Archive for the ‘What Would JCH Do?’ Category

Amelia Is Leaving the Wren’s Nest for Dad’s Garage Theatre

Written on September 15, 2010 at 11:50 am, by Lain Shakespeare

Amelia, our Program Director and my co-blogger, accepted the Development Director position at Dad’s Garage Theatre Company. She starts next week.

(Photo by Jason Travis for Purge ATL)

Dad’s Garage has about three times the operating budget of the Wren’s Nest. It’s also Atlanta’s most prestigious improv theatre. Case-in-point: their upcoming show, Boner-lympics. Later this month they are staging Two Gentleman of Lebowski, which we all should be excited about. Clearly, this is a phenomenal opportunity and a great fit.

Now don’t fret, y’all: Amelia is leaving the Wren’s Nest on stellar terms.

As you may recall, we brought her here three years ago because she was cheap and gullible. I’m lucky she stayed this long. Over the past three years she:

• Launched our KIPP Scribes program.
• Single-handedly ran the Wren’s Nest Publishing Company.
• Put the Wren’s Nest Ramblers to work smoothly and frequently.
• Orchestrated events like Wren’s Nest Fest.
• Performed innumerable administrative tasks such as (a) answering the phone on just one ring or (b) ensuring the Wren’s Nest Twitter feed is funny or (c) helping out that one time that kid puked in our air vent.

This just scratches the surface. It’s no wonder she was hired away.

Readers of this blog in particular will probably miss Amelia’s snide remarks, dirty jokes, and lists of Joel Chandler Harris’s nicknames. I will miss Amelia for her commitment to awesomeness, and I’d like to thank her for all that she’s given to the Wren’s Nest (thank you!).

Since I do not want to do her job, we’ve got to hire someone who is passionate, qualified, and generally fantastic. Do you know someone like that?

Here’s our job description in .pdf format. We’d like a new Program Director on November 1st, so time is of the essence. Resumes, cover letters and writing samples should go to

Wren’s Nest Publishing Company 2010: Potential Covers for The Bard & The Muckraker

Written on July 22, 2010 at 2:21 pm, by Amelia

If a Wren’s Nest Publishing Co. keeps chugging along but no one blogs about it, does it still happen?

The answer is: yes, and thank goodness for that.  This week the students get to choose a cover for their literary journal – exciting!  The journal debuts at the Decatur Book Festival to thousands of bookish types, so this is no small decision, no sir.

Here are the two submissions, created by local, incredibly talented designers (whose names we’ll splash all over the place once y’all have let us know what you think).  The students gave the designers a few cues, and both did absolutely amazing jobs of incorporating their requests.

Behold, #1 (remember, you can click on the pictures to make them bigger):

#2 requires a touch of explanation.  The designer created it so that it could be read from both directions (with the interior pages printed right side up, and the other half upside down).  Here is it from both angles:


So!  What do y’all think?  Which do you like better?  Tell us everything!

I’m not saying your opinions will actually affect anything, but it’s sure nice to hear ’em.

Mo Book Buyers Mo Problems

Written on March 27, 2010 at 9:30 am, by Amelia

This is what our bookshelf looked like after the Phoenix Flies locusts descended on it last week.

Its been a wonderful thing to see how many folks want to have the Brer Rabbit stories for their very own.  However, we literally cannot keep them on the shelves.  No matter how frequently we place orders, they’re simply not printed often enough for us to keep a full selection in stock.  What a problem to have, eh?

On Friday evening of last week we finally received a box of this beauty, which we had been waiting on for a few weeks.  We put them out, and by 3pm on Saturday, all were gone.  Like, 18 books.  Bonkers!

To solve this problem, we’re considering printing our own with Lain serving as author and illustrator and me serving as “person who tells Lain what to do.”  He does have a publishing history, after all.

This is all to say: if you want a book, tell us now!

Elephants in Atlanta — Then and Now

Written on February 15, 2010 at 3:59 pm, by Amelia

Jamie Gumbrecht has a thoughtful and concise post up at the AJC’s Inside Access page about the controversy surrounding the elephants in the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Show.  It opened Friday night in Atlanta.

Two animal rights groups have appealed to Mayor Reed to keep the elephants out of the show, and PETA made an unusually tasteful protest last week with a sad pachyderm statue in Woodruff Park.

Now, I’m not here to use this space to argue either way — though it should be noted that, all PETA disparaging aside (and believe me, I had to curb it), I LOVE elephants.  I went through a pachyderm phase circa 1991 that was unparalleled, featuring an evolutionary pictograph (thank you, Kids Discover magazine) and a barf-green sweatshirt with an African elephant standing in purple grass.  Note: I hate purple and should never, ever wear olive green, but the elephant on the front triumphed over good sense.

