The power of the pen celebrated. (photo of author Flannery O'Connor by Getty Images)
Whether spoken in front of microphones or written by hand on yellow legal pads, literature in one form or another has long been a defining cultural feature of the city of Savannah , Georgia. The forthcoming announcement of the American Book Award finalists, scheduled to take place October 13 at the historic Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home in Savannah, represents only one example of the city’s increasing literary significance.
Described by the Washington Post (and a number of others for that matter) as “one of the great writers of the twentieth century,” Flannery O’Connor has been thoroughly lionized and canonized. Among the many honors bestowed upon her are three O. Henry Awards, a National Book Award for Fiction presented posthumously in 1972, and the selection last year of her Complete Stories as Best of the National Book Awards Fiction.
In short, the world has been well and rightfully informed about O’Connor’s gift to her hometown just as it has been about Conrad Aiken’s Pulitzer-winning poetry and John Berendt’s blockbuster bestseller, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. That Savannah native James Alan McPherson became the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1978 for his story collection, Elbow Room, also added to the city’s literary profile. But what perhaps too few know too little about are the works of contemporary African-American authors who continue to extend the city’s rich literary legacy.
Such authors include: Marguerite Tiggs-Birt, Iris Formey Dawson, Charles Elmore, Ellis Garvin, Charles Lwanga Hoskins, Ja A. Jahannes, Michael Porter, Robert T.S. Mickles Sr., and Sallie Ann Robinson, plus quite a few more. Some of their contributions may be summed up as follows:
Tiggs-Birt made her debut with the novel Foolish Pleasures and followed it up with a children’s book, Mockingbird, Is that You?
Elmore, Garvin, and Hoskins have each gained reputations as important preservers of Savannah’s rich African-American history.
Jahannes has won international celebrity status as the creator of diverse works in music, poetry, photography, and drama. Among his acclaimed works are the symphonic Montage for Martin (in homage to Martin Luther King, Jr.) and the Juice trilogy exploring the potential consequences of engaging in unsafe sex.
Porter’s books include ground-breaking works on the challenges facing black youth in public school systems, and the important memoir, titled Villages, Ghosts, Lovers… and Red Rice, of growing up in Savannah.
Mickles scored an ESSENCE Magazine bestseller with the young adult novel Blood Kin, A Savannah Story, which he followed up with Isaiah’s Tears as part of a projected quartet.
In addition to authoring two books on Gullah cooking and culture, Robinson is a native of Daufuskie Island who conducts history tours of the island and gives presentations on her work around the country.
Re-introducing a Savannah Author
For just over half a decade, from the end of the 1990s to the years just before and after 9/11, Vaughnette Goode-Walker was, and generally still is known to Savannah ’s spoken work enthusiasts as “Sista V.” The name became virtually synonymous with open mic poetry in the city while she served as the hostess for open mic nights at the Gallery Espresso in the downtown Historic District. Since that time, she has gained even greater recognition both as the director of cultural diversity for the world-famous Telfair Museum of Art and as the founder of Footprints of Savannah Walking Tour, a Complete Story of Slavery in Savannah. Recently, the cultural historian and lover of the poetic word published her first book, the appropriately-titled Going Home.