‘Faulkner’s Southern Style’: My Latest at No Man Walks Alone

Faulkner wasn't hesitant to blow his own horn.

Faulkner wasn’t hesitant to blow his own horn.

The greatest American writer? The case can certainly be made for Yoknapatawpha’s own William Faulkner. Whether you like the Nobel Prize winner’s complex writing style or not you should certainly enjoy his Southern clothing style:

Although always teetering on the brink of financial ruin, Faulkner projected the image of the Southern squire. This was especially true of Faulkner during his years as University of Virginia writer-in-residence late in life. In the more aristocratic Piedmont South, Faulkner let the Anglophilia that first appeared during his Canadian RAF days have free rein.

Check out the full article at No Man Walks Alone.

Off the Shelf: Flannery O’Connor’s Cartoons (& Her New Stamp)

Flannery - Twas the Night

I looked up yesterday at the local Half Price Books to see a display of Flannery O’Connor’s The Cartoons. Despite being a fan of all things Flannery, somehow I had missed this volume’s release in 2012. But the remainder list is the way of (most) all books, and also the blessing to all patient bargain book shoppers.

Flannery Cartoons Cover

The cartoons were done by student Flannery O’Connor at Peabody High School and Georgia State College for Women mostly as linoleum cuts. They are funny–some more so than others, to be sure–and touch on typical student themes like the injustice of writing themes over Thanksgiving break or the joys of summer break.

Flannery - Teachers

We even find that Flannery O’Connor predicted Twitter:

Flannery - tweeet

The book contains an introduction by legendary illustrator and engraver Barry Moser and an essay by Kelly Gerald placing the illustrations into biographical context.

Published at a price of $22.99, you can buy it at Amazon for $18.16, but don’t pay even that discounted price. I bought a new copy at Half Price Books for $6.99, and the ever bountiful Hamilton Book will sell it to you for only $4.95 (plus $3.90 shipping). No Flannery fan can be without it.

Flannery stamp

As an addendum, Flannery received her own stamp last week, an event widely celebrated. Flannery youngSome have claimed the portrait of O’Connor on the stamp actually doesn’t look like Flannery O’Connor. However, the photo of a young collegiate Flannery O’Connor used in The Cartoons is clearly the photo used as a basis for the postal stamp portrait. Lovers of Flannery, Southern literature, and good writing in general shouldn’t look a gift stamp in the mouth.

Portrait of the Artist: In Memory of My Friend Jane Gentry Vance

I will miss Jane Vance. I knew through mutual friends that Jane was sick, but one often underestimates such things from a distance, focusing on one’s own problems until it’s too late. I had checked for her at her house a couple of times when driving through Versailles, but hadn’t found her.

Jane Gentry VanceI knew Jane for over twenty five years, extending back to my earliest days as a student at the University of Kentucky. My cousin Jennifer and friend Dave developed earlier relationships with Jane. Jennifer idolized her. Dave worked with her on the Honors Program literary magazine JAR.

She was from old Kentucky stock that extended back to Daniel Boone’s Fort Boonesborough. She was raised not far from there in southern Fayette County on ancestral land in Athens (pronounced with a long “a”). Jane had left Kentucky for Hollins, then for the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. She was a student of the great Southern scholar Louis D. Rubin, Jr. But the pull of Kentucky is strong. She came back to teach English at the University of Kentucky.

Jane worked with my good friend Dr. Raymond F. Betts in UK’s then excellent Honors Program, which they built into a Great Books survey of Western Civilization. For many of us, the Honors Program was the defining experiencing at UK. It is one of life’s injustices that Jane Vance did not become director of the Honors Program when Dr. Betts left as Director.

I finally had Jane in class as a sophomore in Honors 202, a Great Books focus on the modern period. She loved, and taught, T.S. Eliot to us. Before I learned Eliot through the lens of my boss Russell Kirk, Jane introduced me to “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and “The Waste Land.” She was a thoughtful, and reasonable, expositor of texts, teaching us well how to think and write about these giants on whose shoulders we stood.

Jane remained one of my favorite teachers. I remember being invited to her home for a Christmas party, my first time on Morgan Street in Versailles. When I wrote my final column as Editorial Page Editor at UK’s student newspaper The Kentucky Kernel, I listed Jane along with Raymond Betts and Jim Force as my favorite teachers. I admit I gave some priority to Dr. Betts and Dr. Force (I had both in multiple classes). Jane joked to me that she felt like Shakespeare’s wife being left the second best bed.

