The Wren's Nest House Museum Home of Joel Chandler Harris

NEWS PHOTOS PRESS HOME

Archive for August, 2011

The KIPP Scribes Present — The Whole Fiasco


Written on August 26, 2011 at 2:12 pm, by Lain Shakespeare

I’m very excited to announce the release of The Whole Fiasco, the latest bound collection of stories from the KIPP Scribes. Details of the launch party are below.

The KIPP Scribes are 5th and 6th graders from our neighborhood charter school, KIPP STRIVE. Aatallah, captured below by Jason Travis, is one of the Scribes.

Aatallah, one of the KIPP Scribes who wrote The Whole Fiasco

Each week for three months Aatallah met 1-on-1 with a professional writer to record an important family story. She interviewed her mother and wrote “A Generous Decision,” about the time her mom invited a family without a home to share their small apartment.

She learned how to identify a great story, how to perform an effective interview, and how to craft creative nonfiction. Aatallah wrote six or seven drafts of “A Generous Decision” to get it just right.

Aatallah and Bret working on The Whole Fiasco for the KIPP Scribes

Last year we found that the KIPP Scribes Program fundamentally changes the students’ relationship with the written word. Watching Aatallah develop as a writer and storyteller over three months was an astonishing transformation. And she’s just one of twenty-three new writers featured in The Whole Fiasco.

This year we partnered with Storycorps to allow some of the Scribes to record an interview with their chosen family member. The stories will be recorded in The Whole Fiasco, and their interviews will be archived at the Smithsonian’s National Musuem of African American History & Culture.

Saturday September 3rd from 11 am – 12 pm we’ll celebrate the release of The Whole Fiasco at the Decatur Book Festival. We’ll have books for sale, a few readings from the writers, and a lot of autographs upon request at CORE Dance Studio. It will be a very important day for these young writers. Will you join us?

The Whole Fiasco by the KIPP Scribes

If you can’t make it to the party, here’s how you can help —

Buy a copy of the book. It’ll be available in our store starting September 3rd.

Tell someone about this program. We need your help to spread the word.

Many thanks to the Kim King Foundation and the Fulton County Arts Council for funding the KIPP Scribes Program. Tremendous thanks to the many volunteers who gave so much of their time and themselves to the KIPP Scribes. We couldn’t do it without you.

For More — About the KIPP Scribes Program, Photo Update from the 2011 Scribes, Pictures from the Don’t Forget That Day Launch Party

Midnight Consumption — the New Literary Journal from the Wren’s Nest Publishing Co.


Written on August 24, 2011 at 2:42 pm, by Lain Shakespeare

The Wren’s Nest Publishing Co. has been hard at work on Midnight Consumption, their brand new literary journal. It’ll debut at the Decatur Book Festival on September 4th complete with a literary salon at CORE from 2 – 5 pm.

The book features the work of 41 different high school students from around Atlanta.

Midnight Consumption by the Wren's Nest Publishing Co. and Alicia Johnson

Many thanks to Alicia Johnson for designing the cover. The stars of Orion will be die cut, which to us regular people means our book will be filled with holes.

Are you familiar with the Wren’s Nest Publishing Co? Let me break it down for a second —

(1) Each summer we invite a handful of high school students to learn how to create, edit, publish, and market a literary journal.

(2) The editors learn the ropes of the print industry from professionals in the field. This year they benefitted from the brains of Jamie Allen, Jamie Gumbrecht, the aforementioned Alicia, Hannah Palmer, and Kimberly Turner.

(3) We go to cool places to check out how folks make their living with the written word. This year Jamie G. led us behind the scenes at CNN.

(4) The students come up with a name, solicit submissions from their peers, make all editorial decisions, work with a designer to communicate their vision, and organize a literary salon where their peers — freshly minted published authors — read their work.

It’s fun and important. To tell you the truth though, we need your help to keep it going. Can you please help us with one of the following? 

(1) Buy a copy of the book! They’re $5. If you can’t make it to the Decatur Book Festival, it will be available online.

(2) Tell someone about this program! If you want to be super helpful, tell someone who might want to participate next year.

(3) Work “Midnight Consumption” into your everyday vocabulary. It will feel right, promise.

Thanks for your support and see you at the Decatur Book Festival.

 

The Atlanta Opera’s Rabbit Tales — Save the Date


Written on August 17, 2011 at 3:43 pm, by Lain Shakespeare

Rabbit Tales will premier at the Wren’s Nest on October 29th. It’s the Atlanta Opera’s first ever commissioned work and it just so happens to be steeped in the Brer Rabbit stories.

