Archive for September, 2009


“This Day In Civil Rights History”

September 30, 2009

Last week, The Rap Sheet published my reflections on Ed Lacy’s Room to Swing as part of its regular Friday blog series, and editor J. Kingston Pierce was kind enough to schedule that essay on September 25, the anniversary of the day the Little Rock Nine finally entered Central High School in 1957, the same year the book itself was published.

While I wish I could say I had such dates on instant recall in my mind, the truth is that I don’t and I just happened to come across the anniversary when I was flipping through a new book I’d like to recommend here: This Day In Civil Rights History by Horace Randall Williams and Ben Beard. As the title promises, the book offers daily mini-essays on major historical events. Just for a quick sampling: April 16, 1963 was the day that Martin Luther King Jr. released his famous “Letter From A Birmingham Jail,” and  June 21, 1964 was the day that civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner was murdered near Philadelphia, Mississippi. Milestone dates, of course, and well known, but the book also offers less obvious choices, such as November 9, 1968, when James Brown first performed his song “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.” There are 366 essays in all, when you take into account leap-year, and not incidentally, February 29 was the day in 1940 when Hattie McDaniel won an Academy Award for her role in Gone With The Wind — as the book emphasizes, “the first African American not only win an Oscar but also to attend the ceremony as a guest instead of a servant.”

While most of the events commemorated here fall during the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s — what we traditionally think of as the Civil Rights Era — the book importantly stretches outside of that narrowest of definitions. On September 20, for example, you’ll learn that Maryland passed the nation’s first miscegenation laws on that date in 1664 — and that Alabama was the last state to hang on to such laws, right up into the 21st century. And the span of that entry is important, because the book stresses that civil rights news and issues persist up to to very recent history, whether the Confederate flag controversy in 1998 (October 14) or the reopening of the Emmett Till murder case in 2004 (May 10).

As for today, September 30, it’s an important anniversary as well, with an entry looking back to 1962:

On this day in civil rights history, a deal was struck between segregationist Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett and U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy to allow the enrollment at the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) of its first African American student, James Meredith….

Needless to say, This Day In Civil Rights History is a rich and fascinating book — enough to keep you reading it (dare I say it?) all year round.

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James Ellroy On Washington Post Podcast & In Person

September 26, 2009

Tonight (Saturday, September 26), James Ellroy appears at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland as the closing event of the 2009 Fall for the Book festival. I’ll be introducing Ellroy at tonight’s event, and my recent interview with Ellroy has been posted on the Washington Post Book World’s website here. (Listen directly by clicking here.)

UPDATE: The Ellroy event went great — half-sermonizing, half-showmanship, and all of it celebrating the “printed word,” specifically Ellroy’s own, of course. See a pic and a recap here.


“Room to Swing” at The Rap Sheet

September 25, 2009

RoomToSwingFI’m honored that the The Rap Sheet has chosen to run my short essay on Ed Lacy’s Room To Swing as part of their ongoing Friday blog series “The Book You Have To Read.” I first wrote about Room to Swing in an article on Civil Rights Era mystery novels for Mystery Scene and I’ve been wanting to recommend the book again ever since. Today marks 52 years since nine black students were escorted by the armed soldiers into Little Rock High School — a milestone in the history of U.S. integration — and since Room to Swing, which appeared the same year, deals explicitly with integration, civil rights, and the roots of racism, today seems a fitting time to remember this time. Check out the article here!

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N.C. Events: Chaz, Chefs & A Cancellation

September 25, 2009

Two of my favorite folks will be at Raleigh’s Quail Ridge Books on Friday night, September 25, at 7 p.m. Katy Munger reads from Desolate Angel, the first novel in the Dead Detective mystery series written under the name Chaz McGee. (For background on why Munger’s new series — and why it sports a new pseudonym — check out this interview with Sarah Weinman.) Joining her will be musician Joe Newberry of the band Big Medicine, offering up a dose of bluegrass to accompany Munger/McGee’s series debut.

