My memoir, Buryin’ Daddy: Putting My Lebanese, Catholic, Southern Baptist Childhood to Rest, which I worked on for eight years, has just published from the University Press of Mississippi, in the series “Willie Morris Books in Memoir and Biography.”>>
The memoir, my first book, is set in Yazoo City, Mississippi, a small town that sits half on hills and half on flat land, and calls itself “the Gateway to the Delta.” About our shared hometown and its opposing geography, Willie Morris once wrote, “Its people were really flatland people: roughly half of us Aryan and half African, with an additional leavening of Italian, Jewish, Lebanese, and Chinese.” My family, on my father’s side, provided some of the Lebanese leavening, while on my mother’s side we were Southern Baptists and sharecroppers. Joyce Carol Oates—who herself has a fine new memoir out, called A Widow’s Story --has written that “memoir is an attempt at comprehension,” and I agree. Through the writing of Buryin’ Daddy, I’ve attempted to understand my parents and the divergent strains of my upbringing; I’ve also attempted to understand my relationship with the American South. And in doing so, I think I’ve come to love both better.
For the last month, I’ve been promoting the memoir in my home state. Most people will imagine readings and signings at artsy, independent bookstores whose walls are hung with photos of famous authors. I also thought of book promotion along those lines. That is, until I began my mini-tour, about a dozen events spread over these four weeks.
Which is not to say that I haven’t done some of that type of promotion. As a speaker for the annual Delta Literary Tour -—maybe hanger-on would be a more apt description--I visited Greenwood, Mississippi’s elegant TurnRow Books and Greenville’s quirky McCormick Book Inn. In Jackson, I signed and read at Lemuria Books. (The other keystone of independent book selling here is Square Books in Oxford, which I’ll visit next week, recording for Thacker Mountain Radio.)
“Everyone in the South has no time for reading because they are all too busy writing,” our Nobel Laureate William Faulkner said. But, judging by the response my book has received, I can’t say that’s true. (And the interest isn’t just for us “local” authors; the week I was at Lemuria, the writers Karen Russell (Swamplandia!) and Tea Obreht (The Tiger’s Wife) were also there.
The bulk of my promotion, though, has been different from the standard route. One day, I spent three hours at my hometown’s Gilbert’s Gourmet & Gifts (it’s also a lumberyard); over sixty copies of my book were sold. That night, across the street in the Triangle Cultural Center—- an old grammar school building--there was another signing and reading at the “Southern Soiree” before the auditorium stage was cleared for a spring fashion show. Also in Yazoo City, I did a reading/signing for the Lion’s Club in Stub’s Restaurant (where beforehand we dined on chicken and dumplings), and a formal reading at Ricks Memorial Library, the state’s oldest, as part of National Library Week.
Most of the eight years I spent writing and re-writing Buryin’ Daddy I spent alone, sitting at my desk in a small room in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Here in Mississippi, no matter where or how I’ve promoted the book, it’s given me a chance, for the first time, to connect with readers. (And the reaction to the book has largely been positive, with the possible exception of my mother’s former hairdresser, who reportedly didn’t approve of the way I made my mother speak, saying ain’t and dropping her g’s.) It’s both gratifying and odd, launching a personal narrative into the wide world, hearing strangers discuss my family in intimate terms. Still, it’s what I intended—I wanted my mother and father to become characters through which others might also live and learn. By and large, I’ve enjoyed the book’s promotion, but I have to admit, I’m also looking forward to getting back into my small room in San Miguel.
To read an excerpt from Buryin’ Daddy, and to see what people are saying about the memoir, please visit my website at www.teresanicholas.com/excerpt-from-buryin-daddy.html.
--- Teresa Nicholas
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Last up: Margaret Dulaney on 5 Reasons to Trust the Muse
Next up: Diane Saarinen of the Saima Agency will talk about this newfangled thing called the "blog tour."