Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Revisiting Heaven

I returned to Fairhope Monday for a business trip. The business was to promote my books about Fairhope: That Was Tomorrow and The Fair Hope of Heaven. It is not as peaceful as it used to be, but then, neither am I. I crowded my schedule with book signings, book talks, and meetings with various people who are interested in what I have to say about Fairhope's history and the story of the Organic School.

The first speech “Nostalgia and That Was Tomorrow” at the Fairhope Museum of History went better than I expected. Intrigued as I have been by a recent article in the New York Times about nostalgia, I gave my description of it--including the diagnosis of cowbells causing brain addlement, and how the young Swiss mercenary soldiers, missing their beloved homeland with its hillsides of cows and the soothing sounds of the bells, might well have been perfectly sane to yearn for a more pleasant time and place than war on foreign battlefields.

I read a little from The Fair Hope of Heaven, about the sky and the stars, the Fairhope I remembered fondly and the one I’d heard about from those who recalled the past. I read  from That Was Tomorrow about the young schoolteacher’s reaction to her first days in Fairhope, with my descriptions of the Fairhope of the day, the unpaved streets, the wandering children pulling satsumas off trees, the goats and chickens, the occasional eccentrics saying hello. Time travel to "Old Fairhope" is always rewarding. My audience seemed entranced, and I was heartened by what appears to be genuine interest in the topic, one upon which I can expound for hours.

Today I spoke at the Marietta Johnson Museum about the Organic School and Mrs. Johnson's commitment to education reform at the beginning of the 20th century. A large audience, (large to me, anyway, probably about 40 at one talk and 30 at the other) was stimulated to ask challenging questions and kept me on my toes. At both venues I sold some 20 books total--and there will be many more sold at the book signing at the indie bookstore (Page & Palette) Friday from 1-3.

I'll wind up my trip Sunday with a talk at the Unitarian Fellowship, and return to Albany (NY) Monday. I am having a wonderful visit and expect more surprises in days to come.

Will let you know as they happen.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Fairhope From Here

Fairhope is a world away from here, but I'll soon navigate that world and be there.

Where I am, New Paltz, New York, we call it a heat wave if we have three days in a row of temperatures over 90. In Fairhope, we called it summer--and it lasted from the end of May until at least the end of September. It was "cool" if the temperature went below 90. And humidity is another story. Summer is hot everywhere, but with humidity over 75 every day, it swelters in the South in a different way. I wasn't dry until I was in my 20s and moved to Atlanta.

I will spend a week in the heat and humidity of Fairhope, alleviated, I hope, not only by the ubiquity of air conditioning, but also by the joy of seeing old friends and talking with them about my book.   I wrote That Was Tomorrow from the perspective of a young woman who moves to Fairhope from New Jersey in 1921, before there was air conditioning, and she is constantly struck by the oppressive heat and humidity. My daughter, editing and proofreading the final draft, said, "Mom, you use the phrase 'heat and humidity' way too often!" I found ways to change it a few times, but could not imagine someone traveling to Fairhope for the first time--from the Northeast--not being confronted with the phenomenon of the heat/humidity of the region.

This time it's me. I try to restrain myself when people here in New York State complain about humidity. They can't take it. After 19 years back in Fairhope I learned to. I've been away for a couple of years and usually have the sense to return in the winter months. But this is something of a business trip.

That Was Tomorrow is available in paperback, and I'll be in Fairhope from July 15-22 to introduce it to the town where it was born. My schedule is:

2 P.M. July 16 -- Tea at the Fairhope Museum
3 P.M. July 17 -- Book talk at the Marietta Johnson Museum
1 P.M. July 19 -- Book signing at Page & Palette
11 A.M. July 21 -- "Fairhope Then and Now" at Unitarian-Universalist meeting

I can take the heat and humidity--thanks to air conditioning and the purpose of the trip. I hope Fairhope loves my novel as much as it loves Fairhope!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Life on the Stage

Clayton Corzatte, an actor from Fairhope who died last weekend, had a profound effect on my own life and certainly on many others as well.

Happy-go-lucky as this picture looks, Clayton spent his life as a theatre actor, working in New York and in the regional theatre before Alabama Shakespeare Festival was even thought of. He had a shot at the movies, did a little television, but was more interested in living a life as an ordinary guy who just happened to be an actor by profession.

