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Lit Up at the Library

Roy Blount, Jr. is one of the country’s most distinguished men of letters. Add –ist to almost any form of writing, and he’s been there, done that–journalist, novelist, humorist, panelist…And he’s also written plays, biographies, memoirs and screenplays. He starred a PBS documentary (“The Main Stream“), is a regular on NPR’s game show, “Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me,” and occasionally performs in the literary-themed band, the Rock Bottom Remainders with Stephen King, Dave Barry, Amy Tan and other writers.

But like all writers, his journey began at the public library. “My childhood library, in Decatur, Georgia, was a large grey-stone building, which is still there but greatly expanded and better lit inside,” Roy says. “The old one was lit well enough for me, the books lit it up, and I wanted to read all of them. Lots of orange biographies of pioneers, Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett and Kit Carson. I can’t remember reading any biographies of anybody who didn’t wear buckskin. I read all the Oz books, and the Dr. Doolittle books. It was a family joke that when I was a little boy in the library I would get so excited I would have to go to the bathroom real bad and be dancing around not wanting to leave the books. I guess that is not a very delicate story, but there it is.”

With memories like that, how could he not grow up to be president of the Authors Guild and a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers? And with a writer’s voice like that, how could we not invite him to be the keynote speaker at our spring conference, “Writing in the Garden of the Gods“?Roy Blount Jr [

Photo credit Valerie Shaff]

Another library memory can be found in Roy’s latest book, Long Time Leaving: Dispatches From Up South:

One afternoon I was in the library of a small town in Mississippi, in need of some information, so I went up to the lady behind the desk there. Ahead of me were an elderly white man and a young black woman. The white man was saying:

“….just hit me suddenly, you know, that I wanted somethin’, and then….it hit me what it was. That I wanted. It was pie.”

“Well,” said the lady behind the desk.

“A piece a pie. It’s funny cause u-sually I don’t want pie, this time a day. But I did, that’s exactly what it was, that I wanted. But I couldn’t think who would have pie…this time a day.”

“Uh-hmmm,” said the librarian.

“Miz Boyd a course serves extremely fine pie. But a course Miz Boyd wouldn’t be open…”

“I was goin’ to say,” said the librarian.

“…this time a day. So I said to myself, I said, ‘Now Wawltuh, where in town would they be liable to know…where a body could get a piece a pie.'”

“Mm-hm,” said the librarian, looking thoughtful. “This time a day.”

“I said, ‘Well I tell you where somebody is liable to know. At the li-berry.’ So I told myself that what I would do would be to just come on over here and….”

“I declare, Mr. Owsley, I don’t believe I know…where….” She raised her voice: “IOTA?”

A faint voice came from back in the stacks: “Uh-huhhhhh?”

“DO YOU KNOW WHERE MR. OWSLEY COULD GET A PIECE OF PIE?”

“You mean…this time a day?”

At that point the young black woman stepped forward and said, “’Scuse me, do you have anything about the Army? ’Cause I got to get out of this damn town.”

Roy will be joined by Pulitzer-prize and National Book Award winner Timothy Egan, bestselling novelist Stephanie Kallos and other distinguished guests at Kiana Lodge on April 26. Registration for the event opens on February 1, so get out that calendar you got for Christmas and write it down now. Better yet, subscribe to the free e-newsletter at www.fieldsend.org. For further information about the conference, please see http://fieldsend.org/conference08.html.

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