In the South, Storytellin’ is an acceptable art form…for some unknown reason Southern Folks who are Artists of any kind are reluctant to say-
- ‘I’m a musician or
- ‘I’m an artist’ and for sure-
- They won’t own up to saying- ‘I’m a writer’
…Maybe it’s because Southern Folks have always been fiddlin’, piddlin’ or storytellin’ as a Pastime. To us, these art forms don’t sound like an Honest Day’s Work for an Honest Day’s Pay. No, it’s more like ways to earn a little extra money or have a little extra fun. Hard working folks didn’t idle away their time- piddlin’- for a Living. Their folks told them- ‘There ain’t no money in it.’ Of course, if you did make some money at it- that wouldn’t be something you’d want to brag about, unless you could connect it to something God-given- that’s different- it’s inspired. Still, you wouldn’t want to brag on yourself. Now, to be honest, there are some stunning examples of Southerners who’ve made it big in Artistic Pursuits, yet for some reason, even now, we tend to think- apart from the Lord, it’s a little Scandalous. For instance, Hank Williams was probably the most prolific songwriter of his time, maybe ever. It took Hank to an early grave since he needed to be a bit inebriated to get going good. We appreciate his music and sympathize with his brand of inspiration, but it’s sort of scandalous, if you get my drift.
There are so many blends of culture in the South- the Art and Music we’ve brought forth is astounding and generally born of suffering and hardship.
- Blues, Jazz,
- Soul, Country,
- Blue Grass and Gospel
Seem to rise up like mists from the soil, the sweat and the seawater… All of it intertwines with telling the Story of sin, heartache, love, loneliness and hard times- hopefully with some kind of happy ending. Still. I’ve come to believe Southern Storytellin’ is a way to expound, explain or exaggerate- a Cry to be Heard or a Way to Entertain, I’m never sure which… so, as I often say- ‘Like All Southern Tales, it’s Part Truth, Part Myth and Part Outright Lies.’
The best Storytellin’ arises from Mildly Bizarre to Tenderhearted on over to Downright Insanity. Exaggerated or not. Storytellin’ has to include ways to get attention, play on the emotions. High minded folks have elevated our Arts to Folk Art. Our Music to the Universal. These are just other terms for the ways of life that we Southerners have lived and become, and we tell it by fiddlin’, piddlin’ or storytellin’.
Take these three Storytellers… they probably cringed a little when they first were called Writers. Now, please understand, these are by no means, ALL of my favorites Authors- there are so many Southern Authors- it’d be hard to choose just a few. Fanny Flagg, Mark Childress and Patti Callahan Henry happen to be from my home state and I’m reading them right now. In their own way these books are Southern Love Letters, Odes to a Way of Life and the Stark Contrasts only a true Southerner can understand.
Patti Callahan Henry is the relative newcomer to the bunch, but she’s already something else, as we say. She’s a New York Times Bestselling Author who does speaking engagements on the Importance of Storytelling. This little book- is a Holiday Story, a tender love story, called The Perfect Love Song– It’s about thinking you’ve finally gotten everything only to find out,..well I’ll let you read it for yourself. She spins quite a tale- unexpected but really not, if you’ve had your dreams for the big time and you happen to be from the South. Patti Callahan Henry has lived in a part of Alabama I know quite well- yet her range of understanding Southern Folks from different backgrounds makes me believe she knows something about Storytellin’ and I like it.
Then there is the ever zany and brilliant Fannie Flagg– who I consider to be a modern day Folk Hero, because of her most famous work – Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café– which earned her the praise of- none other than two very famous Southern Female Authors, Eudora Welty and Harper Lee and a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize. The screen version- Fried Green Tomatoes- brought even more nominations for the Academy Award and Screenwriters Guild of America. Fried Green Tomatoes is based on a hugely popular down home restaurant- called The Irondale Café which still sits beside an active railroad close to Birmingham, Alabama I must admit- I love this about Fannie Flagg too… she was a staff writer for the hysterical Television Show- Candid Camera. Flagg is a Southern Storyteller. This little Christmas book- A Redbird Christmas is just as sweet and funny as can be- light reading as we say, set in one of my favorite places on earth in South Alabama…
And, there’s the profoundly outrageous Mark Childress whose novel, Crazy in Alabama also became a movie and found worldwide fame and is totally crazy! Childress has been writing for years, this novel isn’t new- I’d seen the movie so I wanted to read the book too. I had enjoyed his articles in Southern Living and the Birmingham News before I realized he was becoming such an amazing Storyteller. Born in Monroeville, Alabama, the hometown of Harper Lee– famed author of To Kill a Mockingbird and the town where Truman Capote spent many of his boyhood summers- Childress is a distinct Author of quite a different sort than Capote and Harper Lee. He frames himself like most Southern writers- with an unmistakable Inferiority Complex born of being from the eccentric South- though he lived in several states- thankfully he still claims us as his own. Childress tells a story about his fellow Alabamian and acclaimed Author- Winston Groom. After toiling in the humid region of Mobile Bay, just about the time Childress and Fannie Flagg were writing down there too- one day, Winston Groom slapped a manuscript on Mark Childress’ kitchen table and said something like ‘This one’ll never be made into a movie!’ Well… it was made into a movie- that manuscript was none other than Forrest Gump. Sweet Crazy and Funny, still a hit with me- Winston Groom didn’t seem to think much of his storytellin’ at that moment- but look what happened! That’s an Alabama writer for you, a bit eccentric, a bit cynical and definitely not so sure of himself. When you read Mark Childress’ work, it sneaks up on you; you’re reeled in, rolling with laughter one minute- revolted the next…then before you know it- you’re left with profound truths. Sweet, Funny, Crazy- from just a few wonderful folks. A small sample of bonafide Writers- Authors you might call them; somehow I think they’d prefer to be called Storytellers who understand this beautiful place we call our Sweet Home in Alabama.
Love y’all, Camellia
*This is not a sponsored post, just my humble opinion…photographs are obviously mine.
Visit Patti Callahan Henry for a look at her life and wonderful novels at www.patticallahanhenry
Fannie Flagg can be found at her official site to find out more about her books and movie.
CrazyinAlabama.com for a visit with Mark Childress and a look at his wonderful books!