Scopes Trial pix surface in new book

October 18, 2008

A trove of newly discovered photographs taken at the Scopes Trial appear in a new book published by the University of Kansas Press.

George Rappleyea (left, and John Scope

The book is Reframing Scopes: Journalists, Scientists and Lost Photographs from the Trial of the Century, by Marcel LaFollette. You can see a Flickr set of the photos here.


Is Cormac McCarthy the Faulkner of Tennessee?

December 16, 2007

Fred Brown has a good piece in the Knoxville News Sentinel exploring the East Tennessee influences on Cormac McCarthy. I found his early books tough sledding; unconventional punctuation and the like always conjures up a kid jumping up and down and yelling “Look at me!” He’s in the high cotton now, however.

Brown quotes Anne de Lisle, McCarthy’s second and now former wife, who described living with him in a house in Rockford, just outside of Knoxville, where the writer “salvaged bricks from the Fort Sanders boyhood home of writer James Agee and made them into a fireplace.”

Someone ought to write a book about the ex-spouses who lived with writers while they were struggling but were out of the picture when the gravy train pulled in. The working title could be All the Pretty Attorneys.

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Touring the East Tennessee Backroads: second edition

December 11, 2007

Travel books about Tennessee have come and gone, but a perennial seller is Carolyn Sakowski’s Touring the East Tennessee Back Roads, which has now come out in a second edition. Like her first edition, which was published in 1993, about the time I began writing Moon Handbooks: Tennessee, Carolyn has driven the byways of the eastern part of the state and woven history into a set of tours.

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Sewanee turns 150

October 10, 2007

The University of the South, more popularly named Sewanee for the town beside which it stands, just celebrated its sesquicentennial with honorary degrees, a ceremony conducted in Latin, and no doubt some life-affirming toasts of bourbon and branch water.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press chronicled the proceedings, which culminated with a Founder’s Day address by Jon Meacham, editor of Newsweek magazine, who said, “Let us be bold and tell it straight. Some of our founders were not the men we may have wished them to be. But then are we, you and I, the people we wish to be?”

Well, we aren’t slaveholders and people who wage war on our own country, but nobody’s perfect.

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One of the interesting facets of Sewanee is its affiliation with playwright Tennessee Williams. Williams died in 1983, and when his will was probated, he made a curious bequest, leaving about $10 million to Sewanee yet putting the fund under the control of the “chairman of the creative-writing department of Harvard University.” The problem was that Harvard had no “creative-writing department.”

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Mountain Dew chronicled in new book

September 17, 2007

An article in Sunday’s Knoxville News Sentinel discusses a new book on the story of Mountain Dew. This carbonated beverage, famous today as a high energy concoction aimed at young people, was created in Knoxville as a Seven-Up sort of mixer and first bottled for the public in Johnson City in 1954. The author of the book is Dick Bridgforth, whose father marketed Mountain Dew as the manager of Tri-Cities Beverage in the 1950s.

As seen on this old bottle below, in those days the marketing was a stereotypical barefoot hillbilly complete with rifle and hound dog. Persons of a certain age who grew up in East Tennessee can remember radio and TV ads in which someone shouted out “Ya-hoo! Mountain Dew!” In 1966 the formula was sold to Pepsi, which nixed the hick image and has sold the drink ever since.

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This blog is part of a much larger website, also entitled Tennessee Guy, that contains travel and cultural information about Tennessee. Visit it here.


Hitting the road for culinary tourism

August 3, 2007

They call it “culinary tourism,” the practice of traveling to an area to sample the local food. People have been going to places like Provence or Italy to do this for years, and only recently has the practice gotten much attention in the South, most notably through the efforts of the Southern Foodways Alliance.

For anyone prowling the foodways of Southern Appalachia, your backwoods baedeker should be Fred Sauceman’s wonderful pair of books. Both are entitled The Place Setting, and both are published by Mercer University Press.