Among my teachers, though, was Jane Vance who would remain my good friend for decades to come.

I moved back to Kentucky after graduate school in South Carolina, newly married and looking for a place to live. Jane told me about an apartment, a flat, in a historic home a few houses down from her on Morgan Street in Versailles. It was owned by Lexington art gallery owner Heike Pickett, who was (understandably) somewhat skeptical of us (particularly of my wife’s cat). I’m pretty sure she let us in because of Jane.

I am thankful to Jane for opening the door to Morgan Street, which will forever be the most perfect place we lived. The old 19th Century house had slanting floors, no air conditioning, and cantankerous elderly upstairs tenants. We had no money. But Morgan Street was lovely and historic. You felt special living there.

And, of course, we had Jane herself just down the street. We would sometimes housesit for her, watching after plants and cats, playing with word magnets on her refrigerator. (Fun Jane fact, the exterior of her house was used in the movie Elizabethtown, which actually was filmed in Versailles, not in Elizabethtown.)

It was during this time that I apprenticed under Gray Zeitz at Larkspur Press in Monterey, Kentucky. Gray is one of America’s foremost letterpress printers, a key figure in Kentucky’s literary scene for four decades. I wanted to print some of my own projects, which I began doing under the imprint of Adela Press, named after the small community where I grew up in Clay County.

The most straightforward project to start with was a broadside poem. A broadside is a larger piece of paper printed on one side and, these days, often framed as a piece of art. But who of note would be willing to let me, an unproven and inexperienced printer, potentially make a disaster of a valued poem?

Well, my poet neighbor Jane, of course.

I nervously approached Jane about the idea, and, of course she graciously jumped on board the project. She had just written a poem about pigs as part of a poetry group of which she was a member. It was called “Portrait of the Artist as a White Pig.”White Pig illustration

White Pig broadsideAmong our Versailles neighbors was gifted artist Laura Lee Cundiff. She kindly agreed to illustrate the poem. The broadside came together as a Versailles confluence of poet, artist, and printer. I handset the poem and printed it in an edition of only seventy five copies (in hindsight, I obviously should have printed a hundred of them), signed by both Jane and Laura Lee. A few people even bought them. I’m just happy to have it hanging on my own wall.

Amazingly for me, “Portrait of the Artist as a White Pig” later became the title poem of Jane’s second collection of poetry for LSU Press. The artwork I commissioned from Laura Lee for the broadside was used on the cover. Such is my minor contribution to Southern belles lettres. I can’t help but confess how pleased I was that our little project made such a ripple.

White Pig bookJane later became Kentucky’s Poet Laureate, a well deserved honor. There was no confirmation that “Portrait of the Artist as a White Pig” put her over the top when the honor was bestowed.

I saw Jane infrequently in the decade I was away from Kentucky. A couple of years ago, driving home for a visit, we drove up Morgan Street as I do every single time I drive through Versailles. Jane was home, so we stopped, uninvited and unexpected, but always welcome. We sent our girls to play in the backyard, and sat on the porch talking to Jane, catching up on this and that. It was a visit I think about again and again, the last time I visited with Jane on Morgan Street.

I did see Jane one more time, at the funeral for my cousin Jennifer who had idolized Jane so, who had reached out to Jane for counsel when times were hard. It was an example of how kind and considerate Jane was. We hugged and spoke briefly.

St Johns window Versailles

Window at St. John’s Church

All of these things ran through my mind at Jane’s funeral. It was a beautiful service in Versailles’ beautiful St. John’s Episcopal Church, and it all well reflected beautiful Jane herself. I saw Heike and Irwin Pickett and Laura Lee Cundiff from those old Morgan Street days. (When I told Irwin I had just moved back to Kentucky he replied, “Kentuckians always come back.”) My friends lawyer Dave Abner and writer David King were there, fellow students of Jane’s at UK. The three of us went for coffee and talked about Jane, the UK Honors Program, and the old days. And I met local chef Ouita Michel, who I learned was Jane’s student, too. She told me Jane was her constant supporter and one of her best customers. If you needed Jane’s support, she would give it.

