Summer In The South

Forsyth Park in Savannah, Georgia
Oak trees often provide a shaded reprieve from the hot Southern summers

My Southern Summer Experience

Because of Winn Dixie is a charming children’s/middle grade story set in a small town in Florida during the hot summer. In a way it reminds me of our family visits to the Carolinas, which always occurred during the hottest time of the year, August, because that’s when we had the time to make the 500 mile drive from Maryland and then spend several weeks on the hot coastal plains. Our summer sojourn always included a trip to the beach, which was a nice reprieve from the hotter weather amidst the piney woods.  When inland our summer days included minimal daytime activity and a daily swim in an artesian pool or pond to cool off. Somehow we made it through the nights without AC and our frequent social gatherings always occurred indoors or at a cool and shady outdoor location. All of these childhood memories seemed to have been revived somewhat, when I read Kate DiCamillo’s charming little story that is slowly becoming a classic tale that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages.

About The Book

What I enjoyed most about the story was its eccentric yet believable cast of characters that were expertly weaved together throughout the short tale. Also enjoyable was the slightly irreverent atmosphere towards organized religion and the Old South that became the background for this short novel. Winn Dixie turns out to be the name of a dog, who acquired his unique handle because he  was found wandering by a young girl at the popular grocery store chain of the same name. The two turn into the best of buddies and the book follows their ensuing adventures that occur during summer recess.

This book makes for a quick and easy read, but you can watch the movie (made in 2005) on your DVD player, if you prefer. Published in 2000, this book quickly accumulated several awards and is becoming a classic read, for booklovers everywhere. The story appears to be loosed based on the author’s personal experience, who moved to Florida (from Pennsylvania) with her family at a very young age.

Florida in Winter
Florida consists of more than the popular places such as Miami, Key West and Orlando, from Wikipedia

Oglethorpe’s Savannah

Telfair Museum In Savannah, Georgia
Telfair Museum In Savannah, Georgia

This past Saturday I had the privilege of visiting the charming Southern city of Savannah, Georgia. The occasion was the 4th Annual Savannah Book Festival, which was held at Telfair Square in the old historic district. Here in the historic district of the city, organizers had arranged literary speakers to give talks not only at the above pictured Telfair Museum, but also at the Trinity Methodist Church, Jepson Museum and a tent that was set up on the public square. Also on the square were a couple of book tents, where visitors could purchase both fiction and non-fiction titles.

Besides from the gathering of readers and writers, there was also the walk through the old city from my streetside  parking spot to the festival site. This stroll was most informative, for it took me right through one of the largest historical districts in the country. Savannah has a most interesting history for it was built in the early years of  the 18th century to give British debtors, a second chance in life.

To understand Savannah, it is necessary to take a look at the city’s founder, James Oglethorpe, a British citizen, who was born in 1696. James Oglethorpe served in Queen’s Anne War, returned home and was incarcerated in a British prison for killing a man in a brawl. After five months of confinement, Oglethorpe was released from jail and immediately elected to Parliament. His prison experience became paramount it the man’s successful attempt to recommend changes for the system. Of utmost concern was the British custom of imprisoning those who went bankrupt.

Savannah, which was begun as a British settlement in 1733, was created to give those imprisoned for debt a second chance in life. From this unusual beginning arose a prosperous city, which has survived the tests of time, and remains an important place of commerce today.

Savannah Today
Savannah Today

A Student of Southern Literature

Live oak tree in Rockport, Texas - by Larry D. Moore from Wikipedia
Live oak tree in Rockport, Texas - by Larry D. Moore from Wikipedia

As the second month of my southern visit comes near to an end, I find that I am enjoying my winter in Dixie very much.  This is happening, despite the unusually cold winter and week of snow-covered ground that I have experienced. Nonetheless, one of my favorite moments is listening to the radio comments of Walter Edgars on the local NPR affiliate. His program, called Walter Edgar’s Journal, is intriguing potpourri of local clor and history.  Actually, Dr. Walter Edgar is the proper title of the host, who holds a doctorate in history from the University of South Carolina, where he currently teaches.

Walter’s most recent guest was Jan Nordby Gretlund, a Danish associate professor of American literature at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense (Denmark).  Currently, Jan Gretlund is a visiting professor at the USC at Beaufort, where he recently hosted a symposium on Southern literature.

Like Dr. Edgar,  Gretlund is  an author and college professor.  His most recent book, entitled Still In Print: Southern Fiction Today” is a literary sampler that deals primarily with contemporary Southern fiction published since 1997. Missing are the big names of Faulkner, Welty and Percy and in their place you will find such modern writers as George Singleton, James Lee Burke, Josephine Humphreys and Barry Hannah. In this book Mr. Gretlund attempts to show how the Southern writing tradition is still alive and providing rich material for both leisure readers and academics. In fact, the popularity of Southern writers in Europe somewhat mirrors the success that the various Scandinavian crime fiction authors now enjoy in the US.

In Denmark, Jan Gretlund runs the Center or American Studies at the Odense college. His involvement with the American South actually began in 1962, when enlisted in the US Army and served for several years at an Air Force base in Mississippi, despite being a native of Denmark. Not a bad way to begin one’s academic career.