Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Introducing Renea Winchester

A few hours after I posted my second blog I received an email that this site would be terminated. Panic gripped my chest as I re-read my post, desperate to uncover what I had written that caused the demise of this incredible blog. (As an aside, we authors are a delicate group). Later, The Pulpwood Queen, Kathy Patrick, announced she’d accept the enormous responsibility of running this blog. She has since asked that we make a formal introduction. With that said...

I’m Renea Winchester, and I’m a reader.

Mariana Black Library

I’ve always been a reader. At an early age my mother drove my brother and I to the Mariana Black Library. In my hometown of Bryson City, North Carolina a trip to the library was a big event. There were no bookstores in this single-traffic-light-town. The nearest bookstore was over an hour away in the “big city” of Asheville, North Carolina. 

My brother and I rode in the backseat of the Cutlass Supreme, trying to ignore each other the way siblings do. Since our legs were too short to climb the steps, Mother took us by the hand and helped us up the steps until we reached the glass doors that opened to possibilities small-town folk can only dream about.

“Don’t move,” she said while holding out her hand in the stop position. “I’ll be right back.” Then she scurried down the steps back to the car and retrieved an A&P bag full of books.

“I wanna do it this time,” I said, my hands reaching for the bag. My brother would whine, “No, it’s my turn. You did it last time.” We’d continue fighting over who would feed the metal-mouthed contraption marked “Book Deposit.” It didn’t matter that the library was open and staff were waiting to take our book returns. Neither of us wanted to hand anything over to a person when we had access to a magical portal that shot books through a brick wall. Mother fairly distributed the stack of books then held us as we pulled the handle, placed the book on the shiny mouth, then listened as it vanished into the wall with a tumble.

Inside, the smell of mimeograph fluid mixed with books so old the bindings were threadbare. Dreams were not only born here, they cultivated and grew. As I matured, I longed to read all the Nancy Drew books in consecutive order, but others before me had fallen in love with the series and kept their favorite book. I used to wonder how anyone could “forget” to return a library book. This from someone who checked out Harriet The Spy week after week after week, and gave serious thought to eternally borrowing (not stealing) the book.

While many consider my weekly library visits commonplace, to my mother these visits fed an insatiable hunger inside her spirit. For you see, her father could not read. In fact, he could not write his name. That is why she reads…voraciously, and that is why I write.

For me, my soul can’t imagine a world without words. Sometimes I think about my grandfather, this man who died before I was born, and imagine his daughter coming home from school, with books clutched to her chest, excited about what she had learned, eager to share.

Her favorite book was Black Beauty. At last count she owned five copies.

As a parent, one of my favorite pictures is of my daughter reading. She’s in bed, a book propped open, Big Bird by her side. She’s “reading him to sleep.” Only Big Bird is still wide-awake. My mother never experienced the magic of a bedtime story. I wonder, did she ever read to her father? Or was he too proud.

Surely it pained him to be surrounded by books and unable to read. He knew the bible from “cover to cover,” yet couldn’t transfer the words he heard others read onto paper, nor could he absorb the written word he saw into his heart. After my grandfather died, Mother found a tiny leather-bound book where he recorded his debts and the prices of goods he sold. It is one of her most prized possessions. However, looking at his “mark” and attempts to document dollar amounts makes me weep.

That’s why I read, because he couldn’t. I write because people and their stories matter.

Like you, I’ve known my share of heartache. I’ve been divorced. I’ve had cancer. I’ve received telephone calls that launched me into a journey I never thought I’d take. I’ve watched loved ones suffer through agonizing battles just to live another day…specifically, my mother who is struggling with ovarian cancer. I’ve been so frustrated I could scream…and have. I’ve been so happy I could cry…and did.