How wonderful, indeed, was Jane’s life. What a powerful impact she had on so many people. And I am thankful that I was able, in some way, to be part of that life. I will miss Jane Vance.

When I awoke one day, my bloom
was past. Those who loved me first were dead,
and promises had blown away like chaff
or clouds, which dazzle now only in the moment
of their height and roll.
The years have given back the thing itself.
from “My Life Story,” by Jane Gentry Vance

Watch this fantastic interview with Jane by my old friend, and fellow Eastern Kentuckian, Gurney Norman.

Billy Reid & Alabama Chanin Take Cotton From Seed to Store

NPR’s Morning Edition did a nice segment on an organic cotton experiment by North Alabama’s Billy Reid and Natalie Chanin (of Alabama Chanin). Not only did they grow organic cotton like it would have been two generations ago, they also took the cotton from field to store within the same community. Listen to the story here.

And while you’re at it, watch this lovely video by Jennifer Davick on Natalie Chanin’s cotton.

Organic Cotton: Grown to Sewn from Jennifer Davick on Vimeo.

‘Kentucky’: The New Book of Bluegrass Photographs by Pieter Estersohn

Gainesway Farm, via Garden & Gun

Gainesway Farm, via Garden & Gun

One doesn’t take long in the Bluegrass to recognize so many scenes are picture perfect. That’s clearly what celebrated New York photographer Pieter Estersohn thought when he turned to the Lexington area as the subject of his new book, Kentucky: Historic Homes and Horse Farms of the Bluegrass Region.

There’s been something of a media blitz to promote the book, which provide interesting perspective on the beauty and culture of the Bluegrass from an outsider’s perspective. Sandy Keenan at The New York Times has a brief interview with Estersohn. We learn how the project sent Estersohn to the hospital, and what Bluegrass house Estersohn would like to call home. Keenan also asks him “why Kentucky?”:

For a guy who grew up in Manhattan, California and Paris,  why did you pick Kentucky?

One of my oldest friends, Antony Beck, whose family is in the international business of both horses and wine, lives there with his wife and five children, at Gainesway Farm. He’s the godfather of my 10-year-old son, Elio. So we were always going there to visit, staying in the Norman-style guesthouse. As someone very passionate about history and architecture, I got to experience bluegrass country over time, and the pieces started to fall together. It seemed like a very underrepresented part of the country, which hadn’t been fully fleshed out in a dedicated way.

Keeneland Magazine‘s Debra Gibson Isaacs also features Estersohn in the Spring issue. She writes:

Masterful photography allow readers to see everything from the smallest details in silverware to the normally unseen panoramic views revealed through aerial photographs. In all, there are 150 color photographs. “This is a special and unique American region,” Estersohn said. “I love the history. I love that it was part of Virginia and was English. The whole history of how horse breeding and racing came to the region is fascinating as is the reference to Lexington being the ‘Athens of the West.'”

And don’t miss the Garden & Gun gallery of selected photographs from the book. Even for those of us who live in the Bluegrass, Estersohn opens the door to places that most of us are never able to see.

Barbecue Couture: SAW’s & Sam’s

SAWs capI’m not much of a baseball cap guy. I think they’re terribly overdone, often worn in inappropriate situations. You don’t look good with a tie and a baseball cap in the same way you don’t look good in a suit and Converse sneakers, regardless of how edgy you think it is.

With all of that said, caps can have their place, and they are a modern example of clothing from sport making its way into common usage. This is a time honored process, and many great classics of modern clothing have such an origin (eg, the polo coat, the chukka boot, and even spectator shoes).

That is my apologia for my new cap, more of a trucker cap than a baseball cap, from SAW’s BBQ in Birmingham, my favorite barbecue in Alabama. I was strangely tempted by it when I first ate there. Hearing that my friend Josh would be at SAW’s, I ordered a cap from him. It arrived in the mail last week still smelling of smoked pork. This is not a throwback wool cap from Ebbets, but the sort of cap with plastic mesh on the back–“One Size Fits Most.”

Many barbecue establishments offer their own t-shirts, caps, and even aprons. Some are clever, others are pretty standard, silk screened on a Hanes t-shirt. (My wife has a shirt from Dreamland BBQ in honor of her favorite barbecue sauce.)