Ann Prospero was at Quail Ridge on Thursday night, and continues a local tour with her new book, Chefs of the Triangle: Their Lives, Recipes, and Restaurants, throughout the weekend. I recently received the book, which features a foreword by Metro‘s own Moreton Neal, and had hoped to try one of the recipes out before her signings began, but events have kept me busy of late. Look forward later to my report on a trio of inter-related recipes from J. Betski’s in Raleigh: Pretzel-Crusted Pork Tenderloin, Cooked Sauerkraut, and Beer Jus. In the meantime, check the book out yourself at Durham’s Regulator Bookshop on Friday evening, and again at McIntyre’s in Fearrington Village on Sunday. Local chefs profiled in the book will be on hand at each event, bringing samples!

Looking ahead at the weekend, please note that the Tomie dePaola event at the Weymouth Center has been cancelled.

Looking ahead at early next week, mark your calendars for Tuesday night at QRB, when Marianne Gingher continues the flash fiction tour with contributors to the new anthology Long Story Short. She’ll be joined by contributors Angela Davis-Gardner, John Kessel, Carrie Knowles, and Peggy Payne. Check out my interview with Gingher here.


James Ellroy Previews “Blood’s A Rover”

September 20, 2009

ellroycoverOn Tuesday, September 22, Alfred A. Knopf will publish James Ellroy‘s Blood’s A Rover, the third and final installment of the Underworld USA novels that began with American Tabloid and The Cold Six Thousand. The new book is not only a fine finish to that trilogy but also strikes me as both Ellroy’s most ambitious novel (drawing on seven different perspectives) and the most accessible entry into the trilogy. As with its predecessors, Blood’s A Rover continues to explore how private lives can impact very public and highly political events, spanning in this case from the aftermath of the King and Kennedy assassinations to the eve of the Watergate break-ins. But this new book is also, at its heart, a love story, with each of the three leading men — Wayne Tedrow Jr., employed by Howard Hughes; Dwight Holly, reporting to J. Edgar Hoover; and Don Crutchfield, a window peeper turned obsessive investigator — falling under the spell of women, including a radical liberal activist, Joan Rosen Klein, who may stand as the most complex female character in all the author’s books.

Later this week, the Washington Post Book World will podcast my recent phone interview with Ellroy; I’ll post that link as soon as it’s available. Then on Saturday, September 26, at 7 p.m., Ellroy will make his only D.C.-area appearance at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland — the closing night headliner of the 2009 Fall for the Book Festival. (I’ll be there; shouldn’t you too?) In the meantime, I’m glad to preview that more formal interview and that upcoming reading with a quick conversation that Ellroy and I had earlier this summer, offering insights both into the book and into the man behind it.

Art Taylor: Blood’s a Rover marks a magnificent end to the Underworld USA trilogy, a crowning achievement for sure. Had you seen these books as a trilogy from the very beginning?

James Ellroy

James Ellroy

James Ellroy: I knew the second novel would be my big novel of the 1960s. The history was easy to foresee: the civil rights movement, the ultimate assassination of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, more Cuban exile shit, more mob shit, Howard Hughes buying up Las Vegas, general civil rights unrest, the Klan, and my two survivors from American Tabloid, Ward Littell and Pete Bondurant, getting further into the shit. It took longer to put Blood’s A Rover together, because going from ’68 to ’72, you’re going to have the summer of the political conventions and the ’68 election and all that hoo-ha, but my mob guys had to get to a cool locale, and it took me a while to come up with the Dominican Republic and Haiti. It’s full of voodoo, which is cool shit and certainly intensifies all the black militant shit in L.A.
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Last Chance At Love! (& More N.C. Events)

September 16, 2009

Today — Wednesday, September 16 — marks your last chance to catch N.C. readings by contributors to the great new anthology, Love Is A Four-Letter Word: True Stories Of Break-Ups, Bad Relationships, and Broken Hearts. Editor Michael Taeckens and contributors Margaret Sartor and Patty Van Norman will each read from their contributions to the book at two locations: 3:30 p.m. at the Bull’s Head Bookshop in Chapel Hill and 7:30 p.m. at Raleigh’s Quail Ridge Books. (And there’s a rumor at the book’s Facebook page that Peppermint Schnapps will be involved…. We make no promises, but encourage you to become a fan of the page anyway.)

