The Crosstown Arts Visiting Artist Series will bring the author/photographer/filmmaker Margaret Wrinkle to Memphis for a reading/exhibition/performance from 6 to 8 p.m. Oct. 15 at 430 N. Cleveland.
Wrinkle’s debut novel “Wash” (Atlantic Monthly Press, $25) received high praise in a New York Times review that noted the risky territory white writers navigate when telling the stories of black characters. “Leaping headlong into these turbulent waters, Margaret Wrinkle has written ... a debut novel about slave breeding in Tennessee during the country’s westward expansion, and a masterly literary work that will surely earn praise at every turn.” The reviewer added: “And what topic needs more understanding than the sexual violence that fueled the economic engine of the 19th-century South?”
Wrinkle’s characters include the title character, Wash, an enslaved man; his white owner, a Revolutionary War veteran who has decided to solve his financial troubles by using Wash as a “breeding sire”; and Wash’s lover, a midwife who has also been used as a sex slave.
The Memphis-based actress Jazmin Miller, whose one-woman show “The Journey of Truth” explored the historical figure Sojourner Truth, will read from “Wash” at the Crosstown Arts event. A discussion will be moderated by Ladrica Menson-Furr, director of African and African American Studies at University of Memphis.
Photographs Wrinkle took at places connected to slavery throughout the South, which inspired scenes in her book, will be shown at the event. While the author used letters and journals kept by slave owners, as well as court documents and runaway-slave ads in her research, she sought out such sites as abandoned cabins and lost cemeteries of enslaved people as well, she said by phone last week. (She notes that she also visited some houses open as museums and advised: “If your tour guide is wearing a hoop skirt, you need to take what she’s saying with a grain of salt.”)
Wrinkle said she is often asked about the genesis of her novel. “I was born in Birmingham in 1963 into a racially charged landscape,” she said, describing herself as a seventh-generation Southerner and descendant of slaveholders. She said her interest in racial reconciliation led her to make the documentary “broken\ground.”
Though it was rumored that an ancestor of hers had used the breeding practice that she writes about in “Wash,” she says she found no proof of that tale. “The book is fiction, inspired by multiple ancestors of mine, and by a lot of the white men out in Tennessee trying to build empires.”
Junior Ray returns
Even when he’s boasting — as he does freely when he’s talking about his series of Junior Ray novels — John Pritchard maintains the genial air of a Southern gentleman, with a pleasant dash of self-mockery.
A native of the Delta who lives in Memphis, Pritchard will appear at Burke’s Book Store at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 17 with “Sailing to Alluvium” (NewSouth Books, $27.95), the third of his novels about the deputy-turned-“diktective” Junior Ray, who can find a way to fit the most offensive profanity into the middle of any noun or verb that has more than one syllable.
On the phone from his Midtown home, Pritchard, 75, announced that his new book is “just a beautiful book, just a whangdoodle of a book. ... I slept with it last night.”
Pritchard is the kind of raconteur who makes easy reference in conversation to characters such as his late Aunt Peekyboo. Thursday he remembered that this aunt once heard from her friend Estelle, who was married to William Faulkner, that “Bill wanted to write a book that he could get banned in Boston. That’s what I want,” Pritchard said.
On YouTube, Pritchard mischievously urges readers to catch up on his previous books: “As my Uncle Jack would say, you can’t raise children in a small community without a copy of ‘Junior Ray’ to point to as a horrible example.”
In fact, the Junior Ray books have been well-received by critics. The first was a Barnes & Noble Sensational Debut. The second, “Yazoo Blues,” was called “so profane as to be (expletive) profound” by the Nashville Scene. A review of “Sailing to Alluvium” on goodreads.com says, “The reader is treated to a unique brand of dark funniness that closes the divide between burlesque and metaphysics, fuses the profane with the sublime, and explains the Deep South as no other writer has done before.”
The stories are about class conflict, Pritchard says. Junior Ray’s identity is based on his history as a poor white sharecropper from “deep in the hills” of Mississippi and his loathing of the planter-banker class in the Delta.
Pritchard, whose work history includes stretches as a New York Times clerk, a Nashville songwriter and a college English teacher, says being a novelist is the job he’s wanted since he was 17. “It took me till my 60s to finally get a book contract.”
Durban at River City
The River City Writers Series brings the fiction writer Pam Durban to Memphis Oct. 16 for a reading at 8 p.m. in the University Center River Room at University of Memphis.
Durban, a professor of creative writing at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is the author of “The Tree of Forgetfulness,” “So Far Back” and “All Set About with Fever Trees and Other Stories.”
She has received the James Michener Fellowship from the University of Iowa, the Rinehart Award in Fiction from the Rinehart Foundation, the Whiting Writer’s Award and a creative writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.
The event is free and open to the public. For information, contact Cary Holladay, River City Series director, at email@example.com, or call the Department of English, at 901-678-2651.