Monthly Archives: November 2009

Bardo of Rose

OXFORD, MISSISSIPPI

I recently had the privilege to meet and interview Memphis-based artist Roy Tamboli at Oxford’s first annual Memory Walk.  In this piece, William Andrews, Director of the University of Mississippi Museum introduces both the sculpture as well as the sculptor.  Symbolizing the experience of individuals with Alzheimer’s, their families, and caregivers, this is a work that is designed to both comfort and inspire.

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Flash River Safari on CNN’s “This Week in iReport”

Chikan

Super Chikan in his Chicken Shack, Clarksdale, MS

Flash River Safari has been mentioned on CNN’s weekly citizen journalism wrap-up “This Week in iReport”.  The short piece, which features Super Chickan, will run this weekend on CNN North America & the main page of CNN.com. To view the segment CLICK HERE.

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Filed under In the News, On CNN, On the Mississippi, Wanderlust

Illiteracy to Literature in the Enlightened South

OXFORD, MISSISSIPPI

Known as the home of Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner, the University of Mississippi, and one of the finest independent book stores in the nation, Square Books, it came as a shock to learn Lafayette County’s illiteracy level amongst adults equals that of the national average – dead even at 23%.

And so began a search for answers.

One of the first things that catches your eye in Oxford is that folks from all walks of life are serious about the arts. From a rich and illustrious tradition of Hill Country Blues to a celebration of outsider art to the local Arts Council which hosts and funds a revolving door of local events to the three Square Book establishments on Oxford Square, there seem to be multiple celebrations of the arts every day and night of the week.

One of these Oxford institutions is billed as Thacker Mountain Radio – a weekly variety show of music and literature – held via Square Books every Thursday night stringing back to 1979. The show is live and the public are welcome and for those who can’t make it in person, there’s the radio.  Thacker Mountain is broadcast on both “Rebel Radio” and Mississippi Public Broadcasting.

To take a seat at Thacker Mountain is to get into the groove of the local arts scene. The oversized windows at Off Square Books are opened up and those who don’t get seats pour out into the town’s Square. The night that I caught Thacker Mountain through the lens of my camera was the night I met authors Jessica B. Harris and Roy Blount Jr. Their advice for the public at large – “You’ve got to read” – a mantra which led me to the local Literacy Council.

Nicole Bass is an “Americaore Vista” which is a title and branch of the Volunteers and Service to America. While the council spends most of their time dealing with “preventative” measures – working with children – I thought it would be interesting to tag along for the first lesson of an adult, by the name of Sherry Crocker.

Sherry is in her late thirties and has two young children.  She wants to break the cycle of illiteracy in her family and has asked the Literacy Council for help. According to Sherry, she’s taking lessons to “help [her] four year old with homework” as well as to “read [the notes] he brings home from school.”

The idea of taking that first step into a first lesson in reading is a daunting prospect for many adults who in so doing are forced to acknowledge they don’t know how to read. There’s a stigma attached to both being unable to read as well as the fact a healthy percentage of our nation cannot read, like unto a secret.  A secret that isn’t talked about in polite society – a secret that as painful as it might be, needs to be brought out into the open and turned around and discussed.

The lesson for Sherry was intense and at times difficult. She was not able to pronounce many consonants, but she tried and although visibly embarrassed, was determined not to give up. When asked why it might be scary for folks around the nation to take the bold step that she took this day, Sherry, full of confidence on having completed her very first lesson, beamed, “They’re just scared – but me – I’m not scared at all – I’m enjoying … learning how to read.”

From the basic grasp of consonants to the next step up the ladder of literacy – actually craving the concept of literature – I found the idea of introducing a literary mantra in the epicenter of what some folks refer to as the “Enlightened South” an interesting prospect.  

David Swider and Michael Bible are affable and giddy and very much sincere about literature.  I joined the duo for a beer at the Square’s greasy spoon, Ajax, to talk shop about the region before sitting down for an interview back on their work-turf of Square Books.  Their energy plays off each other when they talk, turning every conversation into a brainstorming session of what would be cool or what could work out literary-wise for the literary journal, Kitty Snacks.  At ages 25 and 28, respectively, David and Michael are relatively young to undertake the launch of a literary magazine – but this is their point. They want to make the rather lofty idea of literature a possibility for folks of all ages by offering it to the public as bite sized snacks.

