I'm sorry that I have been neglecting the blog lately, but I have been extremely busy with work. We are so far behind schedule at the moment (for various reasons beyond our control), and I have had out-of-town business trips.
My most recent trip was to the Alabama Writers Symposium. It is held in Monroeville, Alabama, each year, and at each conference the board gives out two awards--one of which is the Harper Lee Award. As you may know, Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird, rarely makes public appearances and has not given an interview in over 45 years. Well, imagine my surprise when I actually saw her this weekend! She attended the awards luncheon and was present to watch Fannie Flagg receive the Harper Lee Award! Very exciting!
This is actually the second time I have seen Ms. Lee. A few years ago, I was in the Gorgas Library coffee shop and saw one of my former professors having coffee with her. No one bothered her for a couple of reasons: 1) it just isn't done; 2) I don't think many people recognized her. Anyway, I didn't say anything to her then, other than, "Hello." I simply sat down at the table next to her, where I had already set up for office hours, and drank my coffee. I tried my best to look calm and controlled, but inside I was screaming, "HARPER LEE IS SITTING RIGHT NEXT TO ME!!!"
(Taken from the balcony of the old Monroeville courthouse. If you remember the movie To Kill a Mockingbird, there is a scene where Scout is sitting on the floor of the balcony. Harper Lee used to sit up there and watch her father in court. Photo is mine.)
Anyway, she unexpected showed up at the awards luncheon in Monroeville last weekend, like I said. Again, I didn't speak to her or take pictures, because she hates that kind of thing. Though she is in a wheelchair now, her mind is as sharp as ever. My friends Bob and Allen, who were with me in Oxford a few years ago, know her well. They were at the symposium, too, and actually went to visit Ms. Lee at her home that morning. She is just amazing.
Anyway, back to the weekend.
WOW. Such a great experience. If you live in Alabama or if your state hosts something like the Alabama Writers Symposium, I would definitely recommend that you go! It is such a great event for writers and readers, alike. I felt so inspired each day. Also, for the first time, I appreciated literature written by authors from my home state. It really is amazing. We forget the talent around us until we see it face to face. I got to hear amazing authors read from and discuss their works. My favorites, other than Fannie Flagg, of course, were Allen Tullos, Trudier Harris, Kerry Madden, and Jeanie Thompson. Dr. Harris teaches in the UA English department, and though I have never met her, I loved her presentation. I also loved meeting the YA authors, especially Kerry Madden. And Jeanie Thompson delivered some amazing poetry written from an imagined adult Helen Keller's point of view. Fascinating.
(Fannie Flagg signing books after the awards lunch. My friends Allen and Bob are standing there, too. Photo is mine.)
Fannie Flagg was so gracious and inspiring to listen to, as well. She met Harper Lee years ago in New York, right at a time when Flagg had almost decided to give up writing. Lee inspired her to go on...and thank goodness, too, because I don't know what I would do without the novel Fried Green Tomatoes!
I also got to see Dr. Ulmer, a professor in our English department, receive an award. It is well deserved, for he is an amazing professor!
But more than anything else, I enjoyed the unexpected pleasure of being reunited with my friends Bob and Allen. We have not seen much of each other since our trip to England in 2009 (posts begin here), and this was the perfect time to get back together! Literature always comes alive around the two of them, and I have had my most amazing experiences with them. Bob taught me Shakespeare years ago, and Allen teaches Latin and for the honors program here at the university. I just love them, and I can't imagine a more perfect weekend!
(The famous tree from To Kill a Mockingbird. The old courthouse is now a museum and a great place to visit. Photo is mine.)
Of course, the symposium offers more than just authors talking about their books. There is a production of To Kill a Mockingbird (usually put on in the historic Monroeville courthouse, which served as a model for its exact replica in the movie). The hosts of the symposium also have a fish fry on the courthouse lawn, and the lunches are wonderful.
Anyway, it was a great experience and I had a wonderful time!