Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

Another View of Haiti

What’s new in Tennessee books—and at Chapter 16—on January 14, 2010

Symbolically and spiritually, if not literally, Madison Smartt Bell enjoys a kind of dual citizenship. Though he is by birth a son of the American South—he’s Nashville born and raised, and his newest book is a novel about Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest—Bell’s literary imagination belongs, in large degree, to Haiti. His celebrated trilogy of novels about the Haitian revolution (All Souls’ Rising, Master of the Crossroads, and The Stone That the Builder Refused) comes in at over 2,000 pages, and that’s not counting the nonfiction (Toussaint Louverture: A Biography). It’s fair to say that Bell understands, perhaps more than anyone in this country, not simply the history of Haiti but also its soul.

“Let us try to remember as we try to help that we have as much to gain from Haiti spiritually as we have to give materially.”

As the world stares aghast at images of destruction from this week’s cataclysmic earthquake in Haiti, famously the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, Bell considers the fortitude that will help Haiti survive even as it now looks entirely doomed. In a new essay for The Guardian, he writes, “Let us try to remember as we try to help that we have as much to gain from Haiti spiritually as we have to give materially.” For the rest of the essay, click here.

Last week we learned that Chapter 16 contributing writer Clay Risen is heading to New York to help edit the op-ed page of The New York Times. This week there’s more news of Tennessee writers hitting the big time in the Big Apple: Good Ol’ Girls, a musical written by former Nashvillian Lee Smith and Jill McCorkle with songs by Marshall Chapman and Matraca Berg, will open Off-Broadway on February 14. Good Ol’ Girls is billed as “a musical about love, loss and laughter [which] celebrates childhood through old age with big hair and bigger hearts.” Read more about the show in Playbill, here.

But an Off-Broadway opening isn’t the only big news for Marshall Chapman: “My life has taken an unexpected turn,” she reports in an email to Chapter 16.

But an Off-Broadway opening isn’t the only big news for Marshall Chapman: “My life has taken an unexpected turn,” she reports in an email to Chapter 16. “I’ve been asked to play the role of Winnie (Gwyneth Paltrow’s road manager) in the upcoming movie Love Don’t Let Me Down.” The film, produced by Tobey Maguire, started shooting this week in Nashville and stars Garrett Hedlund as a rising country artist who falls for Paltrow’s character, an older singer. (Tim McGraw, whose second children’s book, Love Your Heart, will be published next month, plays Paltrow’s husband and manager.) Shooting won’t interfere with the Good Ol’ Girls celebration, however: “It looks like my character has February 14 off,” writes Chapman, “so Chris and I are planning to fly up for the opening of GOGs. Matraca & Jeff, Lee Smith & her husband (Hal Crowther), and Jill McCorkle and her husband (Tom Rankin)—we’re all going up. Sounds like a good recipe for a special Valentine’s Day.” For news on fresh developments with both movie and musical, sign up for Chapman’s newsletter here.

Dolen Perkins-Valdez always meant to be a lawyer when she grew up, but a non-credit creative-writing class changed her mind the year after she graduated from Harvard. Still, the debut novelist took a circuitous path to her first book, earning an M.F.A. from the University of Memphis and then a Ph.D. in English from George Washington University before embarking on her first book. Now 36, the Memphis native has just published Wench, a historical novel that’s featured in the January issue of Essence.

The story of four black women who travel each summer to a resort in the free state of Ohio as the enslaved mistresses of white slaveholders, Wench has garnered impressive advance notices. According to Kirkus Reviews, this “striking debut intimately limns a Southern slave’s complicated relationship with her master. … Compelling and unsentimental.” Library Journal pronounced it “memorable,” and Publisher’s Weekly called it “heart-wrenching, intriguing, original and suspenseful.” Look for Chapter 16‘s take on the novel next week. In the meantime, you can find out more about this rising star in a recent interview in The Commercial Appeal.

After the notoriously cranky Kirkus ran out of sober synonyms for “stratospherically good,” it gave The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks a starred review.

Last week Rebecca Skloot, another rising star reaching the literary firmament by way of Memphis, also got raves from Kirkus, which called her soon-to-be released book “absorbing,” “well-paced,” “vibrant,” “graceful,” “meticulous,” and “riveting.” After the notoriously cranky Kirkus ran out of synonyms for “stratospherically good,” it gave The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks a starred review. Read the complete assessment here. (Publisher’s Weekly and Booklist had already awarded Skloot starred reviews. Read those appraisals here and here.)

Recently joining the HeLa pre-publication lovefest was The Los Angeles Times, which named Skloot one of its Faces to Watch in 2010. Noting “Skloot’s emotional connection to Lacks’ adult children, some of whom can’t afford the medicine their mother’s cells helped develop,” the LA Times called the book “a work of both heart and mind, driven by the author’s passion for the story, which is as endlessly renewable as HeLa cells.”

“Oh, Ann, Ann, Ann. Please don’t force me to make a list of what separates me from Britney Spears.”

Ann Patchett is back in the national papers again, this time forsaking The Washington Post for The Wall Street Journal. In an exchange with her friend Elizabeth Gilbert on the publication of Gilbert’s new reported memoir, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage, Patchett considers the state of matrimony, here and abroad. To understand Gilbert’s passionate outburst, “Oh, Ann, Ann, Ann. Please don’t force me to make a list of what separates me from Britney Spears,” click here.

This week in Chapter 16, we’ve got some literary conversations of our own on offer, including interviews with Memphis scholar Jeff Jackson and Knoxville-born novelist Inman Majors, and a special retrospective of much-decorated scientist and novelist Alan Lightman, author of Einstein’s Dreams, in connection with the publication of Lightman’s first narrative poem, Song of Two Worlds. We’re also very proud to publish the opening chapter of Lightman’s work in progress, Screening Room, a memoir of his early years in Memphis. There’s more new verse in the poetry section, where we’ve included an excerpt from Kate Gleason’s Measuring the Dark, which just won Austin Peay State University’s Zone 3 First Book Award.

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