Artists in Action: Southern literature highlighted with On the Brink
by Hervey Folsom
Special to The Star
Feb 05, 2010 | 1516 views |  0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Plantations and mansions may crumble over time, and traditions may change. But the stories Southerners write will survive. As we turn the pages of these books, we are looking at our own experience.

That’s why attending On The Brink on Feb. 13 at Jacksonville State University should be enjoyable and informative. The conference, a gathering of readers and writers, will be at the Stone Center Theatre, beginning with registration from 8-9 a.m. The forum continues until 3:30 p.m. with two sessions, lunch with the authors and book signings. Reservations ($45 for adults, $15 for students) should be made by 5 p.m. today by calling Gena Christopher at 256-782-5856 or contacting her at

Emerging writers take the stage at this annual event, reading from their works and answering questions from the audience.

“We tend to invite writers who have published a first or second book,” said Steven Whitton, professor of English at JSU. “Also, we present a slate of writers who represent as many literary genres as possible.”

This year, the writers have penned fiction, non-fiction, mystery and young-adult titles.

“In 2007 we featured a poet as well,” Whitton said. “Natasha Trethaway was here for On The Brink several weeks before she won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.”

Of the eight writers coming to the conference this year, two in particular lead us to compare and contrast our lives with the characters they write about, and they paint a realistic portrait with words on growing up in the South — with victories and shortcomings involved in the good life in Alabama and Georgia.

Melissa J. Delbridge’s Family Bible is a memoir and brings to light a most uncommon list of names and events in a family. Growing up in Tuscaloosa in the 1960s and ’70s, Delbridge saw values people lived by change drastically, and some of the transitions in her life were less than fond remembrances. But looking back, these painfully southern experiences became good memories, for she learned something from all these Southern people — from Jinkie, a stripper who experimented with drugs, to Kirby, a straightforward, wealthy friend who maintained a stellar scholastic record. They, as well as an unpredictable mother and father, have their places in Family Bible.

Delbridge lives in Chapel Hill, N.C., and she is an archivist in the Rare Book, Special Collections, and Manuscript Library at Duke University.

Amanda C. Gable is from Marietta, Ga., and teaches at Agnes Scott College. Her novel, The Confederate General Rides North, tells of a little girl growing into maturity as she takes an impromptu trip with her mother to Gettysburg, Penn.

Eleven-year-old Katherine McConnell is a Civil War buff and is so enchanted by Confederate generals that she imagines herself as one of them, bravely going into battle. She loves the adventure of visiting historic sites and battlefields on the trip, but soon must face some of the facts about the war and her heroes. She also questions the reason for the trip and, finally, must make a decision on her loyalty to her impulsive mother, and how she feels about the generals she admired.

“Katherine learns that there is more to the stories that she has heard or read in history books about the War Between the States, and about people she revered,” Gable said.

The South has its prolific contemporary writers, which adds to its rich legacy.

Prolific composers

How— and why — did J.S. Bach write so many works? What motivated the famous German Baroque composer’s constant expression in abundance and variety?

Ask his wife. Anna Magdalena Bach will be portrayed by pianist Gail Smith in “An Evening with Anna Magdalena Bach” as a segment of JSU’s Foothills Piano Festival on Feb. 12 at 7:30 p.m. in The Performance Center of Mason Hall.

Dressed in character as Bach’s second wife, Smith will provide insight into the esteemed musician’s life and beliefs by weaving events of his life in her narrative with tidbits of his compositions. Her purpose, she said, is to make the audience, especially younger people, better acquainted with Bach.

“Of course, he doesn’t need me to promote him,” Smith said in a telephone interview from her home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “His music is charming, intoxicating, and books are coming out all of the time about him.”

She will share her knowledge from extensive research about what it was probably like living with a genius, as told by his helpmate, a singer herself, who deeply appreciated his many chorales, minuets, sonatas and arias.

“He must have composed every day of his productive life,” Smith said. “He lived just over 65 years and wrote 1,127 works. He constantly supplied orchestras, violinists, church choirs, schools, his students and his children with works.”

Bach was organist and choir director for several churches. And as orchestras today learn, his concertos and suites are often in sets of six.

“He had a strong faith in God, and his sets of music were symbolically numerical of working six days a week and resting on the seventh,” she said.

“We really owe Bach for the technique he gave us. He was a humble man and wouldn’t spotlight himself. But as ‘a wife’ who admired him and transcribed his music, I can sing his praises.”

There is no admission fee for the program. For more information on the Foothills Piano Festival, call Wendy Faughn at 256-782-8258.

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