Friday, September 30, 2016

Andalusia's Little Free Library

I have been to Andalusia many times in the periods of my life when I lived in Milledgeville. My first visit was in the Spring semester of 2008, as part of a field trip for my upper level literature course with Dr. Bruce Gentry that focused exclusively on Flannery's writing. I remember well, sitting with my classmates on the pollen-laden screened porch, discussing her letters and essays. It was thrilling to imagine her presence, clacking away on the typewriter that still sat upon her bedroom desk.

My latest visit was no less thrilling, in a way. I attended the last Thursdalusia of the season on Thursday September 15th, which was also the night of dedication for the Little Free Library on the farm property. The evening was clear, yet muggy and sunny, summer still holding on. My nearly four year old daughter attended with me, her first visit to Flannery's farm. She spent much of her time marveling over the peacocks, especially the "boy bird" with his jewel tone feathers. She sweet-talked her Daddy at the gift shop and went home with a peacock of her own. She charmed the fellow attendees by hamming it up for the camera and lounging on the mats to hear stories from the Thursdalusia participants. We even looked through the books in the the Little Free Library together and selected a title to take home.

I came to know about the Little Free Library (henceforth referred to as "LFL") at Andalusia through my work as an apprentice with the ENGAGE program at Georgia College. My project involved placing a LFL structure at a public place in Milledgeville or Baldwin County. Through my work with ENGAGE, I learned there are already several existing LFL, but many lack charters that would designate them as official. There is also a need to keep the libraries stocked with books and maintained. My proposal aimed to not only place a structure, but to assign local student and campus organizations as sponsors of these structures. Going forward with my project, I plan to create a network and increase communication between the various LFL stakeholders within Milledgeville and Baldwin County so that students can use these existing structures to engage in community-based learning experiences.

Artisan-built, the LFL at the farm resembles the barn found at Andalusia. It is a site to behold, certainly one of the more intricate LFL designs I've found. It was already stocked with an array of literature including two hardback copies of Harry Potter! Part of my Engage project was to find a home for the barn LFL's twin sister. I approached the City of Milledgeville to see about placing the structure at Central City Park and at this writing, we are waiting until the revitalization effort of this park takes place, hopefully in the coming year, before placing the LFL structure.

Once the sun began to set, my husband decided to take our little one home and I saw a rare opportunity to kick back on a "school night" so I helped myself to a second Wise Blood IPA and settled on the bench for some storytelling. I was treated to lovely character sketches by Elizabeth Wylie and inventive fiction from others, as well as serenaded with guitar. I enjoyed conversation with other attendees, many of whom I know from campus and the local farmer's market. The evening sprawled as late summer evenings do, lazy and humid, the gloaming all pink and purple and lovely. And as I drove home, bumping along slowly on the dirt driveway, a family of deer flashed across the road, gliding over the rusty fence and into the wide green field.

Jamie Addy is an Instruction and Research Librarian at Georgia College's Russell Library. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Where Two or Three Are Gathered in Our Name

Walking through the south as a black person is often a troubling and perplexing task. Black culture is central to the lifeways of the south and yet ownership of the land itself has been denied to us. This denial means that the choice to “claim” the land is not always automatic. Often, the instinct is to avoid certain terrains because of the potential for trauma that they hold. Think, for instance, of all the Southern-born black writers like Richard Wright, Sonia Sanchez, and Percival Everett who move away and build a body of work largely about other locales. On the other hand, some, like Tayari Jones or Randall Kenan, continue to imagine the Southern landscape even when their bodies no longer reside in the south. Then, of course, there is Tina Ansa whose physical life and work remains firmly anchored to the land from which she came. So when you are invited to celebrate a piece of the Southern landscape, like Andalusia Farm, it can trigger any number of emotional or political responses. The farm with its acre-wide pond, strutting peacocks, tree-canopied walks, and whirring cicadas is emblematic of Southern ugly as much as Southern beauty. While the land itself is idyllic, the built environment reminds one of a way of life that few are nostalgic for, some are critical of, and many feel defensive about. This contradiction raises the question “Do I deny myself the pleasure of these familiar (in all senses of the word) southern landscapes, which gave rise to so much black genius?”

For at least one day in June of 2016, I, for one, chose to avail myself of the pleasure of the landscape and of my neighbors who had gathered on the Nail House deck behind the main house to share creative works in progress, paeans to childhood memories, and humorous recitations of nonsense in the monthly gathering that is Thursdalusia. Some days, I make different choices. This is one of the realities of living with the legacy of the “peculiar institution” of Southern slavery and the aftermath of systematic disenfranchisement—some days you feel up to making the effort to be in community with all of your neighbors and on other days the litany of assaults, past and present, on black humanity, dignity, and beauty mean that you simply cannot. On that day I was able and I’m pleased that I went. I’m even more pleased that I had the foresight to bring some friends with me—literally and literarily. Having my friend Bryan, a young black poet, there with me meant that I was not alone in my reading of the built environment or my sense of the significance of my choices of which poets and poems to share. We had a humorous conversation on the way over about the process of selecting what to read in “mixed company”; how our moods effect how protective or not we will be of others’ sensibilities. My choices that day, however, were probably more about my own sensibilities and the kinship I feel with certain black women poets. That day I read Black Arts Movement era selections from Nikki Giovanni and Carolyn Rodgers because I am drawn to their ways of asserting black femininity as powerful rather than fragile, vocal rather than silent, creative instead of repressive. And their shading of Standard English and Euro-American poetic convention! Choosing to share their language and their ideas was a clear assertion of my identity as a black woman. While all identity is relational, not all identities are subject to the kinds of assault that Black identity is, and that is why the gathering of “two or three” is crucial to manifest black claims to Southern land.