I write to bring stories to you, the reader, in a way that ties us together. I write to introduce people that matter, in a way that says, “Welcome home. I’ve been waiting for you.” I write to make my grandfather, whom I never met, proud. I write because like Kathy, founder of the National Book Club called The Pulpwood Queens, I believe in literacy.
In a few weeks Little Creek Books will release my non-fiction book, In The Garden With Billy: Lessons About Life, Love, and Tomatoes. I hope you will buy this book and enjoy reading about this wonderful man. I should warn you that once you step In The Garden With Billy you’ll become entranced, as I was, by a magical man who-like my grandfather-earned a living by “the sweat of his brow.” Despite modern-day advances in technology, Billy’s world remains the same. His pace is slow. His love is pure. His tomatoes are delicious. I am proud to invite you into the world he and I share, and I’m proud to have another opportunity to contribute to this blog.

Billy and I are hosting a book launch festival on his "little strip of land," Saturday, October 23, 2010 from 2-4 pm. If you're in the Atlanta area and would like to meet Billy, send me an email and I'll forward driving instructions. At Billy's we're all family.

Renea Winchester is a two-time winner of the Appalachian Writers Association Award. Her work has appeared in Appalachian Heritage, Georgia Backroads, Smoky Mountain Living, Longleaf Style as well as Georgia Public Radio 90.1 FM. Little Creek Books will release In The Garden With Billy: Lessons About Life, Love, and Tomatoes October 25, 2010. She blogs at http://blogthefarm.wordpress.com and may be reached at www.Renea.Winchester.com


Susan Cushman said...

Reading your post is like reading a good story: nice dialogue, action that kept moving forward, intriguing characters. Congrats on your book launch, Renea!

Ad Hudler said...

I loves me the smell of mimeograph fluid and I feel privileged to be old enough to know the smell.....I am very excited about your new book, Renea....here's to the launch of another great Southern writer.

Heidiopia said...

Your description of the trips to the library took me back! Some of my favorite memories... best of luck on your new book!

Bob said...

Renea, I very fondly remember my trips to the library and the book mobile as a child. Now I am in my mid fifties and on the downward mobility path: I have left a career as an economist and am studying to be a librarian. I really look froward to your book!

Rachel C. said...

As always, reading your words is like talking to you in person-always a pleasure! Since my mom didn't drive then, the Bookmobile was our big "book highlight". I DID read all the Nancy Drew books in order as well as the Hardy boys and the Bobbsey twins!
Love you dear friend and look forward to not only owning a copy of your first book, but giving copies of it to my friendsa and family this Christmas!

Anonymous said...

It is always good to remember the small town things that keep us grounded. Cant wait to read your book. My southern Writer Friend.

Peggy Webb said...

Your story is poignant and beautifully told. Congratulations on your book launch. May it be the first of many.

Susan Morrow said...

Wow, I can actually "feel" the emotion of your trips to the library and the "smell" also. You made me want to read more about these trips and hear more about your grandfather. Keep writing my fellow Southerner. We need you!

Doe said...

As I read this I was immediately transported back to 1972 and I was 6 again. I felt the urge to "shush" everyone in the room and make most certain that my feet were very, very quiet because we all know of the terrible sins of disrespect by uttering or creating any sound in a library. Thank you for that trip back in time. And, oh, the lovely smell of mimeograph (and musty books)! Ah, I inhale deeply to try to get more aroma from the purple ink fresh from the tumbling drum. Remember, how great it was if you were lucky enough to get a paper that was staight from the mimeograph machine and was still just a bit damp? It's a shame that not everyone can share that memory. (We gotta get us one of those machines before they're all gone!) Thank you for bringing a smile to my face with your beautifully descriptive words. I can't wait to read In The Garden wtih Billy. Since I gave you the final shove and "forced" you into writing, I feel like a proud momma, with your first novel soon appearing. You have a gift and I couldn't rest until the rest of the world had the opportunity to experience your voice through words. Congratulations and thank you.

Anonymous said...

I just was forwarded the link to your blog and I have to tell you it bought tears to my eyes. It brought back memories of forty years ago of going to the library with my mom and brothers and fighting over who got to put the books down the book drop.

Your way of writing, brings words to

Renea Winchester said...

Thanks for all the comments. All libraries hold a special place in my heart for inside lies the very essence of possibility and hope.