I can’t really compare myself to the top headliner for a concert in regard to Literary Savannah, a travel anthology edited by Patrick Allen and newly republished by Trinity University Press. The honor of top billing would have to go to the classic American authors Conrad Aiken and Sherwood Anderson, whose names head the list of those featured on the book’s front cover. I can, however, and I do, with my poem Return to Savannah presented as the book’s final piece, claim some distinction as the closing act for these amazing pages.
More than a decade ago, I performed Return to Savannah downtown at the city’s old Avon Theatre for a literary tour group visiting from Atlanta. I was unaware that while I was on stage, Judy Long, then an editor with and vice president of Hill Street Press, was in the audience. She later informed me that she wanted to include the poem in her company’s forthcoming travel anthology. My response went from pleasant surprise to stunned delight when the book was published with Charles Parsons’ exceptional lithograph artwork of Savannah’s Monterey Square framed on the cover. I was equally dazzled by the company in which my pen had been placed, including, in addition to that of the aforementioned Aiken, Anderson, and nearly three dozen others, that of the following:
- Olaudah Equino
- Julien Green
- Henry James
- James Alan McPherson
- Johnny Mercer
- Ogden Nash
- Flannery O’Connor
- Robert Louis Stevenson
- General William Tecumseh Sherman
- (U.S. President) George Washington
The anthology is part of a series in which you can also find the titles Literary Nashville, Literary Charleston and the Lowcountry, and Literary Washington, D.C. When initially published in 1998, it was the first title to demonstrate that Savannah’s notable literary culture neither started nor ended with the brilliant success of John Berendt’s blockbuster hit Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. After all, the Poetry Society of Georgia had been active in the city since 1923; and, Conrad Aiken had revealed just how serious some Georgia poets were about the craft when he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1930 for his Selected Poems.
Flannery O’Connor’s Complete Short Stories further confirmed the city’s reputation when it picked up a National Book Award for Fiction in 1972. In addition, Savannah-born James Alan McPherson scored the honor of becoming the first African American to win the Pulitzer for fiction with Elbow Room, a collection of short stories. The fully-established tradition extended into contemporary times with the publication of the Savannah Literary Journal from 1993 to 2001 and continues today with the annual Savannah Book Festival.
This second edition of Literary Savannah marks yet another milestone not only because it reaffirms one city’s ongoing contributions to America’s literary legacies. It is also significant for the contribution it makes to the entire world’s treasury of literary wealth.