Sunday, August 29, 2010

Honoring Lillian Smith

Lillian Smith Book Awards Ceremony

Dekalb Public Library

September 5, 2010

2:30 p.m.

From "Bill's Book Blog" by the Georgia Center for the Book

Lillian Smith was one of Georgia’s most distinguished — and certainly controversial — writers. She was white, liberal and outspoken about racial issues at a time, in the 1930s and 40s, when her native region remained in the tight grip of Jim Crow laws. She boldly and insistently called for an end to segregation. And her 1944 novel “Strange Fruit” focused on illicit interracial love.

In 1966, shortly after her death when the South struggled with the desegregation effort, the Southern Regional Council created a book award in her name: the Lillian Smith Award would recognize books of outstanding accomplishment, whether for literary merit or moral vision, that honestly examined the people, promises and problems of the South. Since then, more than 50 books have been honored with a Lillian Smith Award, and among the authors are Eudora Welty, John Egerton, Natasha Trethewey, Anthony Grooms, Peter Taylor, Will Campbell and C. Vann Woodward.

The Southern Regional Council now shares the administration of the Lillian Smith Award with the University of Georgia Libraries and the Georgia Center for the Book. Together, we’ll honor this year’s winners at the upcoming AJC Decatur Book Festival over the Labor Day weekend. Specifically, the ceremony to present the winning authors with their 2010 honors will take place at 2:30 – 3:15 p.m. in the Decatur Library Auditorium on Sunday, September 5. We cordially invite you to come and learn more about these remarkable books.

There are two books chosen for the award this year. Charles W. Eagles, a long-time history professor at the University of Mississippi, will be honored for his powerful, compelling book, “The Price of Defiance: James Meredith and the Integration of Ole Miss” (University of North Carolina Press). This is a definitive moment-by-moment account that traces in all its complexity ”James Meredith’s courage against the intransigent white racism of a university that surely knew better.” It is a significant, deeply researched narrative of the 1962 desegregation of Ole Miss that remains one of the landmark events in the struggle for African American equality and justice.

The other book to be recognized on September 5 is “Lynching and Spectacle: Witnessing Racial Violence in America, 1890-1940″ (University of North Carolina Press) written by Amy Louise Wood, who is assistant professor of history at Illinois State University. Utilizing an amazing number of resources, including early films and photographs, she writes insightfully about the culture of lynching and those who watched the brutal executions of more than 3,000 African Americans during that period. Her book is “an important contribution to our understanding of the American South and violence there” and demonstrates how beliefs in white superiority were reinforced by the spectacle of lynching.

Both of these books give lie to those who find history dry. While written by scholars and buttressed with careful research, they explore with riveting perspective events and people from our past whose lives and decisions have helped create our region, our nation. They reflect vividly on conversations about race in America we confront today, whether those conversations focus on President Obama or Dr. Laura. They are also reminders of the deep truths of William Faulkner’s words: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

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