It seems strange for a person to travel 4,483 miles to learn something particularly significant about his own hometown. But that’s exactly what happened to me when I was stationed as a U.S. Air Force journalist at Eielson AFB in Alaska years ago. It was there that I discovered in an old copy of National Geographic that my hometown of Savannah, Georgia, was one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Having grown up there in a project called Hitch Village and in other parts of the city, I could not understand why.
Then I returned years later amidst all the fanfare surrounding Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (the movie as well as the book), the phenomenal growth of the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), and the election of the city’s first African-American mayor. I learned a lot about the Historic District’s celebrated architecture and how fortunate Savannah had been that General Sherman had refrained from burning the city down during the Civil War.
Once out of the Air Force, it was my intention to visit family and friends only for a few weeks. Fate, however, had different plans for my life and a few weeks turned into a full year with one piling up after another. As I gained some notice as a writer, friends and readers sometimes asked when I planned to write my “Savannah book” since everyone else, including many who were not native to the city, seemed to have done so. Without realizing that I in fact had already started writing my Savannah book I usually answered that I didn’t believe I ever would because I usually thought and wrote more in world literary terms than regional. But then guess what?
Remaining in Savannah led me to do two things: 1) I spent a decade as my mother’s caregiver prior to her passing and therefore came to interact with my family on levels I never had before. 2) I met some of my hometown’s most extraordinary citizens and enjoyed the great honor of writing about them. Some, like celebrated photographer Jack Leigh, have since passed. Others, like Dr. Abigail Jordan, founder of Savannah’s African-American Monument and the national Consortium of Doctors, are still blessedly with us.
Suddenly, with a unique combination of stories examining my personal journey as a caregiver and writer, set in contrast to profiles of remarkable individuals and families, The American Poet Who Went Home Again seemed to breathe itself to life. Adding even more depth and substance to that life were several writers with whom I’d connected on AuthorsDen and who allowed me to include writings by them that further defined my ongoing journey. All lent their voices to the creation of my “Savannah book” and astonished this author by making its pages sing with a literary harmony uniquely its own.