Monday, April 13, 2009

WHAT IS A CRACKER QUEEN? Aren’t you dying to know? A Cracker Queen is a strong, authentic Southern woman. She is the anti-Southern Belle. She has a raucous sense of humor and can open up a can of whup-ass as needed. She holds her head and her cigarette up high. She cusses, raises t-total hell when a line is crossed, and she knows loss and hurt; these things have made her beautiful, resourceful and, above all, real.

The Cracker Queen: A Memoir of Jagged, Joyful Life begins with the childhood experiences and adventures of Lauretta in backwater Warner Robins. Her mama on the edge and jazz musician daddy have a deep and disorderly love with years of booze, infidelities and nervous breakdowns but through it all she feels cherished.

The stories of her deeply dysfunctional family include chain gangs, guns, ghost hunting, moonshine stands, scooterpootin’, the famous Goat Man of Georgia and Crazy Aunt Carrie who is arrested for assaulting a police dog. The early years of hardship and hard living all gave Hannon the resilience and humor that are now the hallmarks of her Cracker Queen way of life.

From Warner Robins she moves to Savannah’s most eccentric neighborhoods and its lively crew of hellions, heroines, bad seeds, thugs and renegades including a lady who keeps the Baby Jesus chained up in her front yard, a woman who looks like a rutabaga, and the root doctor that works a hoodoo on her.

This is what Lee Smith had to say:

“I raced through this book—horrified, laughing out loud, and weeping by turns. I say, let’s throw out all the self-help and inspirational books in the country, and put up The Cracker Queen displays instead! Hannon really made me think, and I’m going to whup some ass, too.”

Here’s our little sit down with the soon-to-be famous Cracker Queen:

You have a one-woman show. What's that all about?

It’s a show based on the stories in the book. I also add elements such as large photos of the real-life people and settings depicted in The Cracker Queen. It’s a lot of fun to “perform” the book in this way.

I also get to riff on favorite topics such as how Southerners talk about their health and embellish their illnesses. My Me-Maw was the perfect example of this. She enjoyed poor health even though she was quite robust. She always claimed to have “Cadillacs” on her eyes and “the sugar.”
And do you ever notice how we try to outdo each other when we’re talking about the size of tumors? If you had a grapefruit-sized tumor, then I’m going to tell you about somebody who had a watermelon-sized tumor. It’s pretty funny when you think about it.

What made you decide to finally write all of your experiences down? Was it cathartic?

I could no longer bear the weight of the story—it had to come out. Before I began to write it down, I would have recurring nightmares that I was expelling horrible things from my mouth. I finally got the message and began the work.

Putting it down on paper enabled me to release that burden for once and for all. It made way for great healing. Whether you ever publish it or not, writing a memoir is life-transforming.

How did you come to be a commentator on NPR?

During my lunch hour one day I thought about a favorite quote from Goethe that I had posted in my office:

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”

I realized that I needed to make some sort of bold attempt at getting my stories out there, so I went to NPR’s website and submitted a commentary. Within 30 minutes I got a response. The producer said no but asked to see more of my writing. Everything that has happened for me began with a “no.” So those aspiring writers out there should not be discouraged when they hear that word.

How have family and friends reacted to your memoir?

The reactions from my family have run the gamut from pride and approval to discomfort and anger. My mom loves the book. Some readers find that surprising, but they have to remember that Mama is the Queen of all Cracker Queens.

The response I get most often from friends is, “Good Lord, I didn’t know you had that kind of childhood!”

What influences in your background shaped you into an “anti-Southern Belle?

I grew up in the margins and never related to the Belle or her world. People like us were at the bottom of the heap and had no access to her strata of Southern society. My ancestors were too poor to even be sharecroppers. My kin worked for the sharecroppers!

The women I knew and admired were Cracker Queens: authentic, strong, and wise as a result of the hard times they’d endured and conquered. And through it all these women never lost their raucous sense of humor or their willingness to whup some ass.

Who are some of your favorite authors and how have they shaped your own writing?

Poetry is my first love, so William Butler Yeats and William Blake are my favorites. Their work made me aware of the importance of rhythm. I approach my writing as if I’m composing music. I listen hard to the words. In the genre of modern memoir, I adore Mary Karr and Rick Bragg.

What are you working on now?

Two things: a follow-up to The Cracker Queen and I’m tinkering with an idea for a novel. As someone has said, I’m afraid if I talk too much about it the magic might leak out, so that's all I'll say for now.


Lakota said...

I'm sold! Definitely going to buy this one. Thnx Karin for featuring this one.

Keetha said...

I'm sold, too! I love this voice and will have to look up this book. I hadn't heard about it yet - thanks for introducing us.

Anonymous said...

Heading to the Indie! Can't wait to read.

TheWritersPorch said...

She sounds like a Female Rick Bragg and that alone sells me!