But once in awhile you see something that takes the BBQ shirt to another level. Readers of Pinstripe Pulpit know about my past trips to the Billy Reid warehouse sales in Florence, Alabama. Reid frequently offers specially designed t-shirts for bands that are featured at his yearly Shindig music festival in Florence.

At the last sale I came aSams BR t-shirtcross a Billy Reid t-shirt for Sam’s Bar-B-Q in Humboldt, Tennessee. I couldn’t let such a creature slip by, so I grabbed one. This is a serious step up from the typical barbecue joint t-shirt.

I’ve never eaten at Sam’s, but having read about it I hope to change that in the future. Located in western Tennessee, Sam’s is part of a barbecue tradition that finds its most famous, but not necessarily best, expression in Memphis. My wife hails from that area, and it’s where I first ate serious barbecue.

In 2012, Sam’s burned down after a grease explosion in their pit. The Southern Foodways Alliance and The Fatback Collective arrived to help rebuild. You can read about Sam’s rebuilding at Southern Living and the Memphis Flyer. John T. Edge had earlier featured Sam’s in his Garden & Gun tour of west Tennessee barbecue. And don’t miss the 2003 Southern Foodways Alliance interview with Sam Donald of Sam’s who passed away in 2011.

Reid’s t-shirt helped bring attention to the iconic barbecue joint during its rebuilding and recovery period. Sam’s also sold the shirts at the shop; having an award winning fashion designer produce your shirts is a claim few barbecue restaurants can make.

I won’t endorse barbecue couture for more formal occasions, but when you’re relaxing, catching up on yard work, or maybe eating barbecue, it could be just the thing.

Fun Find: Southern Culture On the Fly

You may already know about it, but I just discovered the online magazine Southern Culture On the Fly. It’s about, well, fly fishing in the South, or as the tagline says: “fly fishing with a side of grits.” If one is going to fly fish, then with grits is the right way. A new issue is just out, and the back issues are online for your perusal. This is not your father’s Field & Stream. It’s visually stunning. Go take a look.

via Southern Culture on the Fly

via Southern Culture on the Fly

Review: Hattie B’s Hot Chicken of Nashville

Hattie B line

Expecting we would need plenty of energy for the night’s Nickel Creek and Secret Sister performances, dinner in Nashville was a high priority. We wanted somewhere local. I suggested hot chicken to my visiting friends from Kansas City. Hattie B’s Hot Chicken was (relatively) close to the Ryman, so off we went.

Hattie B’s rates well on the food sites, and I was eager to compare it to my earlier brush with Nashville’s hot chicken, Bolton’s Spicy Chicken and Fish. Hattie B’s is a much more respectable place than either Prince’s, which I had to drive around a ‘Road Closed’ sign to access, or Bolton’s, in a painted cinderblock shack. Hattie B’s is in the same building as a GiGi’s cupcake shop.

Hattie B menu Hattie B order

The line to order was out the door, which I took as a positive sign. While I had gone full-on hot at Bolton’s, I knew I had the rest of this evening to spend at the Ryman, so I opted to notch the heat back a little at Hattie B’s. There are five levels of heat at Hattie B’s, starting with no heat with “Southern.” I stepped past Mild/Medium up to “Hot!”for my small white meat order. It was the right choice.

The heat doesn’t register at first, but then it sinks in. As I discovered at Bolton’s, the key to handling the hot breading is to get plenty of meat in the same bite. The taste was good, the heat level was about right. According to the young lady when I ordered “Hot” is supposed to be 3X hotter than Mild/Medium. I would be willing to go up another heat level on another visit.

Hattie B chicken

My hot chicken compatriots tried the “Southern” (no heat) and Mild/Medium. The Southern still has a spicy taste, and I was told the Mild/Medium had kick without distracting with too much heat.

Hattie B banana puddingI chose standard sides, beans and fries. Both were fine, no complaints about either. The banana pudding was creamy and tasty, which lived up to the billing. I wish the sweat tea was a bit sweeter. My eating companions tell me that I missed out by not having the pimento mac and cheese. I won’t make that mistake next time.

I admit it’s tough for me to compare Bolton’s with Hattie B’s. I chose a much higher heat level at Bolton’s. Location and facilities makes Hattie B’s more accessible and eater friendly. I think if you like hot chicken you would be happy with either one.

If you’re new to  Nashville hot chicken, Hattie B’s is good place to start. The chicken is tasty, the sides solid, and the banana pudding excellent.