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Kingsport native goes home again with new book

May 8, 2007

There are, to my knowledge, only two memoirs of growing up in my hometown of Kingsport, and both were written by the same person. Lisa (pronounced “Liza”) Alther published the autobiographical novel Kinflicks in 1999. It made the New York Times’s bestseller list, and was a very funny book.

Now, eight years and four more novels later, she is back with a non-fiction book called Kinfolks: Falling Off the Family Tree – The Search for My Melungeon Ancestors . Melungeons is the name given to a curious group of people in East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia who have dark skin and whose origin is unclear. Said to be of Portugese or Turkish descent, they were discriminated against for decades, but of late have come into their own, a sort of down home “say it loud, I’m Melungeon and I’m proud.”

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New Elvis book focuses on cops and the King

May 3, 2007

This week’s Memphis Flyer brings news of a new Elvis book, this one focusing on the King’s love of law enforcement. The groaner of a title is Elvis: In The Beat of the Night. Michael Finger of the Flyer writes: “The entertainer liked to hang out with policemen, collected police badges wherever he traveled, and enjoyed being made an honorary policeman in any city where he performed.”

The book, written by retired Memphis police captain Robert Ferguson, came into being at the urging of Peter Guralnick, who interviewed the Ferguson for the two-volume biography of Elvis and urged him to write a book of his own. The book was self-published and costs $14.95. It can be picked up in Memphis at Davis-Kidd Booksellers and at Borders or ordered directly from the author by calling him at 901-380-8411.

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Travel writing bits and blues

April 19, 2007

For over ten years, I wrote Moon Handbooks: Tennessee, which came out in four editions over that time, plus a book on the Smokies, which I co-wrote with Mike Sigalas. The day I got my hands on the first copy of the fourth edition, I got a call from the designated hatchetwoman at my publisher, Avalon Travel Publishing , telling me I was fired from my own book. That’s a long story for another time. As the late Kurt Vonnegut says, so it goes.

Fortunately for me, I own the copyright to all the text in the 500-page book, and I have put almost every word of it onto my website, Tennessee Guy, of which this blog is a part. While some unknown soul is laboring on the fifth incarnation of the Tennessee book, my last edition remains in bookstores, making money for me and the knaves who cut me loose.

But not too much money, it seems. I remain on an email list of Avalon authors, and they are singing the blues about a steep decline in royalties for the last quarter of 2006. Several are reporting drops in income of one half, two-thirds, or even 75 percent. My last royalty check is one fourth of its predecessor. One longtime Avalon author tells us that we should consider writing travel books as a hobby, and to “look for another revenue stream.”

While I have all sympathies for my fellow authors, many of whom depend on those royalties for their livelihood, a lesser person would chortle at the plight of my former publisher and gleefully anticipate the laying off of particular individuals. But I digress.

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Leipers Fork: The Tennessee Martha’s Vineyard?

December 8, 2006

This week’s Nashville Scene contains a gushing piece on Gary Fisketjon, who at one time occupied the enviable position of publishing’s ediutorial enfant terrible. It was he who unleashed Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City on the American public as a Vintage Contemporaries paperback. He later worked at Knopf with the following writers: Annie Dillard, Richard Ford, Cormac McCarthy, Patricia Highsmith, Brett Easton Ellis, Haruki Murakami, Kent Haruf, Michel Houellebecq, Donna Tartt, Tobias Wolff.

Fisketjon is the latest celebrity to take up life in Leipers Fork, there to join other luminaries, most of them from the music world. The common Leiper Forkians take pride in the celebrities among them, just like their counterparts on Martha’s Vineyard, and make a point of not gushing when some famous soul comes to the grocery store or ambles down the street.

This article makes it sound like that Fisketjon is not just one of the summer people, but here to stay, conluding with the following:

“It is here, then, that Fisketjon comes to do the work that made him successful and that continues to drive the success of his stable of writers. He comes to sit at his kitchen table with its worm-worn wood, or at his window looking out on the Williamson County hills, because it is only here that he finds room and time for his craft. The next great American novel may be written in New York City, or California, or Washington state. But chances are it will be edited in Tennessee.”