 per person and must be purchased in advance.) Dessert—homemade bread pudding with rum sauce from by Laura Hester of Red Gingham Gourmet and Ruby Tiggs’ strawberry cobbler from Alabama grown strawberries—will be served at GAS Studios in downtown Tuscumbia just across from Cold Spring Park where the sculpture Sacred Tears by Branko Medenica stands. Following a day of activities (including Chanin’s picnic at McFarland Park and closing party at GAS Studios), I expect to fall contentedly into my bed at the charming Coldwater Inn.

Last year my debut article for Swampland was a feature on the first Alabama Adventure Weekend. This year’s event promises to be equally exciting. Watch Swampland for a special feature on this extraordinary celebration.

I hope you have read my feature on poet Natasha Trethewey. I had the pleasure of meeting Trethewey on April 1st at Athens State University . She is as gracious and charming as she is beautiful and talented, and she reads her poetry with the voice of an angel (although she confesses to having a fondness for ghosts). Trethewey’s work is lucid, honest and finely crafted. The ghosts that inhabit her poems—those from her own past, as well as those of the Native Guardsmen she writes about, and Ophelia of Storyville—speak from the grave to those of us who listen.  You can read three of Trethewey's poems on Swampland under RiverVue/Discourse.

--Penne J. Laubenthal

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