Sunday, April 28, 2013

Review: Belles of Liberty by Linda B. Brown

Cover of Belles of Liberty.  Bennett Students at 1960s Sit-Ins.

Belles of Liberty: Gender, Bennett College, and the Civil Rights Movement in Greensboro, North Carolina.  Linda Beatrice Brown.  Women and Wisdom Press, Greensboro, 2013.  ISBN: 978-0-9888937-0-2. 207 pages. $18.  Includes Index and Bibliography.

Belles of Liberty is a long overdue re-examination of the 1960 Greensboro Sit-Ins so as to highlight the role of women, and particularly the role of the students, faculty, and president of the historically black Bennett College.  Until Brown’s book, the written history of the historic event when four African American students from A & T [Agricultural and Technical University] sat down at a Woolworth’s lunch counter provided only part of the story.

The untold part, presented here in a scholarly but eminently readable way, is of how much preparation went into that first actual Greensboro sit-in.  Dr. David Jones, President of Bennett in the thirties and forties, had been a courageous race leader.  He had brought Eleanor Roosevelt to speak at Bennett and had mentored President Willa Beatrice Player, who followed him and played a very active role in supporting her students in their civil disobedience strategies.  In 1958, when no other college or church in Greensboro would host Martin Luther King, Jr., President Player opened Bennett College Chapel to him and anyone else who wished to attend his speech.

From that time a groundwork was laid by faculty and students at Bennett, A&T, and other local colleges that would support this period, 1960-64, of the racial integration of stores, restaurants, movie theaters, and other public accommodations in Greensboro.

Over two hundred Bennett women students participated in the sit-ins, marches, and voter registration drives.  Their own drive was called Operation Door Knock, and they would offer to babysit or help with housework so the woman could register to vote.  The sit-ins and picketing  gathered momentum as students also came from Women’s College (now UNC-Greensboro), more faculty and staff from Bennett joined the marches, as well as many Greensboro citizens, black and white.  After the initial success in 1960 the movement was sustained and nourished by the students, staff, and president of Bennett, and in 1963-4, it again took off with a new wave of sit-ins, voter registration drives, and mass marches.
The students underwent training in Civil Disobedience.  They dressed as ladies, prepared to go to jail, and they often did.  They did not react as crowds jeered and threw things at them.  They had a clear, strong sense of purpose as they threw off the chains of Jim Crow and second class citizenship.  Their own words reveal how spiritually motivated and connected they felt, how they felt fear but persisted, not only for themselves but for their race and for the justice and equality promised in the American Constitution.

In 1960 Bennett College was seen as the Vassar of the South.  Its students came from all over the U.S.  Bennett also had exchange students from white colleges.  The women’s education included training in the social graces with an emphasis on proper dress and decorum, but they also learned activism and its rationale from their faculty members.  Brown calls attention to the inscription in the Bell House to the right of the chapel, the words in Isaiah 61.1: “... He hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.”  Bennett College has never stayed from this sense of mission.

Dr. Brown read all the scholarly and newspaper accounts of the years 1960-64 in Greensboro, and she explores the question of why there is almost no mention of the role President Player, her women students, and their faculty played in the planning, participation in, and the sustaining of the movement.  President Player was rather retiring.  She was behind her students all the way and cheered them on, visiting them in jail, hosting them when they returned, keeping their parents informed, and making sure that A&T young men were also there when the young women did civil rights work.  She did, however, not seek the limelight.  Though the Bennett students broke the invisible veil of respectability–women weren’t supposed to be so assertive and “out there” in public working to change society.  They were certainly there, but they didn’t call attention to themselves.

In May 1964, several hundred students were arrested, mostly from Bennett and A&T, and jailed in the old Polio Hospital.  For the women there was only one toilet and few beds.  Some slept on the floor.  They did a lot of singing, and they did have visitors, like President Player.  They refused to leave until their goals were met, though they were released earlier because of the unsanitary conditions, while negotiations went on.