Beauty Bragg is Professor of English at Georgia College and a long-time resident of Milledgeville, Georgia.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Aw shucks!

We recently received very welcome news from the Community Foundation of Central Georgia. The Knight Fund for Milledgeville has awarded Andalusia a $10,000 grant to support the 12th Annual Bluegrass Festival. The Knight Foundation’s giving program “believes the arts help build community by binding people to place and to each other. Done with excellence, the arts inspire and connect people.” Well, thank you! We strive here to undertake everything we do with standards of excellence that continue to lift up this small non-profit with big ideas. In turn, our goal is that the community’s experiences with the farm are frequent and memory-making. As the festival moves into its 13th, 14th and 15th year (and beyond), we hope it is an event that is anticipated and embedded in the community calendar. This and other strategies contribute to making Andalusia a true community asset. That said, we live at the intersection of the local and the global. The majority of our visitors come from outside the five country region in which we are located. Since opening to the public in 2003, we have received over 46,000 visitors from 49 US states and 16 countries. This year’s attendance exceeded last year’s, and that was more than the year before. So…we are doing what we are doing to lay a foundation of engagement for the long haul, to encourage people to use the property, to participate in our programs and partner with us. It is a fact that a place that is loved is supported. The Knight Foundation understands that people and places go together. Their support for our festival helps us concentrate on the things that matter: creating a quality experience, inviting people to enjoy it and to understand this place is here for them. It is also true that preservation is meaningless without people: to engage with the property; with Flannery’s genius and the themes she explored; with history and the lifeways we are in danger of losing; and with nature…all 500+ acres of it wedged between Walmart and the car dealership on GA Hwy 441. Won’t you join the Knight Foundation and show your support as well? Our Annual Appeal ends September 30th. Please do what you can to ensure Andalusia Farm is here for future generations and donate here now. No gift is too small or too large!

Elizabeth Wylie is the Executive Director of Andalusia Farm. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

On Adaptations of Flannery

One of the enduring refrains from the critical apparatus in the modern US is the supposed dearth of original ideas coming from Hollywood. The seemingly endless array of superhero films, remakes, reboots, sequels, and so on is an indicator, some think, of a creative malaise brought on by studio executives’ focus on budgets and profits. This charge, in some sense, is true; of the five highest grossing films of the year thus far, there is one original concept: The Secret Life of Pets, at no. 5. The foregoing is not to say, however, that all sequels and adaptations are lazy or bad. A good sequel or adaptation takes the original material and adds to it in ways that make the new and the old “sing.” The old saw that “the book is always better” usually rings true, but not always; I think immediately of Big Fish and how Tim Burton’s visual style magnifies the strained father/son relationship of Daniel Wallace’s novel.

Flannery fans are fortunate that there’s a healthy supply of worthwhile adaptations of her fiction. Some are somewhat hard to find; I remember a conference here in Milledgeville a few years ago where attendees were fortunate to see “The Comforts of Home,” starring a young Stockard Channing as Sarah Ham. The Georgia College library has a copy of a fairly engaging “Good Country People,” which features a pitch-perfect Manley Pointer explaining his “Chrustian service.” Not all of these rarities are worthwhile, however; O’Connor herself wrote some friends with fairly caustic reviews of a television adaptation of “The Life You Save May Be Your Own” starring Gene Kelly. (In fairness, the rights to that version did procure the Hotpoint refrigerator that sits in the main house’s kitchen to this day.)

Fortunately, other adaptations have found wider audiences. John Huston’s Wise Blood was selected by Criterion for preservation and distribution in 2009, and deservedly so. Huston showcases late 1970s Macon, GA, at its seediest and sweatiest. Indeed, downtown Macon is worth a stop on the way to Andalusia for Flannery fans if nothing else to see what has become of the movie’s landmarks in the interim. Further, my image of Hazel Motes has been compromised by Brad Dourif’s portrayal to such a degree that Dourif is all I can see when I revisit the novel. The Criterion DVD’s special features also introduced audiences to Flannery’s own reading of “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.”

