The South is frequently shrouded in the mists of a glorious history mixed with legends and lore. In “Chinaberries and Crows,” the premiere publication of Solomon and George Publishers, east Alabama writers contribute their ideas on the legacy of the place they call home.
“The wonder of that act leaves an afterglow in the burned air that surrounds this site.”
One of the “Chinaberries and Crows” contributors is Auburn University English professor Peter Huggins. Huggins is a poet and writer of fiction for children.
He decided to submit his piece, “Finding Bones,” to “Chinaberries and Crows” because of the title of the book.
“It is distinctive and catchy,” Huggins said. “I don’t have any chinaberries in my yard, but crows I have all the time. They’re a curious animal.”
Huggins said his submission is about a paleontologist and an unexpected discovery. Huggins said that behind the paleontologist’s house is, “a rather wooded, fairly isolated area, often visited by neighborhood kids, and a big dig sight – a big dinosaur dig site.” He said it is a humorous piece and full of wonder. Huggins has written other pieces that take place in Alabama, and he said discovery of various kinds is the common thread between them.
“Chinaberries and Crows” is not intended to depict Alabama using stereotypical romanticized images, and Huggins’ piece certainly does not. It represents Alabama in an extremely unique way because people don’t think of Alabama as a dinosaur site. Huggins said that he used “that unusual detail to highlight an aspect of the state that most people wouldn’t normally consider.”
“For most of my life I have been fascinated by crows.”
In James Buford’s story “Conversation with a Crow,” flashbacks to his youth show him as a passionate young man with an impressive imagination. The story contains personification of the birds and provides a deep level of introspection while retaining its light-hearted, upbeat feel. Buford humanizes crows by saying that crows “play elaborate jokes on other birds.”
This look into the psyche of the famous black bird brings back memories of childhood for readers all around. Buford’s literary portrait reminds us all of how powerful and important the human mind can be in giving an escape from reality and creating personalities for the world around you.
Buford plays on Edgar Allen Poe’s famous poem “The Raven” in the end of his conversation with the crow when the crow says, “Nevermore.” Such engaging banter in the conversation demonstrates the playfulness of Buford himself. He also shows his own frustration with not being respected and then catches his self-pity in an inner dialogue that he projects onto the crow. The masterful transformation that changes a creature so commonly seen in childhood into one that can reveal the true nature of Buford’s character makes this story an engaging and thought-provoking tale.
“They stood there, red Georgia dirt caking their bare feet, gnats swarming around their heads.”
Jessica Nelson is the director of communications for Auburn University’s Graduate School. She is a university recruiter and communication specialist.
Nelson grew up in south Georgia and moved to Bay Minette, Ala., for her high school years. She attended Judson College for her undergraduate degree and continued on to UNC at Chapel Hill for an MA in English. Nelson aspired to be a writer from an early age and she explains how she got her start.
“I’ve always been a reader, and I think almost everyone who worships books aspires to one day write,” Nelson said. “Although it would be an exaggeration to say that I have writing career, I think that getting a story on paper is a happy confluence of self-discipline, opportunity, a host of other favorable circumstances, such as a deadline.” Nelson’s experience in writing is extensive and diverse, and she currently designs and writes promotional material for the Auburn graduate programs.
Nelson’s contribution to “Chinaberries and Crows” is a short story about life off a “Dirt Road” for one impoverished family. The story follows a family of 11 children who find joy in the form of a broken down and sway backed horse. “Dirt Road is a wildly embellished version of a family story that I loved growing up. I was always in love with the idea of this broken down horse coming through for the win,” said the author. Nelson’s story is just a small glimpse into the southern culture of a dirt road, but she said that her story was written with a purpose. “The feeling that I hope lingers for readers is the pure joy of children. I think there is a cleansing power in being able to feel that kind of joy that is its own end and reward.”
“The storm came and went in a matter of minutes… and the aftermath was beautiful.”
Auburn University English professor and fiction writer Marian Carcache has been writing fiction for many years, but she knows there is something special about “Chinaberries and Crows.”
“When there was a call for submissions for the anthology (“Chinaberries and Crows”), I thought the story [“Wingflicks”] was a good fit for the east Alabama theme,” Carcache said.
“Wingflicks” examines the unique education of a young girl under her unconventional mother. The girl’s young mind is exposed to all of the intricacies of self-discovery as she examines the relationships of her mother and searches for the truth behind enigmatic pieces of wisdom from her part-time teacher. The crazy lovability of the peculiar characters is a theme that Carcache feels matches with the old South.
“I love the eccentricity of the people here,” Carcache said. “You had this very odd combination of people who knew manners and spoke grammar correctly but were crazy as they could be… so I like the character of the South.”
Carcache has received many awards for her writing in the past. One of her previous stories was turned into an opera and nominated for a PBS Emmy, and she has recently been given the Pushcart Prize for her story “Chicken with Stars.”
Chinaberries and Crows
The book will be released this May and can be found in bookstores everywhere. It will contain contributions from 47 poets and writers, including renowned Alabama writers Olivia Solomon and Anne George. For more information, contact Jay Lamar, director of the Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts and Humanities, at firstname.lastname@example.org.