Mint Julep Photo by James Carrier

My sole goal in attending The Tennessee Williams Literary Fest was to stun the judges of the Stanley/Stella Shouting Contest with my vocal pyrotechnics. Alas. I was exhausted by that point in the program, and I had already stunned Bryan Batt and John Waters with my quest to get pictures of both. It was best that I consumed my PJs cinnamon roll and hid in the dark recesses of the respective rooms where I attended panels.

Since I live with an environmental scientist, the first panel I hit was “Where the Wild Things Are: Writing About the Gulf.” Oliver Houck, whose book Down on the Batture is a popular title at Maple Street Book Shop was on the panel, along with Randy Fertel, Mark Hersgaard, and Rowan Jacobsen. Mark Hersgaard’s newest book, Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth, is an environmental love letter to his daughter and future generations, a how-to on combatting global warming (which they aren’t debating in other countries, by the way) for the layman. Each of the panelists spoke about the unique nature of this area and what we should be doing to protect it. I couldn’t help myself–I bought a book by each author. (The University of Mississippi Press is publishing Randy Fertel’s book, The Gorilla Man and the Empress of Steak: A New Orleans Memoir.) Mr. Hersgaard sang my name (Veronica), and I was transported back to the eighties and nineties, when no one could resist.

The Tennessee Williams Festival can overwhelm one with the array of panel and activity choices. As such, I sampled the conference’s mint juleps to clear my mind and focus on my selections. (I was a mint julep virgin before the conference.) I headed into “It’s a Family Affair” with panelists Dorothy Allison, Valerie Martin, Rosalyn Story, and Susan Straight. This panel was no less engaging than the first, and I could relate to some of what the authors were saying with regard to writing about family. My family has dissected my own writings over Easter dinner, trying to determine what character was what family member. Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard Out of Carolina, who has not written a memoir, but whose life creeps up in her writing said, “I couldn’t write a memoir because I wouldn’t know if I was lying.”

This panel flowed right into “The Story Behind the Stars: Celebrity Memoirists Tell All” with Bryan Batt, Zoe Caldwell, Amy Dickinson, and John Waters. Amy Dickinson garnered a new fan, by the way, when she told me to shut up after asking what she hoped her daughters would or would not write about her. Felt just like family dinner. I stalked poor Bryan Batt after the panel because I wanted a picture with him. I have a bit of a crush on this fellow. Then, I made my friend stalk John Waters for a picture (which she wanted!) because she was reluctant to appear as lunatic fringe as I. God bless our celebrity boyfriends, they smiled genteelly in the pictures and looked every bit the stars.

On Monday, after I had recovered from festival exhaustion, I had a revelation. I could relate to much of what the authors on several of the panels said, not only because they revealed some universal truths, but also for another reason. I have, all my life, been an eccentric Southerner; I just didn’t know it until I left the Northeast.

Veronica K. Brooks-Sigler

Bookseller/Social Medium

Maple Street Book Shops

Twitter: @getlit_erate or @fightthestupids

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