According to Michael Bible, Mississippi “is the fattest, poorest, dumbest state in the country – that is full of geniuses.  You have people that can’t read right next to people that win Nobel Prizes – and it’s this weird kind of dichotomy that works to both illuminate that kind of difference but also recently, bring it together.”

“The book is kind of a hard commodity right now,” explains Wayne Andrews, Executive Director of the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council, who immediately saw the potential for the journal and helped to get it published.  While “publishers [are] not taking risks on new authors [nor] publishing diverse works, we’re finding new ways to do it.” According to Mr. Andrews, quarterly publications like Kitty Snacks are “leading [people] down the path to discover a magazine and then hopefully discover a book.”

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Journalist tells American tales on journey down Mississippi River

By ALYSSA SCHNUGG

OXFORD, MISSISSIPPI (The Oxford Eagle)

NealOxford

Photo by Bruce Newman for the OXFORD EAGLE

Spending the last 20 years overseas in Africa and Asia, citizen journalist and creative activist Neal Moore has returned to his native country to get reacquainted with its natural beauty and its people, and to share their stories with the rest of the world via CNN’s iReport series and his own Web site.

Moore has been traveling down the Mississippi River in a canoe since July 10. His goal is to travel the entire length of the mighty Mississippi – 2,320 miles, from its source in Lake Itasca in Minnesota to its mouth in the Gulf of Mexico – by December.

Along the way, Moore stops at neighboring cities and towns and reports on local community projects, highlighting what makes each area special.

“This trip is really to take myself out of my comfort zone,” Moore told The EAGLE Tuesday.  “When you do that, incredible things can happen. It’s really exciting to be surrounded by the wilderness.  It makes you feel wild as well.”

Telling ‘real’ stories

Born and raised in Los Angeles, the 38-year-old says he always loved to travel. Twenty years ago, he moved to Africa.  From there, he moved to Taipei, Taiwan, but returns often to Africa and on occasion the United States.

His trip is being documented as part of CNN’s iReports, which allows non-professional journalists to “report” stories from around the world.  He hopes his stories will show those living in other countries what America is really like.

“I want them to see it from the inside,” he said.  “Real towns, real people with real stories, through the lens of my camera.  Having the opportunity to share those stories with the world via CNN is a very exciting prospect.”

Strong currents

So far, Moore has visited Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa.  In Mississippi, he’s been to Clarksdale and Tupelo where he featured Mississippi’s blues history.

In Oxford, he’s doing two reports — one on Alzheimer’s and the other on literacy.

“I will be featuring a young mother of two who wants to break the cycle of illiteracy in her family,” Moore said.

Moore admits his canoeing skills were on the weak side when he first began his journey.

“I’m an Eagle Scout, so I did learn basic canoe skills, but I haven’t been in one since I was 12 years old,” he said.  “When I tell these towns what I’m doing, they think I’m nuts. The Mississippi River can have a strong current in some spots and can have real dangers.  But it’s a beautiful river and, if done safely, it can be a life-changing experience.”

To follow Moore on his trip, visit his Web site at http://www.flashriversafari.com.

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Beth’s Bucket List: To Ride a Horse

OXFORD and HERNANDO, MISSISSIPPI

DreamAWhen Jay and Beth VanWinkle saw that their favorite actor, fellow Mississippian Morgan Freeman, was coming out with a new movie titled “The Bucket List”, Beth turned to Jay and said, “I’ve got to see that.” One year previous, Beth VanWinkle had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, and has been, as she puts it, “grasping for everything I could get [out of life – before it’s too late].”

DreamCThe film inspired Beth and Jay to write down a short list of ideas they wanted to accomplish before Beth permanently goes into, what she describes as her “cave” – a place where she will be in her very own world.

Beth’s list included three things she had never before had the opportunity to do: 1) Meet actor Morgan Freeman – which she has done; 2) Skydive out of an airplane – which she has now accomplished twice; and 3) Have the opportunity to ride a horse.

DreamKIn this report, we witness Beth leading the first annual Oxford Memory Walk as well as the story of Beth’s realization of her third and final wish – to ride a horse – a story which she will now be able to replay again and again, as her memory continues to fade.

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Filed under Americana, Community Project, On CNN, Wanderlust