‘Tale’ author to begin series of area visits

Wednesday, March 9, 2011
By Ben Beagle Bbeagle@batavianews.com

Readers have been engaging with the six main characters of Hillary Jordan’s novel “Mudbound” since January as part of this year‘s “A Tale for Three Counties“ community reading project.

They’ve shared favorite characters. The characters they detested. And debated who was more villainous: the land-obsessed farmer, Henry, or his bitter father, Pappy.

“I liked the book very much,” said Sue Briggs of Stafford. “I thought her characters were complicated, not one dimensional. I enjoyed seeing so many points of view.”

Debra Nanni of Batavia found it easy to visualize the characters. “It’s like they were talking to me,” Nanni said.

Now, readers will have a chance to talk with Jordan.

The author will present four talks and book signing this week in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties. Her first two programs are Thursday: 1 p.m. in the Conable Technology Building at Genesee Community College, 1 College Rd., Batavia; and 7 p.m. at Richmond Memorial Library, 19 Ross St., Batavia. She will also speak 7 p.m. Friday at Lee-Whedon Memorial Library, 620 West Ave., Medina, and 2 p.m. Saturday in the auditorium at Perry Elementary/Middle School, 50 Olin Ave., Perry, which will be hosted by Perry Public Library with assistance from other Wyoming County libraries. Admission to each of the programs is free.

Leslie DeLooze, reference and community services librarian at Richmond, expects a strong turnout for Jordan’s Thursday evening program. The library has been fielding an increasing number of phone calls about the program.

“There just seems to be lots of anticipation for the author’s visit,” she said.

At Richmond, DeLooze is planning to display photos from 1940s Mississippi from the Library of Congress that will help illustrate the era of the book.

Jordan’s acclaimed debut novel examines the lives of two families — one black, one white — struggling on a ramshackle cotton farm in the Mississippi Delta in the years after World War II. The book was honored with the Bellwether Prize for its exploration of social injustice as it took on themes of racism and prejudice.

Tale, started in 2003, encourages readers in the three counties to pick up the same book, read it and discuss it. Then meet the author.

“Medina’s readers have responded warmly to ‘Mudbound,’” said Catherine Cooper, director of Lee-Whedon Library. “The book evoked strong feelings and reactions. Even those few who found the topic uncomfortable or the tone too dark for their liking highly praised the author’s skill and style.”

Jordan, in a recent telephone interview, said she is not bringing any expectations with her to the Tale talks.

“It’s interesting when a whole community has read your book. There’s often a lot of discussion,” said Jordan, who noted that she has read some of the discussion recaps on the “A Tale for Three Counties” blog and was looking forward to her visits.

“I like to see what comes, answer questions and share my experiences,” she said.

The Tale author programs traditionally feature a talk or reading of about 30 minutes, followed by a question-and-answer period and a book signing. The signings often allow people to have a brief conversation with the author.

“She has a combination of polish and empathy that strikes people as genuine,” said Emory Maiden, an English professor and director of the Summer Reading Program at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., where Jordan and “Mudbound” were featured in September 2010.

“She has an amiable, if practiced flamboyance about her that’s reflected in her manner of speech, her gestures and her opinions about other writing and art,” Maiden said. “She takes her work seriously, but not too much herself. She seems unaffected by her success.”

Jordan’s professional career began as an advertising copywriter, where she found success working on such national campaigns as the Energizer Bunny. But after 15 years and countless 30-second spots, she wanted something more lasting. In her 30s, she met some women who had completed a master of fine arts degree program and encouraged her to do the same.

“I thought, OK, I’ll write some stories. See how I like it,” said the author, who had developed an earlier interest in writing after receiving positive feedback in school. “There was no one thunderclap moment, but once it started it all came back.”

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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

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