Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Wonder

Yesterday was a wonder.

I had the privilege of attending the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. Literary nonfiction writer Melissa Fay Greene, Pulitzer Prize winning poet Natasha Trethewey, lyricist Johnny Mercer, and nature writer James Kilgo were all added to an illustrious group of over forty Georgia writers, which includes Joel Chandler Harris, Margaret Mitchell, and Sidney Lanier.

I sat near tears remembering the early years of living in this town and my frequent visits to the Kilgo home. Jim Kilgo would often read aloud his exquisite nature essays, which later became his first book, Deep Enough for Ivory Bills. 
Jane Kilgo and Bev

Precious, precious memories.

His lovely wife and my dear friend, Jane, accepted the posthumous award with gracious words, which captured the essence of an extraordinarily gifted man who passionately loved God and family.

It was also a joy yesterday to make the acquaintance of Johnny Mercer’s relatives, and share an anecdote that had been related to me about the song “Moon River” from an industry professional who’d worked on the set of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I enjoyed Mercer’s grandson's warm account of the songwriter's love of family.

As Melissa Fay Green and Natasha Trethewey spoke in the author discussion, and in their acceptance speeches, I scribbled furiously hoping that I would not let their insightful words escape me. But in the end, what I carried away were not so much exact quotes but a sense of their writing lives. They both write from their own “geography” as Natasha Trethewey said. In her work, she feels called to “mine the intersection of personal and public history.” Those eight words have rolled continuously through my brain since she uttered them.

I was also profoundly touched by Melissa Fay Greene’s story. When she penned her book There is No Me Without You, the story of an Ethiopian widow who took in Aids orphans, Greene and her husband added to their own family of four children by adopting five of those orphans. What a joy to see their shining faces as she received this award.

All of these writers came from particular places with families, and histories. They’ve expressed their literary genius in their time as only they could. And they’ve done it in fiction, and lyrics, and poems, and nonfiction.
They've enriched our lives and as Tretheway says, given a voice to voices history has forgotten. They've made a difference.

I look forward to Green’s next book written about her family, No Biking in the House Without a Helmet, and can’t wait to get Trethewey’s Pulitzer Prize winning collection of poetry, Native Guard. I’ve already read all of Jim’s books, but often circle back to them. And of course, all I have to do is sit down at the piano to enjoy several of Mercer’s songs.

As I stand in the shadow of such writing luminaries, I ponder the efficacy of my own small flickering taper. But then I remember the words I often quote from a writer I love, Madeleine L ‘Engle.

“Serve the gift,” she says. “Serve the gift.”

My job is to use the gift God has given me. It’s not to compare myself to others. My job is to be faithful.

So, I set my eyes on these goals.

Oh, yesterday was surely a wonder--a wonder that will carry into many tomorrows.

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus…” (Colossians 3:17)

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