Category Archives: Literary Reverie

Book caps iReporter’s Mississippi journey

By David Williams, CNN iReport Community Manager

REPUBLISHED FROM THE CNN iREPORT BLOG

World traveler Neal Moore let us follow along with him on iReport when he made his solo canoe trip down the Mississippi River in 2009, so we were really excited when his new book about the journey arrived in the mail.

“Down the Mississippi: A Modern-Day Huck on America’s River Road” chronicles Moore’s five-month journey from its source at Lake Itasca in Minnesota to New Orleans, Louisiana. He made the trip because he wanted to find and tell positive stories about the people living along the river.

Mark Twain and his iconic character Huckleberry Finn were a big influence on the project — his co-author Dr. Cindy Lovell is the executive director of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum in Hannibal, Missouri.

Moore’s been living in Taiwan, but is back in the United States to promote the book. We were able to catch up with him by email to ask him about the project.

What are you doing now that your book is out? Are you doing book tours or anything like that?

Yes, my co-author, Dr. Cindy Lovell, and myself are currently out promoting the launch of the book here in the States (as a bit of a mini-tour). I did a book release in Oxford, Mississippi. We just launched the book in Hannibal, and we’ll be taping a segment for NPR/St. Louis Public Radio.

Where do you live these days?

I’m moving back to Cape Town, South Africa, this coming week, a gem of a city I’ve lived in, off and on, for the past twenty years.

How long did it take to write the book?

The book took two years to complete from the time my co-author and myself began, just following the completion of my Mississippi River canoe journey in late 2009. In the book, Dr. Lovell conjures up Twain’s words directly into the text. So you’ve got the physical journey, the stories of the towns, and Twain, who encourages, reprimands, and comments on the characters encountered all along the way.

Where did you write the book?

I wrote my portion of the book in some of my favorite locales along the Mississippi River journey: in Oxford, Mississippi, a literary-minded village; Hannibal, Missouri, Twain’s hometown; and northeast Iowa, on a rambling family farm. I then flew on to East Asia where I completed the writing of the final third of the book, late last year.

Where can people buy the book if they’re interested?

The eBook version is now available via Kindle. A print edition of the book is available at the Mark Twain Museum and will soon be available at leading independent bookstores nationwide – to be found on http://moderndayhuck.com/.

What’s your next big adventure?

I’m currently gearing up for the next big adventure to take place in South Asia. I’m intending to set it up as a rambling, roving report similar to the Mississippi River expedition, but with a different twist.

Congratulations Neal! We can’t wait to see your stories from South Africa and around the world.

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Filed under In the News, iReport, Literary Reverie, On CNN, 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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Husar: Sleepover in Twain’s home a moment ‘citizen journalist’ will never forget

By ED HUSAR

QUINCY, ILL. (Quincy Herald Whig)

NEAL MOORE got a lot more than he expected when he landed his canoe in Hannibal, Mo., last weekend.

Moore is a “citizen journalist” paddling the length of the Mississippi River in search of stories about communities doing good things. He shares the tales on his blog (flashriversafari.com) and through periodic dispatches on CNN.

Upon arriving in Hannibal, Moore learned about a campaign to raise $10 million to help preserve eight buildings associated with Mark Twain, whose boyhood years in Hannibal inspired some of the greatest works in American literature, notably “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

As Moore was interviewing Hannibal residents for his story, Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum officials became enamored by this modern-day Huck’s quest for adventure and good news. So they made him an amazing offer.

Moore was invited to spend a night in Twain’s boyhood home on Hill Street. He’d be allowed to sleep in the room where Twain, then known as Samuel Clemens, bedded down from age 3 until he left Hannibal at 17.

Only one other person in the past century has been allowed to sleep in the home. In the late 1960s George Seybolt, CEO of the William Underwood Co., selected Hannibal for a new plant, known today as General Mills. Seybolt also had a lifelong affection for Twain and asked if he could spend a night in the boyhood home.

Approval was given, and Seybolt slept on a cornhusk-filled mattress. “The next morning he left a check in the amount of $500 on the pillow as a thank you to the museum,” said Henry Sweets, curator.

Now Moore was being invited to enjoy a similar sleepover. He jumped at the chance.

According to his blog, Moore was served a meal Monday evening in the home’s dining room, courtesy of the Garth Mansion. Then after bidding goodnight to “what felt like half the town” gathered outside the front door, Moore retreated upstairs to Twain’s bedroom.

Moore spent about an hour reading “Tom Sawyer” while soaking up the atmosphere.

“Reading ‘Tom Sawyer’ in the boyhood bedroom of Sam Clemens was just too great an experience to put into words,” Moore said in an e-mail interview. “I guess the one word that would describe it best would be ‘surreal.’ ”

At around midnight, he crept down the back stairs and wandered over to the nearby former home site of Tom Blankenship, the inspiration for Twain’s Huck Finn character.

“I brought my lantern to make it exciting,” Moore said. “And I was by myself — alone with my thoughts, which I shared via the camera of my laptop computer. For the first time the character of Huck became real for me.”

Later, back in Twain’s bedroom, Moore positioned his sleeping bag in the exact spot where Twain would have laid his head.
“I slept on the floor with the door open. The house was hot and stuffy — in a magical sort of way, bustling with antiquity, with history,” he said. “The sounds I heard were of the insects and birds of the night. The odd passing car. No cats. The trains and tow boats didn’t interfere with my sleep.”

Moore slept from about 1:30 to 6:30 a.m. Then, with his dream experience over, he climbed back into his canoe and started paddling to his next destination, St. Louis.

The adventure of a lifetime was tucked away safely in his heart.

To visit Ed’s story at the Quincy Herald Whig CLICK HERE

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Filed under Americana, In the News, Literary Reverie, Mississippi River Town, Wanderlust

‘Huck’ departs Hannibal

By DANNY HENLEY

HANNIBAL, MO (Hannibal Courier-Post)

via AOL VIDEO (UK) — now on Youtube…

To visit Danny’s written piece from the Hannibal Courier-Post CLICK HERE

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Clemens contribution

By DANNY HENLEY

HANNIBAL, MO (Hannibal Courier-Post)

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Sleeping in Twain’s Room

by DANNY HENLEY

HANNIBAL, MO (Hannibal Courier-Post)

via AOL VIDEO (UK) — Now on Youtube…

To visit Danny’s written piece from the Hannibal Courier-Post CLICK HERE

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Twilight with Twain

HANNIBAL, MO

Couldn’t believe and still cannot believe the chance I was given to sleep over in the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum. Many thanks to the Town of Hannibal — ‘America’s Hometown’ — along with all of the wonderful people I was able to meet. Here’s the full report of my rather magical Twilight with Twain.

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Filed under Americana, Community Project, In the News, Literary Reverie, Mississippi River Town, On CNN, On the Mississippi, Wanderlust