Thursday, November 7, 2013

An Evening with author Allan Gurganus

Allan Gurganus
It was a dark and stormy night...but I braved the rain and the rush hour traffic to attend an author event last night at the main library. The guest was Allan Gurganus author of Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All. I remember it being wildly successful in the early 1990s when I worked at a bookstore (although I have not read a one of its 737 pages). 

Mr. G was on tour with his newest book Local Souls which is made up of three novellas that take place in Gurganus's fictional town of Falls, North Carolina.

Since he is from the South and writes about the South and I live in the South, I wanted to hear what Mr. Gurganus had to say. As it turns out, he walked jauntily onto the stage and read from the new book for about 20 minutes. Actually, it was more of a performance with pauses, inflections, and hand gestures that made for an invigorating reading.

Mr. Gurganus is a good ol' Southern storyteller. He says he tries to write the funniest things possible about the tragic things that happen to people. Last night's reading concerned a couple whose riverside house was flooded in the middle of the night and they ended up in the National Guard Armory with their neighbors. And he without his heart medicine! 

During the Q&A portion of the program he elaborated on other subjects. 

About his writing:

"I choose one corner of the world and focus on that - the particulars." 

On small town living:

"The village ethic is extraordinary. The community can be both supportive and vengeful, and ultimately may be forgiving.
Community will come to you. You start out thinking you have found a nice quiet retreat and before you know it you are attending town meetings."

What he missed when he wasn't living in the South:

"Exaggerated conversation. In the North, they called me a liar when I told some of my stories. In the South, part of storytelling is the embellishment - true or not."

On his passion for objects:

"I think of myself as a collector, not a hoarder. After all, there are paths through my house. I see myself on a mission to rescue objects so sweet, yet so ugly, and that tried so hard. I have a life-size statue of St. Ursula that I bought at a flea market. I speak to her every day."

It was an entertaining evening and I am glad I defied the storm to attend.

Have you read any of Allan Gurganus's five books? He also publishes essays in The New York Times. Here is the link to his website where you will find interviews, essays, and photographs of some of his collections. I found him to be an intriguing fellow.


  1. An evening event I would have enjoyed, Belle. I know I once had "Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All". Did I read it? I think not, though I may have started it. A television movie came from it, which I watched and it was so so. Thanks for sharing this.

    1. Penny, I didn't know there was a movie, too. If it was 'so so' I probably won't try to track it down. If my library had OLCWTA as an ebook, which it doesn't, I might be tempted to give its 700-plus pages a go. Even though I haven't read any of Mr. G's book, I found him to be an entertaining speaker. A lovely Southern drawl!

  2. Belle, I loved Plays Well with Others. It has been some time, but I think it deals with the AIDS crisis. (I don't remember it well: I read it possibly 15 years ago?.) I would like to read his other work.

    Wish I had been at your evening!

    1. Kat, he told us that he lost 30 friends to AIDs during the years he was living in Manhattan so you are correct in your memory of the book.

      It was an enjoyable evening despite the storm.

  3. I did read Oldest Confederate whatever some years ago. The first part was enjoyable, but it was too darn long -- and became repetitious after the first couple of hundred pages.

    1. I was afraid of that, Silverseason. Somehow books that ramble on forever with no real discernible point are just not my cup of tea. That's why I enjoy mysteries so much - there is a problem and a solution. I did enjoy Mr. Gurganus's company though. Thanks for commenting.