Bennett Alumni who protested in the 60s, come back to celebrate the publication of Belles of Liberty.


Fifty women wrote, or were interviewed fifty years later for this book, about their experiences between 1958 and 1964 at Bennett.  Iris Jeffries, ’61 (pages 116-17) told this story: “This single mission of challenging social injustice was a hallmark for many of us in defining ourselves at that period of our lives.  What a wholesome impact it made on our characters and principles and what wonderful leadership we had in our president, Dr. Willa B. Player.  While sitting at the lunch counter one day, after a grueling chemistry class and prior to eating, a young child asked his mother, ‘Mama, why aren’t the niggers eating?’  The stoic mother replied: ‘The niggers aren’t hungry.’”

I like Brown’s closing thought (page 152): “Passing the torch of liberation to the next generation is more and more a necessity.  Our polarized world must find its hope for reconciliation in the great granddaughters of Harriet Tubman.  This legacy that stretches back for almost 200 years must be passed on.  My hope is that this story of the stand taken by the Belles of Liberty and their College will bring growing awareness to the young people of today, for there is still a great work ahead, perhaps more complicated than ever, ‘to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.’”


Linda Beatrice Brown has taught at Kent State University, UNC-Greensboro, and Guilford College.  A graduate of Bennett College, she is presently the Willa B. Player Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Bennett College, where, until this year, she taught African American Literature.  She is the author of three novels, Rainbow ’Roun Mah Shoulder [published first in 1984 as the winner of Carolina Wren Press’s Minority Book Prize], Crossing Over Jordan, and Black Angels.

Linda usually writes about the African American experience.  She is also a poet and playwright.  Her play Congo’s River Song was performed by the NC Museum of Art.  Linda’s novel Black Angels was the “Okra Pick” for the 2009 annual conference of South Carolina Independent booksellers and was named one of the best books of 2009 by the Chicago Public Libraries.

Belles of Liberty grew out of Linda’s lifelong conviction that she has a responsibility to speak out for justice and equality.  She is now at work on the sequel to Black Angels.  She lives with her husband, Gerald White, in Greensboro.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Pre-Sales for Beaver Soul and Farm Fresh and Fatal

Cover image of Beaver Soul, both Russian and English editions; Drawing by Mikhail Bazankov, the Russian editor.


I'm happy to announce that Farm Fresh and Fatal, the Penny Weaver mystery which follows Killer Frost, will be published October 1, 2013, not in November, as I had thought earlier.  Beaver Soul will come out in early September, and I’ll be hosting a launch at my Hoganvillaea Farm on Sunday afternoon, October 20.  If you’d like to come, contact me, but I will be inviting quite a few people.  I’m accumulating fans.  Hurray.  

I’m setting up readings and signings now beginning October 24 at the Pittsboro Farmers Market, Thursday, 3:30-6 PM, and then my first bookstore reading at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, 2 PM, Saturday, October 26.  I’ll keep you posted as I schedule other readings.  You get two books for one reading.  I’ll read some from each.

Pre-sales will be available for both books.  For Farm Fresh and Fatal, you may order now from me for picking it up or having it shipped as soon as I get them, probably in September. $17, includes tax, to pick up; $20, with postage and handling, for shipping, to Judy Hogan, PO Box 253, Moncure, NC 27559-0253.

Pre-sales for Beaver Soul begin May 13, Monday, and last through June 28, Friday.  These orders will go directly to Finishing Line Press, PO Box 1626, Georgetown, KY, 40324, and will cost $14.49, including shipping.  The book sells for $12, and shipping is slightly marked down, which is also true of pre-orders for Farm Fresh and Fatal.  In the case of Beaver Soul, the pre-orders will determine the print-run.  I need 55 pre-orders for them to print 250 copies, etc.

