Finster Fest, the annual celebration of folk art at Howard Finster’s Paradise Garden outside Summerville, Ga., has invited me to speak about “Smokelore: A Short History of Barbecue in America.” It isn’t as strange as it sounds. One of the things we love about barbecue is the eccentricity of it. Many barbecue places are like little folk art environments, and the food itself could be regarded as a great example of vernacular art. Talk at 2:30, but I’ll be around the whole afternoon to talk and sign books.
Politics and barbecue is a rich topic that figures large in “Smokelore: A Short History of Barbecue in America.” In this talk, we’ll look at the old days when leaders staged big public barbecues to draw crowds and more recent times when politicians try to show their common touch by rubbing elbows with people at barbecue restaurants. We’ll also ask what Atlanta was thinking when it organized a possum barbecue for a president-elect.
The debut event for “Smokelore: A Short History of Barbecue in America,” the companion volume to the Barbecue Nation exhibition at the Atlanta History Center (on view through Sept. 29, 2019). Barbecue reception at 6 p.m. (with barbecue from one of Atlanta’s best, DAS BBQ), program at 7 p.m. Book will be available (although the official pub date from University of Georgia Press is June 1).
Jim has been invited to speak at the AJC Decatur Book Festival, which bills itself as the country's largest independent book festival, over Labor Day weekend. Time and venue to be announced. This marks a homecoming because Jim grew up in Decatur and spent many happy hours of his childhood in the library there.
One of the nicest parts of working on The Class of '65 was visiting Greg Wittkamper at his home in the Allegheny Mountains of southern West Virginia. The closest town of any size, Lewisburg, holds a literary festival every summer and has invited Jim to speak about the book with Greg, who has lived in the area for four decades. The talk will be held in the charming town's Carnegie Hall, a smaller cousin of the Carnegie Hall. Which raises the inevitable question: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, of course -- but it also helps to write a book about a local hero.
The Atlanta History Center hosts Jim Auchmutey at the Margaret Mitchell House in Midtown Atlanta. The event is co-sponsored by The Bitter Southerner, the online magazine, for whom Jim is writing an article about the story behind The Class of '65. A crucial part of the book explores the disturbances that erupted over voting rights in Americus, Ga., 50 years ago this summer. In many ways, Americus was the closing chapter of what began in Selma.
The Albany Movement of 1961-62 was one of the longest and most difficult struggles of the civil rights era, bringing direct protest to southwest Georgia. Those events play a pivotal role in "The Class of '65." Jim is pleased to have been invited to speak about the book at the Albany Civil Rights Institute, which commemorates that history in a facility next to the Old Mt. Zion Baptist Church, where the first mass meetings were held in the city. Clarence Jordan of Koinonia, which supported the movement, spoke at one of those assemblies, witnessed by Greg Wittkamper, the main character of the book.
The Class of '65 goes home, returning to the town where the story is set: Americus, Ga. At the Lake Blackshear library, Jim will talk about the book, read a selection, and discuss the dramatic events with the main character, Greg Wittkamper. Some of the classmates who reached out to Greg years later will be there, as will some of the students who desegregated Americus High School in 1964. Koinonia Farms, where Greg grew up, will be on hand to sell copies of the book. We'll leave ample time for questions; the people of Americus, who lived this tale, might have a few.
Come celebrate the publication of The Class of '65 at one of Atlanta's premier book venues, the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library. Jim will frame the story and read a selection from the text, and introduce a special guest: the main character, Greg Wittkamper, who will discuss his trials and tribulations as a high school student during the height of civil rights tensions in Americus, Ga. A Cappella Books will be selling copies.