They’ve sent along a save the date worthy of this prestigious occasion —

Save the Date for the Atlanta Opera's Rabbit Tales

I’d like to extend a tremendous thanks to the National Black Arts Festival for lending their expertise and African arts and crafts for the premier.

Can’t make the big day? Just bring Rabbit Tales to your school instead. Easy!

Renaming “Harris Street” to “John Portman Boulevard at Historic Harris Street” Is a Bad Idea


Written on August 14, 2011 at 4:11 pm, by Lain Shakespeare

Tomorrow Atlanta’s City Council will vote on whether to change “Harris Street” to “John Portman Boulevard at Historic Harris Street.” I wrote my opinion, below. If you can’t voice your opinion tomorrow at City Hall at 1 pm, please contact your City Councilperson to let them know what you think.

John Portman, famous architect and developer, should be honored by the city of Atlanta. His contributions to our city are invaluable. His impact on skylines around the world has been substantial. Portman is unequivocally a great Atlantan.

But renaming “Harris Street” to “Portman Boulevard at Historic Harris Street” is a bad idea. It’s not just a bad idea because it cheapens the legacy of both John Portman and Judge John L. Harris. It’s a bad idea because it would set a dangerous precedent for the way we honor Atlanta’s most important citizens.

Picture Bernie Marcus Boulevard at Historic Ponce de Leon Avenue. Or Arthur Blank Street at Historic Andrew Young International Boulevard. What about John Smoltz Boulevard at Historic Hank Aaron Avenue?

Few would dispute the contributions to the city of Atlanta from any of these men. (Well, Ponce de Leon is on his own.) Like Portman’s efforts, their contributions are substantial and usually lauded. I’d contend, however, that we can find a better way to honor these esteemed individuals.

I’m not alone. Recently the Atlanta Preservation Center and five individual plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the city over the renaming. The idea of changing this particular street name at all has been rejected by the Atlanta Downtown Neighborhood Association. It’s also been rejected by downtown’s Neighborhood Planning Unit. It’s also been rejected by the Atlanta Urban Design Commission.

The Atlanta City Council doesn’t like street renaming either. At the most recent City Utilities Committee meeting, Councilmember Aaron Watson said, “I hope we figure out a way to avoid [street renaming] in the future. I absolutely favor looking into other ways of honoring great Atlantans.” Council President Ceasar Mitchell echoed the sentiment: “We will find other ways to honor people. That’s the direction I want to see us go.”

Oddly enough, however, both men support renaming “Harris Street” to “Portman Boulevard at Historic Harris Street.”

Some folks have argued that this particular street renaming is permissible given the significance of Portman’s contributions and the relative insignificance of Judge John L. Harris’s reputation. Council President Mitchell complained that he couldn’t find anything about Harris on the internet. This is perhaps because Judge Harris served as Fulton County’s first and only representative to the State Legislature in 1855.

Please recall — the internet had not yet been invented in 1855. Neither had the chocolate chip cookie. Judge Harris was a pioneer when Atlanta was a twinkle in the eye of a handful of citizens. If not for him and for them, we wouldn’t even be talking about John Portman. Not in Atlanta anyway.

Street names honor many of our citizens long after their memories have faded. That’s the point. The patina of history, however, has allowed City Council to play favorites with well-connected contemporaries. No matter what Councilmembers might think, Atlanta’s history isn’t comprised of fictional characters that should be discarded in favor of friendship or politics.

John Harris was a man with a family who served our city, our county, and our state. No doubt he and his family took pride in their name, both before and after we named a street after him.

Harris’s cousin was one of Atlanta’s most famous citizens, Joel Chandler Harris, an associate editor of the Atlanta Constitution alongside Henry Grady. I can’t imagine he’d be thrilled if our City Council stripped his family of its honor for no particular reason.

The same goes for Joe Harris’s son, Julian Harris, a prominent Atlantan who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1926 for his “energetic fight against the Ku Klux Klan.” He in particular wouldn’t hide his displeasure with our City Council for stripping his family of its honor for no particular reason.

So too his great-grandnephew, Robin Harris, who as a State Legislator was instrumental in developing MARTA and Georgia’s current Constitution. He wouldn’t be happy about the $100,000 our cash-strapped transit agency will needlessly incur by having to change its maps and signage from “Harris Street” to “John Portman Boulevard at Historic Harris Street.”

Robin Harris’s grandson, yours truly, isn’t exactly thrilled about it either. Honor meant to outlast memory shouldn’t be stripped once someone’s contributions are forgotten.

City Council President Mitchell has said that naming a street after a citizen is “the highest honor a city can bestow.” If that’s true, we can’t leave City Council to pit the merits of great Atlantans against one another and thus erode that honor’s credibility, one street renaming after the next.

