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Archive for May, 2010

Re-thinking the Civil War

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

America is getting ready to mark the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War. There will be four years of programs and events subject to budgets and the imagination and agenda of the planners. Let’s hope  things come off better than they did during the Civil War centennial 1961-1965.

The centennial was marred by a battle over racial memory; segregationists and their opponents used the observance to their own purposes, according to one scholar, Bruce Cook, who wrote a book about it. He argued that many Southern whites “embraced the commemoration as a weapon in their fight to save racial segregation, while African Americans and liberal whites tried to transform it into a celebration of black emancipation.” Not surprisingly, the “official” observance ended with little accomplished apart from a few well-written books about the Civil War.

So what can we look forward to in 2011-2015? One of our key partners, the Georgia Humanities Council, along with the Center for the Book and some other organizations in Georgia are going to try to see that the observance in this state is marked by something more meaningful than battle re-enactments and statue-building.  Within our programming, we want to offer opportunities for diverse voices and opinions about this most divisive event in our nation’s history. We’d like to do more than simply comment on the obvious or rehash the evident.

We began in a quite “unofficial” way recently when we hosted historian Stephanie McCurry discussing her new book, Confederate Reckoning, which lays out a grim picture of a secessionist, proslavery, anti-democratic South brought to its political knees by the people it sought to disenfranchise: women and slaves. It is a viewpoint that has not often been aired, and it upset some of the people in our audience that evening. That’s alright, though we would have preferred they had stayed to engage our guest in an enlarged discussion about the subject.

We’re counting on many more such programs over the next several years; a topic as large-scaled and still-meaningful as the war ought to provoke serious and challenging discussions. Yes, there’s always room for remembering the past, but we must keep in mind that there are many ways of remembering it. Stay tuned for more about this in coming months.

Savoring Food Culture

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

You don’t have to be a foodie to love Joe Dabney. He’s an old newspaper guy who turned to writing about food culture once he got out of the business. His first book, Mountain Spirits, was a hugely entertaining look at corn whiskey and moonshine. His next one was the now-definitive examination of Southern Appalachian cooking and folklore, Smokehouse Ham, Spoon Bread, & Scuppernong Wine. So when I tell you Joe’s got a new book, it’s worth paying attention to, I guarantee you.

It’s called The Food, Folklore, and Art of Lowcountry Cooking, and I don’t want to keep you in suspense: Joe is coming to talk about it at the Center for the Book on Tuesday evening May 25. If the food prepared aloong the Georgia and South Carolina coast appeals to you, you won’t want to miss this mouth-watering evening. Sure, we all love shrimp and grits, but Joe has gone a long way beyond that. He’s found the source of so many dishes, familiar and forgotten, that even pros like  the Lee Brothers, Nathalie Dupree and Damon Lee Fowler heap praise on him. And his new book is packed with charming, practical, amazing recipes for everything from Savannah’s famous okra soup to persimmon beer, from fire-roasted conch to peanut collard greens (no kidding!).

Call it an “exploration of what we chew,” as prize-winning chefs Matt and Ted Lee do. What Joe manages to do is tell the story of our favorite foods, and he can do that because he’s spent years on the coast, talking to the people who prepare the dishes. He sampled or cooked them himself, and he’s probably spent more time in other people’s kitchens than he has in his own car. (And somehow he’s still thin.)

Joe’s a gem. And you really want to put his appearance here on your calendar. Not that you need any extra inducement to head over here to meet him, but we’re going to have a special wine and (lowcountry) cheese reception for everyone, so come prepared for an evening of chat about bacon-wrapped quail, sweet potato pone, Edisto Island toasted pecans and Frogmore stew.  It all starts at 7:15 p.m. We’ll keep the lights on for you.