In the last blog, I showed how Sleeping in Dixie’s Feather Bed: Growing Up White in the Segregated South was successfully launched. Now it was time to concentrate on promoting its message of a new view of equality. I had written the book to show my own passage from cultural prejudice to a wider multi-culturalism. Now I had to get both book and message around.
I passed out business cards, book marks and emailed information to libraries, book stores and future events in many cities and states. I shared a flyer done for me by the publisher. Could I go beyond Indiana? I wanted to do that. The Franklin library hosted Dorothea Benton Frank whose books are set in the area of South Carolina where I grew up. When I approached her, she was very gracious and gave me the name of a bookstore in South Carolina. She then told me to contact the owner and tell him that I had talked with her. The results sent me south in an RV with my husband and old bulldog.
It seems that the Georgetown South Carolina bookstore, Litchfield Books, has a “moveable feast” each Friday at different restaurants where authors are invited to talk about their books and conclude with signings. The owner invited me to talk at a new restaurant on the first Friday in January. It was exciting to be back in my hometown and talk about the 1940’s and my experience at that time in my book. About 65 people, mostly women, attended and many books were autographed and sold. After the luncheon my husband drove me to the bookstore about 10 miles up the coast near Pawleys Island where I displayed my books. Shortly after I arrived, a reporter from a local radio station came in and conducted a POD cast interviewing me about my life on the coast.
But was anybody in this southern town impressed with the message of cultural change with changing views? When we got back to the hotel I received a phone call from a nurse who had purchased a book after I left. She got my number from the bookstore and was so enthralled at the message that she said she just had to call and talk with me. That was so encouraging.
Earlier I had contacted the Chamber of Commerce in Georgetown about events in the area and was given the name of the president of the Friends of the Library. After several email sessions we set up a time at the library in conjunction with Waterfront Books. I contacted the newspaper, sent them a review of the book, then I called the office personally so they would print the event, “Local Author Comes Home.”
The reception on that Monday afternoon was only about 20 people but was so rewarding. The audience was all white people with the exception of one African American who told me that she cried during the whole speech. My heart was breaking when she told me that.
My next venture was at the Alabama Book Festival in Montgomery, Alabama. I had lived in Mobile as a preteen and was anxious about promoting my book there. This is the location of many Civil Rights events and demonstrations and I was very nervous about the attendees. This book fair had always been a large affair in the past and I was hopeful that the turnout, as well as the weather, would prove to be cooperative. Unfortunately, the city had another large event that same day, even closing the streets for a parade and political talks. The authors who had come for many years were disappointed that the foot traffic at the book fair was not as large as in the years before. Even so, I met so many fantastic people and sold books. I am communicating with a professor and his wife from India who are helping with the promotion of the book in Montgomery. So many people told me stories about their life in segregation days. One librarian confirmed what I had worried about with her comment, “You are so brave to write about this and so brave to come to Alabama with your book. Thank you.” One man stopped by and “gave me the riot act” saying it (whatever “it’ might be) was not the fault of the whites or the southerners. He went on and on and I became a little concerned so I led him around the corner of the tent where a lecture was being held and left him there.
When I got home I got a message from the counselor from an elementary school whom I had met at the book store in Franklin. She wanted me to speak to the fourth graders at her school. The first group met at lunch in the library where I talked about being an author and how to write. I told them that I would send them a story written just for them. Later I met in the music room with all of the fourth graders. There I talked about Black History Month, MLK, some experiences I had growing up in segregated schools and bullying. I felt that this was such a success that I will now be sending a note to schools asking to put me on their speakers list. I gave a book to each of the teachers and the library hoping they would share it with others.
I wrote a story (they called it a book) naming it “A Day at Webb School.” Of course, the teachers had each child write me a thank you note which I read, smiled, and shed a few tears at some of their responses.
Little as well as large events counted, each bringing a special experience. I had applied earlier to be at the first Authors Fair at the library in Whiteland, Indiana. There were about 12 of us… authors on railroad, science fiction, gardening, history, stories for children, a 10-year old American Indian author, and me and my memoir. At each library event I become more and more appreciative of what librarians do.
Not everything worked well. My latest event was at a bookstore in Columbus, IN. The assistant took me to the back of the store in a little tiny room with one 3X3 table that I shared with another author who wrote about car racing. His wife reluctantly removed some of their books and shuffled off to the side of the room. The owner quickly posted a sign on the back door about our books then left. It was a very slow morning but I did get to talk with a lady in a wheelchair who had lived in SC. Shortly, relatives of the other author’s came in and took over the miniature room with loud talking and shouting. It was then I knew that this was not to be a good day for me to pass the message of my book. Yet I still laugh about this and learned a lesson: authors need to help each other and be considerate. And authors do have the right to ask for a noticeable place in a bookstore!
I am optimistic about other events I have set up through the month of December. Right now I am staying out of the heat with my time with my husband, old bull dog and old cat. It’s nice to sit back with a glass of lemonade and let time fly by. Fall will bring more events.
Lou Ellen Watts’s book Sleeping in Dixie’s Feather Bed: Growing Up White in the Segregated South can be obtained by clicking back to the Hawthorne website.