Social injustice among themes in new Tale book

Posted: Tuesday, October 19, 2010
By Ben Beagle

|BATAVIA — Mary Scoins drove in to Richmond Memorial Library from Corfu Monday night just for the few minutes it would take to be among the first to hear what book has been selected for the 2011 ‘‘A Tale for Three Counties’’ title.
Joyce Thompson-Hovey of Pavilion had buttons from four of the previous eight Tale titles pinned to her jacket.
And shortly after 7 p.m., at four libraries in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties, partiicpants learned that Hillary Jordan’s prize-winning debut novel ‘‘Mudbound’’ was the selection for the community reading project that encourages readers to pick up the same book, discuss it and then meet the author.
Jordan’s novel, the ninth in the Tale program, tells the story of two families — one black, one white — that struggle to survive on a desolate farm in rural Mississippi shortly after the end of World War II.
‘‘It sounds interesting,’’ said Thompson-Hovey. ‘‘The thing I like about ‘Tale’ is how they have all been different. They’re not the same type of genres each time.’’
‘‘Mudbound,’’ published in 2008, has been compared to the works of noted Southern writers Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, and Kathryn Stockett’s current best-seller ‘‘The Help.’’ Jordan’s novel has been praised for its ‘‘emotional wallop,’’ ‘‘engaging characters’’ and ‘‘cultural nuances.’’
Leslie DeLooze, the Richmond librarian who started the Tale project in 2003, described ‘‘Mudbound’’ as a book that ‘‘begins with an opening sentence that grabs you, starting a story with strong characters and a compulsively readable plot.’’
Six characters — male and female, black and white — tell the story of ‘‘Mudbound,’’ which was inspired in part by the stories Jordan heard from her mother, aunt and grandmother who lived for a short time on a farm in Lake Village, Ark., just after World War II.
‘‘I grew up hearing stories about it,’’ Jordan, who was raised in Texas and Oklahoma, but now lives near New York City, told The Daily News in an e-mail interview.
The family members, she said, ‘‘spoke of the farm often, laughing and shaking their heads by turns, depending on whether the story in question was funny or horrifying. Often they were both, as Southern stories tend to be.’’
‘‘Mudbound’’ is the story of city-bred Laura McAllen, who is trying to raise her children on her husband’s Mississippi Delta farm.
In the midst of the family’s struggles, two young men return from the war to work the land. Jamie McAllan, Laura’s brother-in-law, is everything her husband is not — charming, handsome and haunted by his memories of the war. Ronsel Jackson, eldest son of the black sharecroppers who live on the McAllan farm, has come home with the shine of a war hero. But no matter his bravery, he is still considered less than a man in the Jim Crow South.
Racism, prejudice and social injustice are among the themes explored in Jordan’s novel.
‘‘I think that race is the great unhealed wound of our country, and even though we now have an African-American president, we still have a ways to go on racism. Ditto for women’s rights, which is another cause of mine,’’ Jordan wrote.
‘‘Mudbound’’ received the Bellwether Prize for Fiction, which promotes literature of social change. In 2009, the novel won an Alex Award from the American Library Association for being one fo the year’s best adult books for teen readers. Jordan was also named among Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers picks, a Borders Original Voices selection and one of 12 ‘‘New Voices for 2008’’ chosen by Waterstone’s U.K. bookseller.
More than 90 people attended the Tale announcement, which was made simultaneously at Richmond Memorial Library and Alfred C. O’Connell Library at Genesee Community College, both in Batavia; Lee-Whedon Memorial Library, Medina; and Perry Public Library, Perry.
About 40 people attended the Richmond Library announcement, where Leslie DeLooze, the librarian who started the Tale project in 2003, introduced the book, showed a video from the author’s website and invited participants to partake in refreshments such as the Mississippi mud pies provided by D&R Depot in Le Roy.
Tale organizers, DeLooze said, ‘‘looked at many books over the past year to choose just the right one. We make this decision with much trepidation, because we know that readers are holding us to the high standards set in the previous years. You won’t be disappointed.’’
More than a dozen people — faculty, staff, students and community members — gathered at the GCC library where the video was shown along with a podcast of author Jordan describing the book and reading from it. The enthusiastic group then spent 45 minutes discussing the book — which few had heard of — while eating mud-themed treats of brownies, chocolate donuts and coffee, said Nina T. Warren, director of library services at GCC.
In Medina, two retired Orleans County librarians helped with the announcement. Mary Zangerle, retired director of Lee-Whedon, prepared a Mississippi Mud Cake. Another retired library director, Maggie Burtwell of Yates Community Library, Lyndonville, brought in a cotton plant from her daughter in North Carolina to help set the scene for the book announcement.
Burtwell said she used to stick with her favorite authors, but after becoming involved with Tale at its start has discovered new authors and been open to more genres.
‘‘With this program, I’ll pick up a book, any book, and give it a chance,’’ she said.
Kristen McAdoo, a reading teacher at GCC’s Medina campus, participated in last year’s Tale with her class and will consider doing the same with ‘‘Mudbound.’’
‘‘One of my goals is to make my students life-long readers,’’ said McAdoo, who won a copy of the book during the announcement party. Books were also given away at the other gatherings.
McAdoo said her students will benefit from hearing first-hand from the author on writing the book in stages and developing a plot
Burtwell expects the book will spur good discussion in local reading groups.
Such discussions are the most appealing aspect of Tale for Scoins, the Corfu reader, who has participated in seven of the previous eight Tale programs.
‘‘I get so excited. The books have been so awesome,’’ she said. ‘‘The best part, after reading them, is having the book discussions. I really like hearing other readers talk about their opinions, and hear their ideas, their way of thinking.’’
Books are available for purchase or loan from area libraries and bookstores.
Discussions will begin in January. A book review contest, with its prize a lunch with the author, will return. Jordan is scheduled to visit each county March 10 to 12.
Becky Swanson of Batavia said she loves hearing the author come and speak.
‘‘It adds a nice little element after reading the book,’’ she said.
Jordan has participated in community reading projects, most recently at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., where ‘‘Mudbound’’ was a freshmen reading project that also became the local library’s selection for ‘‘Watauga County Reads.’’
The author said she is looking forward to meeting ‘‘some great people and have some interesting conversations about literature.’’
‘‘I love being around fellow book lovers,’’ Jordan said. ‘‘It’s always a pleasure talking to readers about my work and to hear their perspectives.’’
Daily News staff writer Tom Rivers reported from Medina.

Hillary Jordan website:


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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

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