Beaver Soul was first published in Russian in Kostroma, Russia, by the Kostroma Writers’ Organization, and we’re using the same drawing on the cover of the English version.  


Here are the back cover quotes, to give you an idea about the book.  I think you’ll like it, whether you normally read poetry or not!  Many of you will receive a postcard at the beginning of the pre-sales period.  Others, an email.


Judy’s writings about the natural world use metaphors as a way of exploding the bounds of perception.  Her poems are informational, compressing experiences, and continue over a span of thirty years to help us see the likenesses between systems of human, plant, animal,  and celestial worlds.  Judy teaches us how to use our poet eyes, how to guide us to truths beyond the scientific way of seeing, weighing, measuring, abstraction, and dissection. 
–Jaki S. Green, 2003 winner of the North Carolina Award, 2009 Piedmont Poet Laureate  

These are love poems.  The heroine-hero is the Earth.  In this way, Judy Hogan’s poems remind me of Thoreau’s journals.  Like Thoreau, she is a natural-born lover of anything that grows, anything original, most particularly the earth that looks after itself continually... You hear Emerson’s world in the background, that yearning to transcend the self.  To do this the poet must keep open house to the world.  So Judy Hogan writes within the romantic sensibility.  She is a passion child.  Her structure is the old and classical kingdom’s.  
--Shelby Stephenson, Playing Dead and Play My Music Anyhow, Finishing Line Press.

Judy continually weaves the golden thread of her lyric meditation and her philosophical comprehension of nature, its creatures, and people, into the fabric of her observations.  Her own soul in her poems is associated with the image of the beaver–a builder, patient and persistent in its work and in taking care of its family.  And everything that takes place in the beaver’s life–its joys and sorrows, its misfortunes and successes–corresponds to events in her own life.  The motto of Judy Hogan is creating and overcoming.
–Nonna Slepakova, Russian translator of Beaver Soul

Here is our first back cover quote for Farm Fresh and Fatal from our own Chatham entrepreneur, Lyle Estill.  I’m so proud.  More blurbs are coming.


Photo which I hope to see used in the cover of Farm Fresh and Fatal.  Real local vegetables at the Pittsboro Farmers' Market.

In Farm Fresh and Fatal Hogan serves up a complex dish that is flavored with community and family drama.  It is spiced with intrigue, finished with mystery and delivered right off the vine.
–Lyle Estill, President, Piedmont Biofuels and author of Small is Possible


Here’s a short plot summary of Farm Fresh and Fatal:

When Penny Weaver joins the new Riverdell Farmers’ Market, things go from bad to worse.  The county’s poultry agent is poisoned, apparently after drinking fruit punch provided by the abrasive market manager, who claims innocence but is arrested.  The state ag department threatens to close the market.  Penny and her friend Sammie work to uncover the real poisoner.  Kent is unpopular with the quirky farmers, with the exception of the genetically modified seeds man and the baker/jelly maker.  Penny and Sammie discover that the poison was black nightshade, but which farmer grows it and who put it in the punch?

I feel very lucky to have two books coming out this fall.  I hope you’ll want to read them and come to some of the events/readings.  I love having readers and hearing what they have to say!

Judy Hogan

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Review: Jenny Milchman's Cover of Snow

Cover of Snow.  Jenny Milchman, Ballantine Books, 2013.  326 pp. ISBN: 978-0-345-53421-7.  Hard cover, $26.  

Jenny Milchman’s Cover of Snow, whose pages haunted me days after I finished the book, reminds me of something author Doris Betts said years ago.  “The best writing is memorable.”  It leaves an indelible impression.  In my experience few crime writers do leave in our minds scenes and characters we will never forget, but the best do.  Jenny’s book does.

I am not usually drawn to thrillers, and I’d say that Jenny stretches all the sub-categories of crime fiction.  It isn’t a conventional mystery, but it does have one central question the main character, Nora Hamilton, is trying to answer.  Not who but why?  Why did her beloved husband, Brendan, kill himself?  