Nope, I’m here to talk about the elephant tooth we have here at the Wren’s Nest.

Once upon a time Clio the Elephant was the biggest attraction at Atlanta’s Grant Park zoo.  When Clio died, parts of her body were gifted to noteworthy people, including our very own Joel Chandler Harris.  He kept her molar on his desk at the Atlanta Constitution.  We like to have kids guess what it is as part of the tour.

Kind of a horrifying practice, right?  But also a product of the times.  We use this example a lot when people deride Harris for being insensitive or un-PC — also known as “a person who lived 100 years ago.”  As usual, our argument remains: present judgement should be reserved for present situations.

That said, you may believe that circus elephants are a relic of an ignorant time gone by, and I don’t think I disagree.

Tracy Jordan Accosts John Hancock on 30 Rock

Written on January 30, 2010 at 10:52 am, by Lain Shakespeare

Last week’s episode of 30 Rock boasted this interaction between Tracy Jordan and a John Hancock reenactor interpreter guy:

We get a lot of this at the Wren’s Nest, especially on the phone — criticism of Joel Chandler Harris that’s (usually) more of an indictment of 19th Century culture. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, there’s a little bit of crazy sprinkled in for good measure.

Or, if we’re super-lucky, it’s all crazy all the time.

Same Old Story — Justine Larbalestier’s US Cover of Liar

Written on July 24, 2009 at 1:01 pm, by Amelia

Have you heard about the recent controversy surrounding the cover art for the novel Liar by Justine Larbalestier?  Me neither until about 20 minutes ago.  Here, allow me to fill you in:

Larbalestier wrote a Young Adult novel with an African American protagonist — a compulsive liar who decides to stop, but finds doing so more difficult than she imagined.  Bloomsbury Publishing picked up the novel and chose a cover for the novel featuring a picture of a white girl.

Cover of Liar by Justine Larbalestier

Commence controversy.

Larbalestier, who is white, speaks gracefully about the situation, but is quick to concede the following: authors do not have final say on their covers.  But to say the very least, she is openly displeased.

Now, hold onto your britches: this isn’t a new issue for authors.  In fact, none other than Joel Chandler Harris faced the same problem when it came to illustrations of his black, fictional protagonist, Uncle Remus.

The Uncle Remus that Harris created was a tribute to the slaves he admired and respected during his youth on Turnwold Plantation.  Harris considered the original illustrations of Uncle Remus to be condescending caricatures that didn’t do his character justice.

Doesn’t exactly conjure up thoughts of wisdom and worldliness.  Publishers believed that a minstrelized Uncle Remus would sell better than a more authentic illustration.

Over 100 years later, the same problem persists in a big way.   Novels featuring African Americans on the cover are usually promoted differently, and thus do not sell as well as novels with covers featuring white folks, perpetuating the issue.  Frustrating.

I urge you to read Larbalestier’s blog post — she discusses the situation thoroughly.  And just for the record, the Australian cover has nobody on it at all.

UPDATE, August 8, 2009: Here’s the new North American cover.  (h/t @russmarshalek)

Inserting Modern Standards into Classic Literature — Cool?

Written on June 10, 2009 at 2:16 pm, by Amelia

Laurel Snyder, a local children’s author, has a great discussion on her blog about updating literature to correspond with our current views on racial stereotyping and language.  Bowdlerizing, if you will.

For a museum like ours — literature-driven, historically preserved, and familiar with comments like “I was shocked to hear Mr. Harris wasn’t a racist” (thanks, visitor yesterday) — this hits pretty close to home.

Using modern standards to judge consciences of yore is a tricky business, and there are no shortage of opinons on the matter.  Some argue that if the change doesn’t affect content, it’s a-okay.  For others, myself included (methinks), the idea of making something “appropriate” for the present by erasing its record of the past is a big no-no.

A little guy called “Mark Twain” (maybe you’ve heard of him) sums up my perspective well:

To arrive at a just estimate of a renowned man’s character one must judge it by the standards of his own time, not ours.

translator’s preface of Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, 1897

This topic has come up at the Wren’s Nest many times before, mainly surrounding things like Harris’ use of dialect or even the character of Uncle Remus.  For example, would it be crazy to remove Uncle Remus altogether from new versions and just present the stories?

So what do you think?  Is preserving history worth the cost of upholding possible prejudices?

Wren’s Nest Visitor Drops Brer Rabbit Album With Dialect

Written on April 10, 2009 at 11:06 am, by Lain Shakespeare

Today a gentleman visiting from California stopped in for our Buy-1-Get-1-Free Spring Break (Woo!) Storytelling Extravaganza.  Naturally, he was delighted.

