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Six Degrees of Separation

Posted: Jan 13, 2008

In the south we not only claim kin we also claim friends. I have learned that behind every new acquaintance there lies the possibility of finding an old friend—not to mention discovering a new one. Such was the case this week when I was working on a feature about internationally renowned sculptor Branko Medenica. Branko is best known in this area of Alabama for the powerfully moving statue of a Native American woman carrying her baby while a tear runs down her cheek and the widely acclaimed sculpture of Olympian Jesse Owens. The statue of the woman overlooks Spring Park in Tuscumbia, Alabama, and the Jesse Owens sculpture is the centerpiece of the Jesse Owens Park and Museum near his birthplace of Oakville, Alabama.

While researching the work of Medenica, it occurred to me that my friend Charles Ghigna might be acquainted with him as they are both artists living in or near Birmingham, Alabama. So I dashed off a note to Chuck and, indeed, they are not only acquaintances but good friends and have been for thirty-four years. Chuck even composed the inscription for the Jesse Owens monument. Such a connection might not mean much to most people, but I take intense delight in making connections, finding the common threads that bind us all.

For example, in a couple of weeks I will be headed  to Mississippi to attend the Oxford Film Festival (check out the feature on OFF this week on Swampland). One of the directors of the festival, Molly Fergusson, is the daughter of a woman whom I met purely by accident at a Sigmund Freud Convention in Columbia, South Carolina, in the mid ‘80s. She was working on a paper on Jerzy Kosinski at the time. I was very impressed by someone interested in both Freud and Kosinski We swore to keep in touch, and four years ago I drove to North Carolina to attend her daughter's wedding. Dianne, Molly's mom, and I still email several times a week, and of course, we will reconnect at OFF. It was through Molly and Dianne that I heard about the award winning documentary Darius Goes West and was inspired to do an interview with the creator/director Logan Smalley for Swampland.

Later this month, I will post an interview with an old friend Deryle Perryman, one of the creators and directors of the documentary Dangerous Highway, about the life of Eddie Hinton. I have known Deryle for as long as Chuck as known Branko. While talking to Deryle, I asked if he knew JPW who posts the blog Alabama Ass Whuppin'. Turns out they are both from Florence, Alabama.  Not only do acquaintances lead to friends, film festivals lead to film festivals and so I have now added attending film festivals to my list of “to dos.”

Speaking of festivals and conferences, there are a several literary conferences coming up this spring. Here is a partial listing. For an extensive listing, you can go to this clearing house site for festivals in the US.

A newcomer on the agenda is the First Annual Savannah Book Festival which will take place on Saturday, February 2, 2008, from 10:00 am to 4:00 PM in historic downtown Savannah, Georgia. The event is free.

An ever popular venue is the Southern Voices Conference which will be held Feb 14-17 in Hoover, Alabama, and on the same weekend over in Georgia in the charming little town of Dahlonega, the Fifth Annual Dahlonega Literary Festival will be held February 15-17.

The 2008 Mid South Creative Nonfiction Writers Conference is February 28 through March 2 in Oxford, Mississippi. The theme this year is Journeys: Memoir and Travel writing.

An exciting weekend not to be missed will take place on March 7-8 in Birmingham, Alabama: Writing Today at Birmingham-Southern College. Major Speakers include Books-A-Million Grand Master Walter Mosley, Frank Deford, and Juliana Baggott (aka N.E. Bode ).

If you have been craving a trip to the Big Easy, the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival will be held in New Orleans, LA, March 26-30.

Chattanooga's Arts & Education Council has announced the lineup of writers who will be featured speakers at the biennial Chattanooga Festival of Writers to be held March 28-29. This year's Festival has grown to meet demand after the first Chattanooga Festival of Writers sold out in 2006.

And last, but by no means least, is the fabulous Oxford Conference for the Book to be held April 3-5 in Oxford, Mississippi—a place I hope you may have become very familiar with by now. The 2008 conference is dedicated to writer, folklorist, and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston (1891–1960), who was associated with the Harlem Renaissance and who helped bring Southern African American culture to mainstream America through her fieldwork, novels, short stories, and dramatic presentations during the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s. In addition to presentations by scholars, journalists (including Hank Klibanoff), and creative writers, film adaptations of Hurston’s fiction and a documentary about her life will be screened.
The Sahara of the Bozarts, as the south was once referred to by H. L. Mencken, has definately become a cultural garden. In 1917 Mencken wrote: “There are no committees down there (the south) cadging subscriptions for orchestras; if a string quartet is ever heard there, the news of it has never come out; an opera troupe, when it roves the land, is a nine days' wonder…. Everywhere else the wave rolls high--but along the line of the Potomac it breaks upon a rock-bound shore. There is no little theater beyond. There is no gallery of pictures. No artist ever gives exhibitions. No one talks of such things. No one seems to be interested in such things.”

At least as pleasurable as discovering six degrees of separation is the joy of proving H. L. Mencken wrong. Be sure to stop and smell the roses.

---Penne J. Laubenthal

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asmweed says...

I dearly love reading articles by Dr. Laubenthal. She is a lifelong friend of mine and I was privileged to have her as my Literature professor in college. She's a delight to read and I'll just say this, "Sometimes we claim friends more often than we clam kin." Keep 'em coming Penne... I love you!

CAFIELD says...

Thank goodness for the energy of "synchronicity". It eventually gets us all together. Thanks, Penne, for the reminder.

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