By the way, other major cities have already figured this particular issue out. Check out Chicago’s Madison Avenue at Wabash.

One of Eatonton’s Brer Rabbit Statues Has Been Stolen


Written on August 11, 2011 at 3:06 pm, by Lain Shakespeare

Brer Rabbit has been stolen from Eatonton. What’s left of the Brer Rabbit statue in front of the Uncle Remus Museum is at once a total bummer, a little funny, and an apt metaphor. Here’s a photo courtesy of Stanley

Brer Rabbit Statue Stolen in Eatonton Georgia in front of Uncle Remus Museum

The Macon Telegraph has had some fun with the story, which is what I imagine Joel Chandler Harris would have done when he worked there in the 1860s.

The caper has, as the author might’ve put it, caused “a considerbul flutter.”

“You can add some humor to it, but it’s a serious theft,” Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills said Wednesday. “People are calling. They’re upset about it.”

Thieves — no doubt sly Mr. Foxes — with a crowbar pried the statue a’loose Sunday night and, lippity-clippity, made off with a town treasure.

For now at least, the villains, well, they lay low.

“The briar patch is hard to find Br’er Rabbit in as you well know,” the sheriff joked. “We picked up Br’er Fox … (but he had) an iron-clad alibi. … We got Tar-Baby, but he won’t say nothing.”

Got any tips on Brer Rabbit’s whereabouts? Please give the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office a call at 706-485-8557.

In the meantime all we can do is remember Brer Rabbit as he once was — take a gander what the statue used to look like.

President Obama, Doug Lamborn, and Dealing with the Wonderful Tar-Baby Story


Written on August 3, 2011 at 4:54 pm, by Lain Shakespeare

This week Brer Rabbit seemed to take President Barack Obama by storm.

First, Representative Doug Lamborn (R-CO) likened the president to a “tar baby.” Then, Pat Buchanan said “don’t throw me in that briar patch” shortly before referring to the President as “boy.”

The terms stem from “The Wonderful Tar-Baby Story” and “How Mr. Rabbit Was Too Sharp For Mr. Fox” recorded by Joel Chandler Harris. In case you’re rusty, here are both stories told together (as they usually are) by Akbar Imhotep:

The phrase Akbar uses in the story and the phrase we heard from Rep. Lanborn are different.

The tar baby of Akbar’s story didn’t carry a derogatory connotation when it was told over the course of generations between enslaved Africans. Nor did it carry that connotation when Harris first heard the story while working on a plantation, nor when he wrote the story down at the Atlanta Constitution.

“Tar baby,” however, has evolved into a derogatory term when used in an insulting way. In fact, its connotation reaches so far and so far afield of its original definition that it’s difficult to say in conversation without whispering.

Just so we’re clear — I think Rep. Lamborn’s comment was offensive and intended to be offensive. Enough politicians have used the term (Mitt Romney & John McCain, for instance) that Lamborn knew the whirlwind of criticism and publicity he was entering. It’s shameless to insult President Obama through racist epithets and unfortunate to further hold America’s greatest folklore hostage with political rhetoric. (I’m less sure about Buchanan’s bumbling.)

Most media outlets that I know about have covered either the “tar baby” story or the “briar patch” one. Miss Nannie saw the story on The View, and then 50 Cent let loose on his twitter account.

While I’m thrilled that Brer Rabbit is getting a lot of attention, I’ve gotta say it’s near impossible to combat so much negative misinformation. If you run into 50 Cent, politely refresh his memory on Brer Rabbit.

You can imagine the “tar baby” is a bizarre problem to have for a small house museum dedicated to preserving the legacy of Joel Chandler Harris and the heritage of African American folklore Everyone knows it’s bad, but few are clear on its origins.

We’ve come up with two strategies at the Wren’s Nest to set the record straight about this particular Brer Rabbit story and the 190 Brer Rabbit folk tales that Harris collected —

(1) Tell our entire story. Be it through storytelling performances or research like Everything You’ve Heard About Uncle Remus Is Wrong, we won’t shy away from the controversy or the awesomeness of Brer Rabbit

(2) Change the story that’s being told by bringing the legacy of Joel Chandler Harris to the 21st century. This means instituting the KIPP Scribes Program, which pairs professional writers with the 5th graders to record an important family story. It also means collaborating with the Atlanta Opera to develop their first ever commissioned work and uplift African American folklore in new ways. Or partnering with StoryCorps to record the stories of our neighbors.

Other, less publicized strategies include “drinking beers at key moments,” “sighing quite a bit,” and remembering that sometimes controversy can be a good thing.

Otherwise, I can only describe this particular situation as “a difficult problem that is only aggravated by attempts to solve it.”

What else can we do? What else should we do? What would you do?