An adventure with Kentucky author Bobbie Ann Mason as she visits Greensburg’s library for a presentation and book signing with eager readers
A few years ago, I gave a reading at a library in Kentucky, and in the book-signing line I met a 9-year-old girl with her mother, who told me that the child, Samantha or perhaps Emily, had done a special school project on me. The students each chose a Kentucky author and played the role of that author for a day.
Samantha dressed up as me in some kind of frontier shirt and a long skirt (that’s me?), and gave a presentation. The mother handed me a sheet of paper Samantha had written in her role as me. It read,
“Hello. My name is Bobbie Ann Mason. I am a Kentucky author. I was born in 1940. AND YET I am still alive…”
Good news, readers! I am still alive to this day. Also, I can drive yet. The days of the book tour are over, but the self-catered tour thrives, and there is no shortage of public libraries eager to entertain a visiting writer and even sell their books. Often this is where you find the most dedicated readers.
Recently I was invited to the public library in the small town of Greensburg, in south-central Kentucky, about 85 miles south of Louisville. I had marked 2 p.m. on my calendar, on a Saturday afternoon. Before I left, I had a notion to double-check what time zone Greensburg occupied. I lived by Eastern Time, but Greensburg, as I had suspected, is just across the boundary into Central Time. Therefore, 2 meant 3 o’clock. I set off at 12:30 for a leisurely drive, allowing myself extra time for the 75 miles or so, because the route was on state highways, not four-lanes.
I had brought some food with me, since I don’t like to stop at fast-food joints. I didn’t expect to find a roadside picnic table, so halfway there I pulled into a vast Walmart parking lot and ate my meager snacks while checking my e-mail. Alas, I forgot the chocolate!
I set off again, admiring the hyper-green countryside. There had been some recent rain after the punishing drought, and the fields were lush. In the distance I could see hills, and the land started a rolling and dipping effect, but the road was good.
When I stopped at a McDonald’s in Campbellsville to indulge in their restroom, I found some urgent messages on my phone.
“Ms. Mason, are you lost? We were expecting you at 1 o’clock. Several people are waiting for you!”
Heaven and earth, I was a victim of the time-zone border wars! I had thought the 2 on my calendar meant 2 their time, not my time.
I checked my makeup, struggled into my silk shirt, wiggled out of my Teva sandals and into some uptown sandals, and hurried on the last 10 miles.
They were waiting for me. The spacious open center of the library had been set up with chairs. It was a comfortable, pleasant place to read a chapter from my novel, and I launched right in. The beaming faces made me feel welcome. While they were waiting, the library had served everyone lunch, a substantial spread of fancy finger foods that I could have enjoyed too if I had not loitered with my repast in the Walmart parking lot.
The friendly audience had plenty of questions for me, and a few shared their own stories of World War II, the subject of my novel. I had brought my props—a B-17 model and some photographs. It was a war I had tried to imagine, but some of the older patrons there had clear memories of that awful time. Inside the library was a large display of photographs of local veterans, a project done for Veterans Day last year.
Afterward, I signed books and chatted. I signed a book for a woman named Maxideen, who had lived in France, where my novel takes place. Then a man named Larry Coomer showed me a folder of photos. He said he had driven the sound and cinematography truck for the filming of my novel about the Vietnam War, In Country, in the summer of 1988. He was very proud of doing that job. He showed me a glossy photo of the crew, about 50 people with director Norman Jewison in the center, and young English actress Emily Lloyd, a teenager then, smiling radiantly.
Everyone had loved Emily. I recognized a few faces. I didn’t see Bruce Willis, but then he had avoided everyone and hid in his trailer. Mr. Coomer asked me to sign the picture. I had had little to do with the movie, but the photo made me nostalgic, especially about Emily—the funny, lovable lead in the movie, my Sam, who is now 42.
Then Mr. Coomer asked me to sign the script. It was co-written by Frank Pierson and Cynthia Cidre. Pierson, the renowned screenwriter, had died just weeks before at age 87. He was a trim, elegant 63 back in 1988.
And yet I am still alive.
I hated to leave Greensburg, a very pretty little town all spiffed up with tourism grant money, and I vowed to return with a more careful knowledge of time zones. Greensburg is a fairly remote small town, yet enthusiastic in its love of books. Thirty-three kind people had waited for me, and they had bought 35 books, brought in from a Barnes & Noble 45 miles away. (To read more about Greensburg go online to www.greensburgonline.com, click on “Guests” for area attractions.)
And I am not at all surprised. The annual Kentucky Book Fair, a huge event in the state capital attended by thousands, has been raising money for the state’s libraries for 30 years. Besides, Kentucky boasts an enormous population of homegrown writers—who grew up nourished by libraries. Libraries hold our histories, our memories, our stories. Now and then a writer who is still alive may show up as proof of something still going on in the realm of books.
VISIT THE 2012 KENTUCKY BOOK FAIR
9 a.m.–4:30 p.m.
Frankfort Convention Center
405 Mero Street
On Saturday readers can meet, purchase, and get autographed copies of the latest books from more than 150 authors as well as hear presentations. This is open to the public and is a free event that offers something for the entire family. Children’s Day is Friday, November 9, from
9 a.m.–1:30 p.m.