As Co-Chair for the D. H. Lawrence Ranch Initiatives, I am tasked with bringing positive change to the property.
If you haven’t been to the Ranch, this video is an excellent introduction. If you have been there, please take a few minutes to learn more about the history of the property.
Like what you see? Believe in the cause? Share this video with the world!
“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing that I wanted to do.”
― Georgia O’Keeffe
This week, the Georgia O’Keeffe Research Center is sponsoring a forum on “Balancing Authenticity, Idealism, and Expectations at a Single-Focus Institutions.” This three-day event (Sept. 14-16) has drawn a number of museum directors, archivists, and independent scholars. As well as one English professor and novelist. That would be me. I am taking part on behalf of the D. H. Lawrence Ranch Initiatives.
Like Georgia O’Keeffe, I have often been frightened. Also like her, I have pushed myself to act in spite of my fear. Yes, I was a wee bit scared to attend the forum because, after all, what do I know about museums? (Shrug) I’ve wandered through quite a few of them.
Believing in yourself can be difficult, but believing in your cause, in this case the D. H. Lawrence Ranch, well, that’s not hard at all. The Ranch could be and should be a museum and it could be and should be a residency center for the arts.
(BTW: I don’t believe Georgia O’Keeffe was frightened every moment. That’s the sort of hyperbole that the Misfit indulged in at the end of Flannery O’Connor’s story, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” Do you remember the concluding line of the story? The misfit has just shot the grandmother, and he speaks this line over her body:
“She would have been a good woman,” The Misfit said, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”
But, as a result of my tour, I do know that Georgia O’Keeffe was certainly frightened during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Would you believe she had a bomb shelter built outside the bedroom of her Abiquiu home? The docent told us about the bomb shelter, which is built into the side of a hill, as well as all the supplies O’Keeffe ordered to be stored in the shelter. Once she was prepared for disaster, she went right on making art.
Seeing O’Keeffe’s home at Abiquiu is something I’ve dreamed of doing for years, and I am grateful to the Georgia O’Keeffe Research Center for the fascinating tour of both the Abiquiu and the Ghost Ranch homes.
In recent years, the caretakers for the Abiquiu house have restored the gardens where O’Keeffe grew most of her vegetables and fruit. History brought to life, quite literally.
While it’s true that Lawrence didn’t raise vegetables at the Ranch, he did have a cow named Susan, and he milked her whenever he could catch her.
In recent years, the Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch homes have been carefully preserved and lovingly tended, but such was not always the case. It’s up to those of us who care about an artist’s legacy to preserve it.
My thanks to David Henry Sterry of the Book Doctors for this interview.
Thanks to Brenna Gomez, Tom Barbash, and Ben Pfeiffer of the Rumpus.
This morning, I consulted Google images to find a cover shot of my first novel, Deep in the Heart. One of the images in the display caught my attention:
When I clicked on the photo, I discovered the blog, “Our Little Piece of Heaven.”
The blogger’s name is Anke, and her posts appear in both German and English. Here’s what she had to say about Deep in the Heart:
This hitchhiker scarf will be a present for our neighbor and I’m knitting it with Knit Picks hand painted yarn in the colorway “looking glass”.
My current reading material was picked up at the library sale for 25 cents. “Deep in the heart” by Sharon Oard Warner is a very captivating read and I would highly recommend it!
My thanks to MFA students at the University of Kansas for inviting me to read and discuss both my novel and the writing life. Take a listen!
Sophie’s House of Cards has been named a finalist for the New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards! What a lovely surprise.
At Tuesday night’s event, one of the more outspoken members of the audience was a white woman in her mid-sixties. (BTW: A majority of the audience fit this description.)
A self-described retired, high-school English teacher, someone who spent years teaching Mockingbird to generations of students, this woman began the evening by sharing with Hakim Bellamy that she had seen him in the role of Tom Robinson in the Albuquerque Little Theatre production of the play, To Kill a Mockingbird.
In fact, she went to the considerable trouble and expense of taking all six of her grandchildren to see the production because she wanted to introduce them to Atticus Finch, a beloved figure for this teacher and for so many of us who came of age in the late fifties and early sixties.
When Bellamy asked whether the play had endeared the children to her hero, the woman’s expression was bemused.
The children were shocked, she said, that Atticus shot a dog, and on the way home could talk of nothing else.
Funny, yes, and instructive, sure: The children wouldn’t have been impressed by a white lawyer’s defense of an innocent black man. They’ve seen that sort of situation play in many television programs and movies. For them, it’s a commonplace for lawyers of one race to defend clients of another. What they haven’t seen are rabid dogs wandering the streets of a small southern community! They don’t have any experience with rabies and infected dogs. From their perspective, Atticus Finch isn’t much different than Dr. Walter Palmer, the Minnesota dentist who, earlier this summer, killed a Zimbabwe lion named Cecil.