If you’ve missed coverage of the book, check out my interview with Taeckens here. One of the latest reviews of the book is from the Oxford American‘s September “Books We Love” column, and a survey of other reviews can be found at the book’s own webpage here.

If you don’t have the book yet: Get it. If you have the chance to make the readings: Go.

Trust me on this. This anthology is love at first read.


On Thursday, September 17, Bull’s Head Bookshop and Quail Ridge Books host a similar one-two combo, so to speak, when each store welcomes Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance, founders of of the indie record label Merge Records and popular pop-punk band Superchunk, with their new book, Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records, the Indie Label that Got Big and Stayed Small — same times as the readings above, but new day for all.

Also on Thursday evening, over at Durham’s Regulator Bookshop, Marianne Gingher (interviewed here) joins contributors Lawrence Naumoff, Joe Ashby Porter, Randall Kenan, Bland Simpson, and Elizabeth Spencer, for a reading from the terrific anthology Long Story Short: Flash Fiction by Sixty-five of North Carolinas Finest Writers. That event begins at 7 p.m.

And on Friday evening, September 18, Quail Ridge Books welcomes Adriana Trigiani for a 7:30 p.m. reading from her latest novel, Viola In Reel Life.

For a complete schedule of events in the Triangle and Eastern North Carolina, check out the MetroBooks Calendar here.

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Marianne Gingher On “Long Story Short”

September 13, 2009

Long Story Short: Flash Fiction by Sixty-Five of North Carolina’s Finest Writers offers a concise, comprehensive, and compulsively readable collection of short-short stories. Concise on two counts: In total, the stories number less than 200 pages, and the longest of the stories is less than 1,700 words (the shortest is a mere 95). Comprehensive: The authors featured here make up a who’s who of writers with ties to the Old North State, including Russell Banks, Doris Betts, Will Blythe, Wendy Brenner, Orson Scott Card, Fred Chappell, Angela Davis-Gardner, Sarah Dessen, Pamela Duncan, Pam Durban, Clyde Edgerton, Philip Gerard, Gail Godwin, Randall Kenan, John Kessel, Michael Malone, Doug Marlette, Margaret Maron, Jill McCorkle, Lydia Millet, Robert Morgan, Michael Parker, Bland Simpson, Lee Smith, June Spence, Elizabeth Spencer, and Daniel Wallace, just to sample the list of contributors. And as for compulsively readable: Despite the pile of books I should have read first, as soon as Long Story Short arrived in the mail, I couldn’t resist reading at least one of the stories. Since that one was so short, I tried another. And then a third. And, as with a box of bon-bons, before I knew it….

The anthology, edited by Marianne Gingher (who also contributes a story) and published by the University of North Carolina Press, is a timely one. While Gingher points out in her introduction that short-shorts are as old as Aesop, there seems to be a growing trend toward the popularity of very short fiction in all of its forms: flash fiction, sudden fiction, microfiction, even twitter fiction and hint fiction. While many of the stories in this collection tend toward the traditional, to my mind, the book as a whole offers an array of different storytelling strategies and narrative structures, and they’re short enough that you’re able to re-read them easily to figure out how they work. Pam Durban’s “Island,” for example, struck me as so marvelous when I read it the first time that I turned around and read it again, aloud, to my wife. (And the stories are ripe for discussion too: Tara (a flash fiction writer herself) and I disagreed about whether Durban’s piece was as effective as it could be — where the heart of it was, where it might have been cut further, how it all played out.)

Today (Sunday, September 13), Gingher debuted the new collection on the closing day of the North Carolina Literary Festival, and tonight the book will be the focus of the Chapel Hill Public Library Foundation’s 50th anniversary, but even if you miss those events, there are plenty more opportunities to catch readings by the contributors. (See a full list at the bottom of this post.) In advance of the NCLF, Gingher and I talked about the book via email, and I’m grateful for her time (especially in the midst of all the festival’s busy-ness!) and glad to share our interview here.
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