Thursday, July 18, 2013

I Changed the World Yesterday

It was a little hard to sleep last night. I wasn't uncomfortable. I wasn't overwrought. My mind was racing, however. I had just changed the world.

When I grew up in a little Southern town (Fairhope, AL, pop. 3,000) in the 1950s, I attended a radical private school where children played freely and had lessons out of doors as often as possible. Folk dancing and arts-and-crafts were required courses along with traditional academic subjects. Fairhope had been founded as a utopian community in the 1890s, to demonstrate the efficacy of Henry George's theory of the single tax, and from its inception it attracted reformers of just about every stripe. My school was founded by Marietta Johnson, whose name was a household word in her lifetime, and is all but forgotten today. Along with the other personages who inhabited early Fairhope, Mrs. Johnson was convinced she could save the world.

I've come and gone to Fairhope many times over the years. I returned to live when my husband retired in 1988. For most of the 19 years I remained, I was haunted by the village Fairhope once had been, the school itself in its glory days, and the ghost of Marietta Johnson. I worked at a museum honoring Mrs. Johnson and while there was instrumental in getting a statue of her erected in a prime beauty spot on the bluff overlooking Mobile Bay. I was on the board of managers of the school and planned its 100th reunion in 2007. I wrote a book called Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree, celebrating the town and the characters who set it apart in my memory. I envisioned the book as a sort of Lake Wobegone Days with a single-tax slant.

Then I left. I moved back to the Northeast, but Fairhope really never left me. I began to write about the Fairhope I remembered, revising Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree and titling the new version The Fair Hope of Heaven. Then I went to work on a novel set in Fairhope in 1921-22, about a young schoolteacher who moves to Fairhope to work with Marietta Johnson. I didn't intend the book to be about Mrs. Johnson, but she let me know she had to be a major part of any book about Fairhope in that day.

That Was Tomorrow was first released as an eBook, but is now available in paperback. I am in Fairhope promoting sales, and I yesterday I gave my second talk about the book, this time at the Marietta Johnson Museum. Excitement was so high at this talk, which was attended for the most part by educators (maybe 40 of them), that even I was caught up in the revival spirit. The school has not been thriving in recent years, and the prospect of a new director is always a shot in the arm. The incoming director was at my talk--an upbeat, capable lady for whom we all have high hopes. She will be running the school officially as of January 2014.

Yes, it was hard to sleep last night. This director says she was inspired to take the job after reading That Was Tomorrow. People here are snapping up the book like hot cakes. Everywhere I speak there are intelligent, concerned questions from old-timers and newcomers alike, and I feel as if I have changed the world. I'll let you know how it goes. Maybe I'll even pay for the publication of That Was Tomorrow, but if I don't break even it will have been worth it to have a shot at changing the world.

1 comment:

  1. What a book should do. ML, you have certainly changed Their world and, dare I say, your own. Congratulations on getting a gift many writers never do.