The most telling moment of the evening came later, though, when the same retired teacher tried to explain her reverence for the character of Atticus. Now that she’s read Go Set a Watchman, her misty memories of a saintly father figure have been hopelessly sullied.
“Were you devoted to the book version or the movie version?” someone asked. She didn’t have to think long: “I used to believe my life would be perfect if only Gregory Peck were my father and Spencer Tracy my grandfather.”
“Imagine my disappointment,” Hakim Bellamy replied. “I used to daydream about having Bill Cosby as my dad.”
Of course, we all laughed, but the moment was fraught and clearly illustrative of a larger point: For many years, most of America assumed that BIll Cosby the man was somewhat synonymous with the character he played, Cliff Huxtable, the kindly OBGYN who never seemed to go to work. Regardless of race, we all wanted a spot on the couch at his house because kids at the Huxtables had the full attention of a devoted and entertaining dad.
Now, the millions who revered Cosby are particularly hard-pressed to come to terms with continuing news coverage. The number of women who have come forward to accuse him has grown to more than fifty, making it likely that the comedian and television personality is a longtime, serial rapist.
What’s the takeaway? People are complicated, and as we all know from our own personal experience, many of us are not what we seem to be. Why is this lesson so difficult to learn?
One of the best discussions of the book is in a blog written by Ursula Le Guin. In “A Personal Take on Go Set a Watchman,” she says, “I think that by seeing Atticus as first saint [in Mockingbird], then demon [in Watchman], we refuse to let him be a man, and also refuse to hear what the author was trying to tell us about being a Southerner.” I couldn’t agree more.
More on being a Southerner in the next installment
Let me begin by thanking Amanda Sutton of Bookworks in Albuquerque for convening a panel on Harper Lee’s new novel, Go Set a Watchman, and for asking me to take part. I am also grateful to the other panelists–Lisa Walden, Carolyn Flynn, and Hakim Bellamy. Walden is the manager of the University of New Mexico Bookstore, and Carolyn Flynn is a southern writer and longtime editor of women’s issues for the Albuquerque Journal. Bellamy is an accomplished poet and host of the local PBS series, Colores. He was the star of the panel because he played Tom Robinson in a recent local production of the play, To Kill a Mockingbird. A number of the audience members had seen the play and welcomed Bellamy with enthusiastic applause.
Like many thousands of other readers of my generation, and like all of those in the sizable audience for last night’s event, I have a special place in my heart and on my bookshelf for To Kill a Mockingbird. I’ve read the novel several times over the years, and I am grateful to the English teachers who taught the book to my sons, Corey and Devin. I made sure my sons saw the movie version of the book, starring Gregory Peck as Atticus.
That said, if not for the invitation from Amanda, and the complimentary copy of the book that came with it, I doubt I would have read Go Set a Watchman. My reasons for boycotting the book are likely consistent with yous, if you are curious but undecided:
In the first place, I couldn’t make heads or tails/tales of the title. It’s the imperative, which means I’m being told to do something. But what exactly? Go set a table, sure. Go set a trap, maybe. (I don’t advocate trapping defenseless animals, but right about now I’d love it if someone trapped that insufferable Donald Trump. Drag him out of my living room for a few days, will you, please?) Go set a watchman? What does that mean? I do know it’s a quote from the Bible, but that doesn’t make it self-explanatory or evocative, and a book title should be one or the other or both.
The circumstances surrounding the publication of Watchman are disturbing and disappointing. Like Margaret Mitchell, Lee seemed destined to be a one-book wonder. If Harper Lee had died before her sister Alice, Go Set a Watchman would never have seen print because Lee was adamant on the subject of a second novel: She didn’t intend to publish one.
The early reviews were negative, to say the least. Here’s the concluding paragraph from the NPR review by Maureen Corrigan:“The novel goes on sale Tuesday, and everybody who loves To Kill a Mockingbird is going to read it, no matter what I or any other reviewer says about its literary quality, the bizarre transformation of Atticus or its odd provenance. All I know for certain is that Go Set a Watchman is kind of a mess that will forever change the way we read a masterpiece.”
But here’s my take: Changing the way we read a masterpiece may be overdue. It may, in fact, be just what we need to undertake as individuals and as a culture. Perhaps the avarice of a lawyer named Tonya Carter and a publisher named Harper-Collins will serve us all in the end.
Stay tuned for Part Two.