I did my first book club Monday night at the home of Carole and Irv Kay in the Huntcliff subdivision overlooking the Chattahoochee River in Sandy Springs. About 16 members of the Huntcliff Book Club came out, and I was heartened that more than half of them had read "The Class of '65" or listened it on audiobook. They asked good questions about bullying, race relations, historical memory and other issues arising from the story. (Of course they would ask good questions; several of them are writers or teachers, and our host, Carole Kay, is a distinguished journalist and former colleague of mine at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.) Book clubs have become very popular in recent years and are sometimes seen as an excuse for people to get together and quaff wine (hence the cocktail napkin you can buy that says, "My book club can drink your book club under the table"). Joking aside, most authors love to meet engaged readers in such an informal setting, I have several more book club appearances lined up and welcome more of them. Thank you for a fun and lively evening, Huntcliff. I feel well-prepared for the conversation and Chardonnay to come.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran an excerpt from The Class of '65 in the Sunday newspaper, where the first version of the story that grew into this book appeared in the fall of 2006. They produced a nifty video that includes one of my favorite parts of all this: one of Greg Wittkamper's classmates, David Morgan, reading part of his apology letter to Greg. I remember misting up as I listened to David read that letter into my digital recorder as we sat in his office in Perry, Georgia. The story is on the Living & Arts front under the title "The Scapegoat," part of the Personal Journeys feature that showcases some of the AJC's best narratives. Thanks, David, and thanks to Suzanne Van Atten, Elissa Benzie and everyone at the AJC, my alma mater.
The first time I visited Koinonia, where The Class of '65 is rooted, was in October 1980. I'm the guy on the left scribbling notes for an Atlanta Constitution story, oblivious to the goat munching on my jacket. One of our staff photographers, Louie Favorite, captured the moment. I had heard about Koinonia during my first job, at Presbyterian Survey magazine, and was keen to go there after I started at the Atlanta newspaper. Journalists had been visiting the farm, outside Americus, Georgia, since it was being persecuted for its integrationist beliefs during the civil rights years. When I made the pilgrimage, Florence Jordan, the widow of the community's co-founder, Clarence Jordan, was still living there and showed me the bullet holes where Klansmen had shot into the farm buildings during the 1950s. One of the residents that fall was Margaret Wittkamper; I didn't know then that I would later write a book based on the experiences of her son, Greg, who became a scapegoat to many of his classmates when their high school desegregated during his senior year.