Filmed on location at Andalusia in 1977, the adaptation of “The Displaced Person” very faithfully puts my favorite of Flannery’s stories to film. Perhaps more than any other adaptation, this one brings that story and the farm out of what Flannery calls “the darkness of the familiar.” Glenn Jordan’s direction mirrors our view of the farm, I think; he employs long, sweeping shots of the house and landscape that show off our pond and the rolling pastures. The main house and the Hill House look lived-in, but comfortable. Indeed, every time I go into the Hill House, images of Shirley Stoler and Lane Smith as the Shortleys come to mind. The farm, of course, is a working one: the equipment shed and barns are all lively with day-to-day business, and I cannot help but think of poor Mr. Guizac when I see our tractor parked in the equipment shed.

It’s my hope that more adaptations of O’Connor will come along; she has some relevant things to say about 2016. The travails of Ruby Turpin in “Revelation,” for example, might offer the American public an impetus to reassess its own social ladders and hierarchies, and the Fortunes from “A View of the Woods” are a valuable lesson for those who’d equate economic development with treeless asphalt. Closer to home, new audiences for Flannery would mean a new slate of visitors and friends for Andalusia. As we work to preserve and revitalize the place that inspired her stories. The creative contribution to the memory of O’Connor would be a fitting companion to the physical and fiscal one.
Daniel Wilkinson is a Visitor Services Assistant at Andalusia Farm, an Instructor of English at Georgia College, and an avid reader of Roger Ebert. 

Friday, September 2, 2016

Teaching Flannery in Milledgeville

I find it a fortunate turn that I teach Freshman Composition classes. I'm unconstrained from the limitations of “American” or “British” or “World” in assigning readings, and these courses will have a little of everything: from John Donne to Alice Walker and back again. My students’ first readings in college are O’Connor stories: “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” “Greenleaf,” and I will toss in a couple of more comic tales if time and scheduling permits. “Good Man” is frequently reprinted; the others less so and I have to scrounge a bit to get enough copies for the kids to read. I am only partially selfish in adding in a couple from the top of my list of favorites, “Good Country People” and “Parker’s Back”; I’d like for the students’ Flannery experience to have some of her requisite dark comedy, as well.

Students at our various local public schools and three post-secondary schools are beyond fortunate to have the author’s home so near. The new school year just begun has already brought several English classes to the farm, and more are to come as we get into the cooler months and as reading schedules coalesce. The teachers may have gone on their private literary pilgrimages to the farm before, but their enthusiasm for sharing their favorite writer’s home is infectious indeed. It is O’Connor-esque, indeed, that for all the busybodies and preening moralists among Flannery’s fictional educators, real ones flock to her house and bring their students with them.

I have been fortunate enough to lead tours of middle schoolers and college students both, and their responses to the house and grounds are more alike than one might guess. They are jarred by Flannery’s crutches leaning on the wardrobe and enamored with the tailfeathers of Manley II. They learn of course of the writer and her fiction, but also some ornithology, botany, and maybe even some home economics along the way too. Farms are the original interdisciplinary classroom.

Our most recent field trip guests were the students of Georgia College’s Sandy Dimon, themselves Freshmen and taking their first classes in college. She’s passed along to me some of their reactions from a prompt she uses in her classes, and I am indebted to her for doing so:
I couldn't imagine a better lesson in "setting" than a trip to Andalusia to read "Good Country People" aloud with my students. Here are a few comments from that day:
· "I was able to listen to the story while imagining the scenes taking place in the buildings around me."
· "I've never read a story while sitting in the setting of it. It was a great experience."
· "[It is easy] to understand the underlying sense of loneliness which exists in [Good Country People]."
· "I felt the presence of O'Connor as she wrote the story."
· "This experience is something I will take with me and remember as something bigger than just a class away from campus. But [sic] a way to get inside a story and make it truly come alive."
Students appreciated the house also, particularly O'Connor's crutches and the typewriter. Many had never seen such an instrument and had trouble imagining writing even a small paper without an online thesaurus and spell-check! Several referenced the fact that Andalusia is a free museum and a wonderful place to "get away"; one student felt moved to give his last $5 as a donation.

I would encourage area teachers to arrange a field trip to "the farm." It is ours; O'Connor is ours; we should celebrate.
And celebrate we shall on September 15th. As part of our last Thursdalusia of the season, we will dedicate our Little Free Library, a project undertaken in conjunction with Georgia College’s Russell Library. That project is a way to keep the spirit of literary education alive and well at the farm for students of all ages. We’re educators after our fashion at the farm. (Even my colleagues there from the art world!) While our ideas about Flannery, her fiction, and the running of the farm are valuable on their own, our real hope is to spur our visitors into a perpetual and self-sustaining love of learning. For those who take us up on that offer, every day is a field trip and every destination a museum.

Daniel Wilkinson is a Visitor Services Assistant/Bon Vivant at Andalusia Farm and an Instructor of English at Georgia College.  

Sandy Dimon is an adjunct instructor of English at Georgia College, an AP Reader, and a judge for Georgia One-Act and literary competitions. She also serves on the Board of Directors of the MilledgeVille Players.