Sunday, February 7, 2010

Leaving Gee's Bend

On Saturday, February 20th, Alabama author Irene Latham will be at Leeds Jane Culbreth Library to present her new book, Leaving Gee's Bend, with a talk and booksigning.

We're all familiar with the beautiful quilts produced by the artisans of Gee's Bend, but I know little about the history of that area of our state. I look forward to reading Irene's novel, the story of a young girl who sets out to save her sick mother and records her adventures in quilt pieces. This will be a great program for everyone who loves good books and the art of quilting.

Irene's quote, below, comes from an interview on Elizabeth Dulemba's website
I have made quite a few trips to Gee's Bend and Camden, where the Wilcox County Library is located and the town closest to Gee's Bend, thanks to the ferry. (Otherwise, it's forty miles to anyplace.) It's like stepping back in time --quiet, rural, with many red-dirt roads. And the people are so friendly and welcoming.

Of all the incredible things that happened in Gee's Bend, there were two that really captured my attention. The first was the 1932 raid on Gee's Bend. At the time, Gee's Bend was populated by sharecroppers, and the price of cotton was lower than it had ever been. So the landowner was stockpiling the cotton -- waiting to sell until price came up. Which left the sharecroppers in debt to the landowner. When the landowner died that year, the widow decided she would go to Gee's Bend and collect on all the debts. She brought men and wagons into Gee's Bend, and took everything: food, tools, animals -- basically leaving the people to starve. First hand accounts report that the residents survived on berries that winter. And yet, the women made quilts! It's just such a vivid example of how the human spirit can triumph over adversity. Then, in early 1933, the Red Cross came in with a rescue drop -- things like sugar, flour, seed, shoes, socks.
In Leaving Gee's Bend, Latham tells the story of Ludelphia Bennett, ten year old daughter in a family of share-croppers, who is blind in one eye, but is no stranger to hardships, hard work, and determination. Though her small town of Gee's Bend is geographically isolated by the Alabama River, she sets off on her own to Camden, 40 miles away, to find a doctor for her sick mother. Throughout her difficult journey, she physically and mentally chronicles her experiences as she pieces a quilt together. This is the way Ludelphia tells her story, of seeing white people for the first time, of encountering kindness and hate. Rural Alabama of 1932 is brought to life, complete with prejudices and superstitions that are eventually overcome thanks to Ludelphia's indomitable strength.

“Ludelphia Bennett reaffirms the human spirit and defines survival in this beautifully stitched quilt of a novel.”—Richard Peck, author of A Season of Gifts
Hope all my reading and quilting friends can come to the library and enjoy what promises to be an excellent program.

1 comment:

Joanne Cage! said...

I plan to attend the event. I might use recommend this book as the April (I think) selection for book club.