Baptists, barbecue ... and a famous writer

I learned about Koinonia when I was working for Presbyterian Survey, the denominational magazine in Atlanta. The editor, Bill Lamkin, was skeptical when one of our free-lancers, Lynn Donham, suggested doing a story on the religious community in southwest Georgia. Bill thought Koinonia sounded a little too Baptist for a Presbyterian publication. But Presbies are pretty ecumenical, and he relented and let us do the story, which started me on the path to writing “The Class of ’65.”

I mention all this because Bill’s widow, Jane Lamkin (shown here), is a dear friend and has been very supportive of the book. Not only did she suggest that I speak about “Class” at Northside Drive Baptist Church in Atlanta last fall (where the pastor, James Lamkin, is Bill’s nephew), but she also invited me to her house recently to talk with her book club. Knowing me well, she catered the event with barbecue from Heirloom Market, one of Atlanta’s best barbecue places.

The book club is called the Pi Phi Reading Angels (!!!), and it’s comprised of members of the sorority Jane joined in college. What an interesting group of women; Pam and I enjoyed meeting them very much.

Before we left, Jane asked me to sign a couple of books. One of them, she said, was for Anne Tyler.

Anne Tyler? I said. The novelist who wrote “The Accidental Tourist” and many other good books?

It turns out that Bill, who worked for Friendship Force after leaving the Presbyterian magazine, was returning from a trip to Russia many years ago when he met a couple over lunch during a refueling stop in Greenland: a Mr. and Mrs. Tyler. They mentioned that they had a daughter who was a writer. “Would that be Anne Tyler?” Bill asked. 

The Lamkins met the Tylers again during a reunion of that Friendship Force exchange with Russia, and Jane asked for their daughter’s address. The two of them have been corresponding since 1983, Anne answering Jane’s letters in a diminutive hand on stationery with embossed initials.

I was honored to sign a book for such a distinguished writer, honored that Jane would ask. Thanks for your friendship, for your support -- and for the excellent barbecue. I think Bill, my first boss and a good and gentle soul, would be pleased.