After the tour, he handed me a CD’s worth of Brer Rabbit stories that he recorded. Here, take a listen —

Stephen Allman – The Wonderful Tar-Baby Story

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I was surprised to find out that Stephen isn’t a professional storyteller.  The production quality is great, he has a wonderful voice, and he can tell a good story.  The folks that heard his versions here were disappointed he didn’t have CDs for sale.

Stephen was struck by the Brer Rabbit stories he heard as a child, often told to him in Gullah or Geechee dialects.  So unlike our storytellers, Stephen has employed dialect in these versions, like Joel Chandler Harris did when originally recorded the stories.

To some, this is the most controversial aspect of Harris’s work.

The argument goes something like this — Harris’s use of dialect is insulting and stereotypical, especially from someone who has essentially hijacked and homogenized an important portion of African-American culture.  He stinks.

Stephen Allman – The Briar Patch

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To others, employing dialect is one of the most important parts of Harris’s work.

Their argument goes like this — Harris carefully preserved a vital part of culture, speech, and history, while also becoming one of the first Americans to present black culture to a wide audience with respect.  He should have a halo when you picture him.

What do you think of Stephen’s stories?  Think we should sell his CD at the Wren’s Nest?

What about the dialect in the stories?  Does it make you smile?  Does it make you cringe?

Does it matter that Stephen is white?  Would your perception be different if he were black?  Is the presentation politically correct or politically incorrect?  Does that matter?


Old Timey Ads and Joel Chandler Harris’ Fear of Electricity

Written on November 6, 2008 at 2:52 pm, by Amelia

Today Boing Boing led me to this delightful Edison Electric ad.

Edison Electric Light 19th century ad

Man, I love old-timey things.  If only I could find a job that supported my interests!  Oh well.

What I especially love about this are the reassurances in the ad.  Electricity was a very new and very foreign thing in the 19th century, after all, and not everyone was ready to drink the Kool-Aid.  Or, since Kool-Aid didn’t exist, toddies.

Believe it or not, Mr. Joel Chandler Harris himself was one of the wary.

Gasolier in the Wren's Nest House Museum

Above is the gasolier in the West Parlor.  Our gasoliers – aka gas chandeliers – have gas lamps on top and electric fixtures on the bottom, making them a unique artifact and representing a very specific slice of history.

Now, to be fair, Harris didn’t purchase these (for every room of the house) simply because he thought this electricity business was a fad.  When electricity was first offered, it only came in during certain hours of the day, and no one wanted to be left in the dark after the electric company called it a day.

Logic-based, that’s our guy.

Or… not.  You see, Harris was also “cautious” about riding a streetcar while wearing a wristwatch, convinced as he was that these two would combine to make him explode. Or stop time.  Or create a black hole.  We’re not really sure.

So what does a well-respected man do to hide his crazy?  Why, he buys identical wrist watches and builds a secret drawer in his desk, of course.

Mr. Harris' desk from the Atlanta Constitution, complete with hidden drawer

That way Harris could slip off his watch before boarding the dreaded streetcar, and surreptitiously replace it once he got to work.

Don’t worry, Mr. Harris.  Your secret is safe with me.

Brer Buick — The Newest Addition to the Wren’s Nest Team

Written on November 4, 2008 at 11:49 am, by Lain Shakespeare

On Sunday I drove down to Redbone, GA.  Why, you ask?

Atlanta to Redbone, Georgia

Why, to pick up Brer Buick, a gift from a donor and the latest member of the Wren’s Nest Team.

Brer Buick is a gold 2000 Regal LS with 131,000 miles and a little dent near the rear wheel on the passenger side.  It looks a little something like this–

2000 Buick Regal

Now, I did not ask for a car.  In fact, I didn’t really do anything other than wear a “Protect the Nest” shirt, which is certainly open to interpretation.  And I guess someone thought that they could help by giving us a car.  Sure, why not!

But what do we do with it?

  1. Keep the car for the Wren’s Nest staff and (maybe) storytellers.
  2. Sell the car and pocket the cash for the Wren’s Nest.
  3. Auction the car to the highest bidder (and somehow inspire the competition to overpay instead of hunt for a bargain, as Seth Godin suggests).
  4. Decorate the car like one of those crazy art cars.
  5. Put a “Brer Rabbit for Atlanta’s Mascot” bumper sticker on it and let it rot in the driveway.

#5 would be the easiest, but probably the least helpful.  Any other bright ideas?

Further, how do I enter this into my donor database?  Using the Blue Book Value?