As I remember it, he was in the speech department at the University of Alabama, majoring in Radio/Television when the television part was in its infancy, when someone said he really belonged in theatre. The director of that department was Dr. Marion Galloway, one of those old dragons whose name often comes up with Alabama actors of a certain age. Clayton was a gentle soul even then and he was warned, "Dr. Galloway will eat  you alive."

But he had found his calling, and he hit it off with Galloway, had some success in university theatre, then took off for Barter Theater and other venues that were beginning to spring up in the 1950s. When I was a teenager he was home from Cleveland Playhouse for a visit with his family and was persuaded to do a one-man show of monologues and poetry at the then-high-school auditorium. I must have had a driver's license, because as I recall I went alone.

I remember sitting in total rapt attention to Clayton reading, among other things, the works of Dorothy Parker. I'm not just being nostalgic when I remember his performance. He read such works as "The Waltz" and "Just a Little One" as a woman, and he was convincing and downright brilliantly funny as well. I had never seen a man playing a woman -- and it wasn't a drag show. He did this without benefit of costumes or props. He simply became a woman. He even performed the agony of "The Telephone Call," about a woman obsessed with getting that all-important call (that is not going to come) from a man who has loved and left her, and left me convinced she/he was brokenhearted as only a Parker heroine (and real women everywhere) can be. It was before we knew about "He's just not that into you," and long before the concept reached me, but the day was dawning.

When I moved back to Fairhope in 1988 I asked Clayton and his actress wife Susan to help me with a fundraiser to launch Jubilee Fish Theater, which would be an Equity professional theater for as long as I could keep it going. They did some scenes that brought down the house, and Jubilee Fish became a local institution. They returned two years later for a program of one-acts and a question and answer session with the audience. He was as charming and unassuming offstage as he was talented. He and Susan were a delight to know.

When I learned of Clayton's death I had the mixed feeling one often has. I wish I had known him better. I regret that he died of complications from ALS, which means he had a bad time it it in his last years. He died in Seattle, where he had worked at the Intiman Theater for over 40 years, keeping audiences happy while he and Susan raised a son and daughter and lived a real and full life on and off the stage. He played in virtually everything in the American repertory, from Shakespeare to Tennessee Williams and Kaufman and Hart. He said about his life that he was lucky. That he was, and Fairhope and the country was lucky to have him.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Positive Move

I'm in a new place now, New Paltz, New York, a sweet little town with a major university, four distinct seasons, a vibrant population, one grown daughter and two teenaged grandsons. I retired in reverse--leaving Fairhope for fair hope and another shot at a different future.

You may have been following my progress, you may not. I moved from Fairhope in 2007 to Hoboken, New Jersey, which I loved, and five years later am getting to know a different neck of the woods. My daughter actually lives in Kingston, and my grandsons are almost ready to fly the coop (the oldest is a freshman at SUNY Albany). I, on the other hand, am still in the process of finding fair hope and finding myself--writing books and blogs and learning to do better what I do best and doing my best to guess exactly what that is and why I'm doing it.

I finished That Was Tomorrow about a year ago, published it in electronic format, and now am in the process of having it published as a paperback. The story is set in 1921 in a Fairhope, Alabama, that doesn't exist anymore--a utopian colony created to prove the theory of single tax, peopled with idealists and visionaries of many stripes, including the important personage Marietta Johnson, who is a key figure in my story.

It's a story of a schoolteacher, a rather liberated young woman of her day, who moves to Fairhope to prepare for a career by working with the renowned educator. She takes her life into her own hands and women in the early days of feminism (and long before it was called that) were just beginning to do. She has a radical plan for her life, which doesn't include marriage--and she's willing to move into the adventure that was Fairhope of that time to experience life, romance, and self-fulfillment on her terms. I hope I capture the setting, the atmosphere, and the optimism of that time as I populate the novel with real and fictional characters who once lived there.

I've revamped my website in an attempt to draw traffic, billing myself as an Alabama writer of some note (in fact, you might think this writer to be the second coming of Harper Lee). I hope I'll be forgiven the overstatement as the constant use of the phrase "Alabama writer" along with "Alabama book" was seen by my web designer as a way to optimize my search engine traffic. And That Was Tomorrow is without doubt an Alabama book by an Alabama author, however non-traditional and unexpected they may both be.

Look for my website here. Look for me in Fairhope sometime in early summer, to sign books and meet you--some as old friends, and some for the first time. I shall update the blog on the website at least twice a week, often weaving the phrases "Alabama book" and "Alabama writer" into the text, but saying something as profound as I can in spite of that.