Summer Break / Staying Busy

With school out for the summer, I’m on that welcome hiatus from grading and lesson planning, which leaves time once again for my own writing work and of course for other things I’m interested in. I am teaching the same courses next school year – four sections of creative writing and two of twelfth grade English – so no total re-visioning is required, but this year I’m going to take a break from adjuncting a composition class at Auburn University at Montgomery. So the load will be lightened a little.

One of my favorite things about summer is having the mental energy to read for pleasure. So far, I’ve read The Good Men by Charmaine Craig, a novel set during the Cathar heresy in Southern France in the 1200s and 1300s; Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope by bell hooks, and I just finished reading From the Ground Up by Jeanne Nolan. Right now, I’m reading The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore, with The Undivided Past by David Cannadine, and Teaching Critical Thinking by bell hooks still to go. I doubt if I’ll read all three before school is starting back, but I’m going to try.

In addition to reading, I’m also working steadily on my Montgomery history book focused on the 1970s and 1980s. I’ve got about 21,000 words written at last count. This post-Civil Rights period was a complex one in local history. There is so much to read, there are so many people to interview, so many accounts to compare, because so much was going on: the WAPX shootout in 1974, the Whitehurst case from 1975 – 1977, the police raids on the Charlie Daniels concert in 1978 and on the KKK rally in 1979, the near-merger of Alabama State University and Auburn University at Montgomery in 1981, the Todd Road Incident in 1983 . . . Books take years to write, and I’m rocking along with this one.

Outside of writing and reading, in early June, I volunteered as a poll watcher for the first time, and will do that again for the July 15 run-off. Also in June, I volunteered again at Vacation Bible School at my church, St. Bede the Venerable; I always get put in charge of leading the games, which if you knew me . . . fun isn’t really what I’m most known for— but it works out pretty well.

I’ve also been working with the folks at Auburn University at Montgomery to create a special collection. I only recently got all the materials to them, so the collection is still being developed. My goal for the collection was to properly archive my work on Clark Walker and John Beecher, and to make those materials available to future researchers. My materials from Children of the Changing South will also be held there, as well as a variety of materials from my writing and teaching. Since we just began the process, I don’t know when the collection will be available.

This year, once again, I will be on the planning committee for the Alabama Book Festival. I’ve been on the committee for eight years now; this will be the fourth year for the Student Readers Group and my second year handling nonfiction book selection. This year’s Student Readers Group selection will be Selma, Lord, Selma by Sheyann Webb-Christburg and Rachel West Nelson. Originally published in 1997, Selma, Lord, Selma tells the women’s true stories of being eight and nine years old during the time of the Selma-to-Montgomery March. Each year, on the third Saturday in April, the Alabama Book Festival draws thousands of people, and I’m always proud to play my small part in organizing it.

Outside of those things, I’m planning a project for my creative writing students for next year to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery March, which comes next spring. I always want to involve students in those important cultural events. This year’s project will have the tentative theme of either “Homegrown” or “The New Civil Rights” and will connect their understanding that 1965 landmark event to the possibilities for similar action in modern struggles.

Finally, on a more personal level, I’ve been resolved lately to return my attention to writing poetry. I have been writing poetry for decades, since I was a teenager, but I had let that work fade into the background in my day-to-day writing life. I was pleased to have some nice successes in the 2000s, including the publication of Kindling Not Yet Split in 2002 and a pretty good string of small-‘zine publications during the years 2007, 2008 and 2009. But in 2009, the publication of three books in one year directed my energy away from poetry. Looking up five years later, I never did quit writing poetry, but it’s time to get back to something that I have loved doing for a long time.

I hope everyone enjoys the summer. Happy 4th of July! It looks like it’ll be a hot one this year.

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