Many of us have fond memories of our mother, father, grandparents or teachers reading books to us. Some of us remember specific books that we loved to hear aloud. The parents among us can probably name the book or books they read to their own children a thousand times or more. That kind of reading still happens. Caryn Schafer reads aloud to children at Union Avenue Books each first and third Saturday. The Lawson McGhee Library also has a full slate of story-times.
Knoxville has somewhat of a children’s literary heritage. Francis Hodgson Burnett, author of The Secret Garden, lived in a home in downtown Knoxville overlooking the Tennessee River. I’m not sure children’s literature has always risen to the level of that classic. Today’s children are more apt to respond to something like the event held at Union Avenue Books this weekend celebrating the release of the new book in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. If you don’t know the series ask a middle school boy.
But Knoxville also has quite a heritage in adult literary fiction with notable authors such as James Agee and Cormac McCarthy. That literary standard is pursued by many fine Knoxville area writers today. Authors like John O. Hodges who spoke to the Knoxville Writer’s Guild this past week pursue literary non-fiction. His new memoir Delta Fragments: The Recollections of a Sharecropper’s Son was recently published by the University of Tennessee Press.
USA Today bestselling author and long time Knoxvillian, Pamela Schoenewaldt recently published her second novel for William Morrow entitled Swimming in the Moon and it appears destined to be a great success like her first. She read at Union Avenue Books on First Friday. Union Avenue Books hosts one or more authors almost every week, each reading, taking questions and signing books.
One of the absolute best experiences I’ve had with being read to in the city came last June when “Decoration Day,” a play by Linda Parsons Marion, was read by actors taking the various parts. No set, no costumes, nothing more than the words and a few hand gestures because they couldn’t help it, the power of the words carried the work. This particular reading called, I believe, a table reading, served to give feedback to the author, who was present and took the reactions and probing questions from the audience of about fifty or sixty people at the Lawson McGhee Library. It’s a hard thing for an author to learn to do – taking criticism of your latest work.
Several of the actors are well known in music circles; RB Morris, Kelle Jolly and Bob Deck. All the actors did an amazing job of conveying the emotion of the play without benefit of props and without leaving their chairs. As a result of the suggestions made, Linda tells me she and Jayne Morgan, the director, have re-worked the play considerably and she hopes to have it produced in Knoxville or elsewhere. Given the emotional power of the version I heard read, I can only imagine how amazing the play must be now and how much impact it would have given a full production.
Just yesterday, two very different readings were held downtown. The first was a reading of Macbeth by the Tennessee Stage Company. Not a production, the readers simply read the various parts of the play and some even read more than one. Two audience members also got pulled into the action and one of them stole the show. Like the reading from last June, this reading also proved to be very powerful, despite the missing elements of a full stage presentation.
I also learned a great deal about the play and its various incarnations through the years. Written around 1606, there are political subtleties throughout the play meant to please King James. It is also believed that some sections of the play were not written by Shakespeare, but were included later to help lengthen the relatively short piece. The most stunning revelation, for me, was that rival productions in New York City in the 1850’s resulted in rioting and eight deaths along with many injuries. That’s caring about your art!
From the library to the Pub, the written word spread around the city, yesterday. Sundress Publications hosted a poetry reading at Preservation Pub and, I believe, the intention is for it to be a regular event. It actually worked quite well, I thought, and the crowd response was very supportive, though some in the audience couldn’t help but continually sneak peeks at the Titan’s game. I was able to stay long enough to hear Karen Skolfield read from her new book and I enjoyed it very much.
So, how long has it been since someone read out loud to you? I’m not including your spouse reading an article for your edification. If it has been a long time, you might consider catching some of these great events. There is something comforting and pleasing about listening to good writing read aloud. You next opportunity is tonight and you get some music to go along with it. Tennessee Shines happens tonight and every Monday night at the Knoxville Visitor’s Center. For a mere $10 you get two artists and an author. Remind yourself what its like to be read to. You might be surprised at how much you enjoy it. It’s not just for children.