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The Georgia Center for the Book has chosen “The Class of ’65” as one of one of its Books All Georgians Should Read for 2016. Your not-quite-humble correspondent is honored to be included in this annual rite of recognition.

The list is compiled from nominations received by an advisory council made up of writers, educators, librarians, media members and others. More than 125 books about Georgia topics or by Georgia authors were considered for the latest roster. Among the 10 titles that made the cut: “Where We Want To Live” by Ryan Gravel, the man who conceived Atlanta’s Belt Line; “Blue Laws” by poet extraordinaire Kevin Young; “Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty” by Charles Leerhsen; and “How I Shed My Skin: Unlearning the Racist Lessons of a Southern Childhood” by Jim Grimsley. I was pleased to see Jim’s name on the news release; we shared a stage last September at the Decatur Book Festival.

There’s also a list of 10 Books All Young Georgians Should Read that includes the delightful “The Wheels on the Tuk Tuk” by Kabir Sehgal and Surishtha Sehgal.

The Georgia Center for the Book is the state affiliate of the Library of Congress’s Center for the Book. The center is hosted by the DeKalb County Public Library and sponsors lectures and other programs promoting Georgia’s literary tradition. One of those programs will be in August at the Decatur Library auditorium to present the latests lists of books all Georgians should read.

It’s free and open to the public. 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 18. Come by and join us if you can.

A special letter

I mentioned recently that my friend Jane Lamkin had sent a copy of “The Class of ’65” to the novelist Anne Tyler. Guess what? She actually read it, in one gulp.

Jane has corresponded with Tyler since the 1980s, when she first became well-known for “The Accidental Tourist” and the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Breathing Lessons.” Jane thought she would be interested because Tyler spent part of her childhood at Celo, a Quaker commune in the mountains of western North Carolina, and would probably know something about Koinonia and the persecution it experienced in Georgia.

A few days after sending the book, Jane received a thank-you letter from Baltimore. “I sat down with the book yesterday afternoon intending just to read the first chapter,” Tyler wrote, “and lo and behold, I finished it by evening; it was that riveting! Gosh, adolescence is hard enough without going through Greg Wittkamper’s ordeal. He was remarkable.”

 I couldn’t agree more about Greg. Thank you, Jane, and thank you for reading, Anne Tyler.

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.

Has it really been a year?

One year ago this week, I took the stage at the Carter Library in Atlanta and gave the first talk about my book “The Class of ’65.” I was nervous because I never expected to look out and see an overflow crowd of 250 people -- an audience that included friends, family, former colleagues and quite a few people who figured in the book. Chief among them was Greg Wittkamper, whose ordeal at Americus High School during the 1960s forms the spine of the story. By the time I invited Greg up to the microphone to talk and answer questions, my stage fright was a thing of the past. 

In the year since “Class” was published, I have given scores of talks to civic groups, literary festivals and book clubs. I’ve done so many media interviews that I lose track -- including, most recently, a flurry of radio interviews with NPR affiliates during Black History Month (New York, Washington, Boston, Miami, Minneapolis, Memphis, Birmingham … and many more). The book was well-reviewed by The Washington Post, the AJC, The Christian Century and the Associated Press, whose glowing praise was picked up by more than 100 outlets across the country and in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. I’ve been on C-SPAN and excerpted in Salon. Most books don’t get a fraction of this publicity; I can’t complain.

With so much attention, you might think that “The Class of ’65” was destined to become a best-seller. Not exactly. Writing a nonfiction narrative set in the civil rights era is not the surest path to publishing success. The book has sold respectably, but the only time it has made a best-seller list was when it appeared in The New York Times roster of books about Race and Civil Rights last spring. “Class” was No. 11: “also selling.” A sorta best-seller in the NYT -- we take what we can get.

Of course, I didn’t write this book because I thought it was going to sell a million copies. I wrote it because (1) I wanted to learn how to create a nonfiction book, and (2) I believed in the story and wanted it to gain a wider audience. I want people to know about the persecution of Koinonia, that band of Christians who believed in brotherhood and nonviolence when those were dangerous concepts. I want people to know about the civil rights struggle in southwest Georgia, which never gets as much attention as events in Selma and Birmingham. I want people to know about what Greg and the other Koinonia kids endured in high school. Above all, I want people to know about the remarkable reconciliation set into motion by Greg’s classmates, who grew to regret the way he and others had been treated. 

A number of readers have told me that without that last element, this book might have been too painful for them to finish. I see their point. Without forgiveness and reconciliation, we have nothing. With them, we have hope.

Thank you so much to all the readers who have opened their hearts to this story. I especially thank Greg and his classmates -- white and black -- who lived this drama and allowed me to tell it. This experience has been so fulfilling. I will continue to do everything I can to help “The Class of ’65” find its audience.