As in a thriller the reader is given knowledge of the harm that has been done and is still being done behind the scenes before Nora learns about it, hence we fear for her safety, and the suspense is racheted up.  All the characters, however, are fully realized and fully human.  There are no good and evil stereotypes here.  The evil in the book is something we are all capable of if we feel desperate enough, but this doesn’t excuse it.  It makes it more terrifying.

Set in the small town of Wedeskyull, New York, in the Adirondacks in mid-winter, where Nora Hamilton is a relative newcomer, whereas her husband had grown up there and works for the town police, the couple are living in Brendan’s Aunt Jean’s house.  Brenda’s mother, Eileen, also lives in the town and accuses Nora of being responsible for her husband’s death.

Nora’s plight is not unlike Antigone’s.  Unwittingly, she is taking on the whole power structure in which she finds herself.  Every attempt she makes to understand why Brendan committed suicide is blocked; people she believed she could trust turn against her.  Her situation is reminiscent of any human struggle toward knowledge or justice when the odds are so stacked that those in power are willing to do anything to keep their secrets, including killing.

I’m also reminded of that myth of the three sons sent out into the world with the goal of chopping down a certain magical tree.  The first two brothers fail.  The third brother is more attentive to the landscape.  When he sees the old man with his beard stuck in a tree, calling for help, he helps him.  He also shares his bread and ale with an old woman who begs it of him.  These people help him so that he easily fells the magic tree.

Nora pays attention to the people in her landscape whom many would have ignored: an autistic auto mechanic, a newspaper reporter who wants her to help him remodel an old house, an old woman, her husband’s aunt.  In their various and unexpected ways these people, as well as other clues Nora notices and puzzles over, lead her through a chilling, terrifying landscape.

This plot has its roots so deep in Western civilization’s archetypes that no wonder its suffering heroine and her persistence against odds sticks in the mind.

I also think of Henry James’s advice re fiction writing, that the most powerful plot involves a heroine who is intelligent enough to feel intensely but blind enough to suffer in the situation she finds herself in, and then is “ministered to” by a fool.  Here, more than one fool.

The snow and the cold are like characters, too, and people keep going into the cold without enough protection.  Nora, of course, has no real protection of any kind.  She is alone, keeps losing what she does have, and yet people one wouldn’t have predicted come to her aid quite ingeniously.When novelists I admire like Louise Penny, Julia-Spencer-Fleming, and Nancy Pickard, give the book their rave reviews, I can only add: Amen.  Read it.


Jenny Milchman 

I had the pleasure of having Jenny and her husband Josh, children Sophie and Caleb, at my house for dinner back in February when she was on her seven-month book tour and in central North Carolina.  They came early to see the farm, though in February this year there wasn’t a lot to see.  The hens were interesting, and the children enjoyed gathering the eggs.  We had daffodils and crocuses; we could see the beginnings of the buds on forsythia and peach trees.  The children ate everything: my chicken stew from my hens, the fruit salad, the sweet potatoes, the bread, and they all enjoyed the apple pie from my own canned apples.  They also made me drawings, about the farm, and Sophie wrote on hers: “Farming is peace on earth.”  

Jenny’s road to publication took her eleven years, and in the process she wrote and revised many books.  By the time Ballantine accepted Cover of Snow, she was well-known among mystery and thriller writers because of her support to other writers, especially debut writers (she hosts many of them on her Suspense Your Disbelief blog on her website) and independent bookstores.  She started a program called Take Your Child to a Bookstore, so when it was time to persuade bookstores to take her book and give her a reading, they already knew Jenny.  

These days writers don’t have as many bookstore tours as once, especially debut writers.  The burden is on us to get our books known and sold, but sometimes it’s hard now to get that local audience to a bookstore.  Her publisher supported her, but it was her dream and determination that put her on the road with her family to visit independent bookstores and read all over the country, January to July this year.  If she comes near you, don’t miss the experience.  Jenny is friendly and supportive of other writers, and so it’s easy for us to turn and support her.

