What better way to relish great Southern storytelling than to gather at the local library for talk about regional writers and their works?
Citizens across Northern Virginia are doing just that, as part of a book discussion series called "Southern Reflections" that traces 15 authors' varied views on tradition and change.
"You find that book talks force people to think about where they came from and where they're going," said Bridget A. Bradley of Warrenton, who is administering Southern Reflections' two-year $195,806 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. "People can learn more about themselves and humanity, what makes us the same and what makes us different.
"They come and talk about their own experiences and feelings," Bradley said, noting that the sessions have attracted an average of 60 to 100 participants per library, with more than 100 showing up the first night at Fairfax. "This doesn't have to be a highbrow kind of thing."
The Southern Reflections program started in February with a general series titled "Growing Up in the South" that included Eudora Welty's "One Writer's Beginnings" and James Agee's "A Death in the Family," along with three other books.
The current program called "Virginia Born & Read" will run through November and is designed to "celebrate the variety of talent Virginia has nurtured," according to a publicity brochure.
Participants will overcome odds with Booker T. Washington in "Up From Slavery." And they have already laughed with Russell Baker, who writes about "Growing Up" on a farm in Loudoun County: "You could always find something entertaining to do around Morrisonville. Climb a fence. Take a stick and scratch pictures in the dirt. There were always cows around, or a horse. Throw pebbles at a locust tree."
Other books by Virginians to be explored in the series are Ellen Glasgow's "The Sheltered Life," about the aristocratic code; Lee Smith's "Oral History," of Hoot Owl Holler in Appalachia; and William Styron's portrait of a disintegrating family in "Lie Down in Darkness."
Each Southern Reflections session is opened by a visiting "scholar" who offers insight into the world of the writer. Suzanne Jones of the University of Richmond, who will lead the discussion on "Oral History," commented: "In an age in which television and movies are emphasized, such programs are important because they remind people of the value of good books and the significance that reading and the contemplation it provokes can have in their lives."
Another scholar, Professor Emeritus Edgar MacDonald of Randolph-Macon College, discusses Baker's book for the series. In summarizing the message of the native Virginia authors, MacDonald said: "We may not know where we're headed in Virginia, but we know where we're coming from."
After "Virginia Born & Read," the final book discussion series will begin in late February 1986. Titled "The Southern Literary Renaissance," the spring series will focus on the period between 1930-50 and the writings of William Faulkner, Robert Penn Warren, Zora Neale Hurston and either Eudora Welty or Flannery O'Connor.
The Southern Literary Renaissance series will be offered at 10 libraries across the state, including Fauquier and Fairfax, which are the original recipients of the NEH grant. The remaining locations for the final series have not yet been chosen, but will be announced in January.
A schedule for the already-in-progress "Virginia Born & Read" series follows. All sessions are free and open to the public: Alexandria Library -- 7:30 p.m. Oct. 17, "Up From Slavery"; Oct. 24, "Oral History"; Nov. 7, "Lie Down in Darkness." Fairfax County Public Library -- 10:30 a.m. Oct. 21, "Up from Slavery"; Nov. 4, "Oral History"; Nov. 18, "Lie Down in Darkness." Fauquier County Public Library -- 7:30 p.m. Oct. 21, "Oral History"; Nov. 4, "Lie Down in Darkness." Prince William County Library -- 7:30 p.m. Oct. 21, "Up From Slavery"; Nov. 4, "Oral History"; Nov. 18, "Lie Down In darkness."