Hattie B’s Hot Chicken
112 19th Ave South
Nashville, TN
Monday – Thursday: 10 am – 11 pm
Friday – Saturday: 11 am – 12 am | Sunday 11 am – 4 pm

Concert Review: The Secret Sisters at the Ryman

“If your music doesn’t make you feel bad then you’re not listening to country music.”
~ Laura Rogers, The Secret Sisters

Secret Sisters 1

As much as I enjoyed the Nickel Creek concert at the Ryman on Saturday (read my review), it wasn’t only the headliners I wanted to hear. The Secret Sisters were slated to open the show. I’ve wanted to see the harmony duo for a couple of years now. Its hard to imagine if you could put together a more solid opening and headlining act than the Secret Sisters and Nickel Creek.

Like Nickel Creek, the Secret Sisters have released a new album to coincide with the summer tour. Their show opening set were all songs from that just released album, “Put Your Needle Down.” It was a home run set–about 35 minutes of harmony goodness–and I have no doubt they made plenty of new fans.

Highlights performed off the new album included the power charged “Rattle My Bones,” Everly Brothers tinged “Black and Blue,” and girl-power anthem “The Pocket Knife.” The murder ballad “Iuka,” inspired by their grandparents’ young marriage in the Mississippi town, tells the tale of young lovers who meet a tragic end.

What would have made their warm-up perfect for me? An encore performance of “Tomorrow Will Be Kinder,” their tear-jerker written in response to the 2011 Alabama tornado outbreak. The song was featured on The Hunger Games soundtrack. Alas, the Secret Sisters did not return for an encore Saturday night.

Laura and Lydia Rogers grew up singing a cappella harmony in churches of Christ around their native–and legendary–Muscle Shoals. The obvious comparison is to the Everly Brothers, but a more apt comparison might be to Alabama’s Louvin Brothers. Certainly the Louvins’ album title “Tragic Songs of Life” coincides with the Rogers’ stated philosophy that country music ought to make you feel bad.

Picture courtesy of Beth Pontal of Love You Muches

Picture courtesy of Beth Pontal of Love You Muches

But the Secret Sisters aren’t simply channeling the 1940s like a harmony version of Gillian Welch (that’s no knock on Gillian). Songs like “Rattle My Bones” make you want to turn the volume all the way up to eleven. They clearly feel as comfortable with a single acoustic guitar as with having Jack White (or The Punch Brothers) back them up on “Big River.”

I have to admit that one of the reasons I feel an affinity for the Secret Sisters is the guitar they play. On the Ryman Saturday night they used a D-28 style acoustic made by Athens, Alabama’s Jim Hays. Jim is a good friend, and has been quietly making some of the best guitars out there. After the show when I mentioned Jim Hays to the Rogers girls they brightened up and began raving about him and his guitar. For me, it makes their music even more special.

Whether with Nickel Creek or on their own, run, don’t walk, to hear the Secret Sisters perform live. You won’t be sorry. These gals are doing country music the right way, and they showcased that at the Ryman on Saturday night.


Billy Reid & Florence, Once More

BR shop wall

My time in Alabama short, I had the chance to visit one more Billy Reid Warehouse Sale in Florence a few weeks ago. I’ve enjoyed the trips, and the sales have been good to me (as has the nearby Salvation Army).

This sale was around the corner from the main shop, the third location they’ve had for the sale during the short time I’ve been going. Prices were better than last time but selection was more limited.

BR sale 1 BR sale 2

Ties and t-shirts were plentiful, but as it was a warehouse sale available sizes could tend toward the extremes (XS or XXL). I was sad the Alabama Shakes t-shirt wasn’t in my size. I grabbed a Billy Reid bow tie, which I think are some of the best around.

BR t-shirts BR tub o ties

The new spring merchandise was out in the main store, which is always fun to visit.

BR shop belt BR shop bows BR shop monks BR shop shirts BR shop tote

My co-conspirator Sean and I were excited to try a new restaurant a couple of doors down called The Pie Factory. Despite our (very real) disappointment that it was actually a pizza place we went anyway and tried the Boss Hog special. If you need pizza in Florence, it’s worth a stop.

Pie Factory

Pie Factory pie

My visit complete, I bid farewell to Florence and its native son W.C. Handy, who had the good taste to wear a bow tie.

WC Handy