Sunday, April 7, 2013


Late March 2013 pear (in front) and peach blooms (behind) at Hoganvillaea Farm.



Hereby be it resolved that we, the County of Chatham Board of Commissioners, declare that in our role of governing Chatham County, we are authorized by our citizens to protect them from undue harm by any state or federal government agency or corporation which uses practices such as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which involve dangerous chemicals, excessive amounts of water use during a time when North Carolina is subject to droughts, and in the process generates both poisonous gas releases into the atmosphere, toxic chemical waste spills, and the risk of poisoning our water table and aquifers, and hence wells, which lie close to the shale under which the natural gas lies.  

In addition, due to the fault line running through the Triassic Basin in which Chatham County lies, and the positioning of the Shearon Harris nuclear plant on that fault line in adjacent Wake County, we ban the process of hydraulic drilling in our county because such drilling is fraught with the catastrophic consequences of a large scale nuclear accident should it occur.

We assert that our citizens and property owners within the borders of Chatham County have the American Constitutional right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and not to have our living environment, water, air, earth, and health harmed by corporations bent on fracking and seemingly heedless of the consequences, for which there is no clean-up possible. 

We also assert that no citizen of Chatham County should be subject to forced or compulsory pooling by the corporations pursuing fracking, nor by state police should they be used to force us to comply with horizontal drilling under our property or pipes being laid over our property or our county’s roads being subject to chemical, machine-carrying, and other forms heavy trucking which accompany the practice of fracking, thereby putting at risk our roads and the citizens who live near such roads.

Because Chatham County is known nationally for its agriculture and recreational opportunities, especially at Jordan Lake, which is also part of the Triassic Basin where the natural gas lies, we  therefore, for the sake of our citizens and property owners, forbid damage by the state, the federal government, or corporations to our agricultural work and our recreational and tourist industries, which would be harmed by the process of fracking, nor would they ever recover.

Here is a petition you may sign now, which will be delivered to the Chatham County Commissioners, Governor McCrory, the NC Legislature, and other relevant officials and public servants.

Lastly, here is a poem I wrote back in March of this year, when I decided I needed do more than token work against fracking, and which I gave out at the Pittsboro Farmers' Market on April 4:


March 3, 2013

Under heaven nothing is impossible.
All you need is a human being with a heart.  Chinese Proverb.

What can one person do, I ask myself.
I see the dangers, the indifference 
of those in power to how we will suffer 
if those obsessed frack the ancient
rock under us to release the gas they 
claim we need.  Scientists warn of air,
water, and earth pollution, of earthquakes
along our fault line.  What can I do?  I
planned to be a token activist, use my
books, my letters to the editor, my work 
on Election Day as my part.  In two years
the drilling may begin.  I hear despair
in people’s voices.  They tell me the rich
and powerful have it all sewed up.  
Nothing can be done.  They speak of
leaving the state, of its being ten years
before we can shift these leaders 
who have gerrymandered themselves 
into office and now attack voting 
rights.  It’s as if they aimed their 
high-powered rifles at poor people:
they cut unemployment benefits,
increase the sales tax, refuse to 
extend health care.  One of them said,
“Let people get hungry; then they’ll
go back to work.”  How?  Where?
Good people, thoughtful people act
like terrified deer unable to move
out of the headlights of an oncoming
truck.  One human being with a heart 
can change that, wake those who
despair, save us from this evil hurricane 
set to blow us off course, away from
true democracy, away from civil and 
human rights.  People say change 
yourself first.  I will.  I’ll write more 
letters, put up more signs, send more 
emails, talk to more people.  People 
can change things.  I have the 
heart, the time, the will.  I can’t 
do it alone, but I can start a 
revolution, one person,
One word at a time.