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The American Poet Who Went Home Again
The American Poet Who Went Home Again
$17.80
Paperback
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BOOK DETAILS

  • Paperback
  • May.01.2008
  • 9781435717695

Aberjhani gives an overview of the book:

The American Poet Who Went Home Again is a book of creative nonfiction that blends memoir, literary journalism, history, and biography to tell the story of one writer’s rediscovery of his family, his hometown of Savannah, Georgia, and himself. Just like modern literary life, the book expands beyond the safety of pages bound by predictability to explore and often confirm exciting possibilities to create a shimmering literary collage. From the celebrated “Return to Savannah” and the uncut extended version of “This Mother’s Son,” to “Journey through ‘Universes Beyond the Invisible” and “The History that Peace Made,” the author takes his readers on epic jaunt across landscapes of “the soul at work.” Whether dealing with the challenges of care giving and racism or coping with the subtleties of art and spirituality, this is one author-poet and one book that sings with...
Read full overview »

The American Poet Who Went Home Again is a book of creative nonfiction that blends memoir, literary journalism, history, and biography to tell the story of one writer’s rediscovery of his family, his hometown of Savannah, Georgia, and himself.

Just like modern literary life, the book expands beyond the safety of pages bound by predictability to explore and often confirm exciting possibilities to create a shimmering literary collage.

From the celebrated “Return to Savannah” and the uncut extended version of “This Mother’s Son,” to “Journey through ‘Universes Beyond the Invisible” and “The History that Peace Made,” the author takes his readers on epic jaunt across landscapes of “the soul at work.” Whether dealing with the challenges of care giving and racism or coping with the subtleties of art and spirituality, this is one author-poet and one book that sings with the beauty of hope and the persistence of life itself.

Read an excerpt »

COME WALK WITH ME

 

Walking one night from an open mic poetry reading on Liberty Street in downtown Savannah, I was with my friend Z.T. Thompson when he stopped to comment on the beauty of the surrounding buildings. Like me at that time, Z.T. was in his mid-thirties. Unlike me, he is white and originally from the Midwest. I am black, and was born and raised in Savannah before leaving to live in different places for some twelve years, then moving back.

Looking around at the buildings that had mesmerized Z.T., I was unaware at the time that many of them were still standing primarily for only two reasons. The first was because Union Army General William Tecumseh Sherman during the U.S. Civil War had decided not to wreak upon Savannah the same fiery havoc that he had upon Atlanta. The second was because a century later, various sons and daughters of the city realized the downtown area resting babe-like next to the Savannah River was virtually a living museum of classic architectural style and beauty. They also realized they should follow Sherman's example: preserve the buildings as opposed to allow their destruction in the face of increasing urbanization, a word that to some was synonymous was progress.

One of the buildings they had not preserved was the old Desoto Hotel, where my mother had worked when I was a child. It had been replaced by the newer Desoto Hilton Hotel, standing 15 stories tall just across the street from where we stood.

The preservationists nevertheless obviously had done an exceptional job overall because in March, 1960, the great Italian writer Italo Calvino found himself surprised when he came to the city, more attracted by its name than by any commanding reputation at the time, just to "have a look at it." He was stunned by what he saw and wrote in his journal: "IT IS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL CITY IN THE UNITED STATES." (The caps are his.) Among the charms that moved him the most was the fact that "at every second intersection there is a small tree-lined square, all identical, but always different, because of the pleasantness of the buildings which range from the colonial period to that of the Civil War."

Thanks to the preservationists, my friend and I enjoyed the distinction of continuing our walk through an area where Calvino may very well have made his observations and which, in fact, was now one of the largest National Historic Landmark Districts in the United States. For Z.T., the surrounding history was cultural and intellectual. For me, it was personal and often painful. He pointed out that a new magazine on American homes featured two houses in Savannah among the best in the country; then added that the city's architecture had been one of his primary reasons for moving to it. At the time, his statement struck me as an odd one because even though I was a bookseller who had sold numerous books about the city, such as Classic Savannah and Savannah Spectres, I had not studied any of them.

Only after performing research for a novel would I develop a deeper appreciation for the Federalist, Greek Revival, Gothic, Italian, West Indian, and other styles that comprised the city's multiple architectural identity. Only after learning that ancestors brought from West Africa had constructed many of the historic buildings would I more fully understand and come to treasure the legacy they represented. None of that was the case while I walked with my friend. My response to his--as well as Calvino's too I suppose--observations about the city's beauty surprised both of us.

I stated very calmly that I had never realized how beautiful my hometown was while growing up in it during the 1960s and 1970s because it had been my tendency to hold my head down whenever journeying through the downtown area with my mother or older siblings. This tendency, obviously, was one left over from more oppressive times. I don't recall my mother conducting herself in such a manner--she generally looked straight ahead like a soldier marching toward a mission--and I never went to public places with my father so would not have mimicked whatever his behavior in those circumstances might have been. My guess would be that I must have picked it up from other Blacks around me and that the behavior was reinforced by the annihilating gaze sometimes encountered in the anxious eyes of Whites when I did look up. That may very well have been the same reason that later on I did notice the extraordinary elegance of Painted Ladies in San Francisco, the modern sculpture that adorned public spaces in Philadelphia, palatial structures in Berlin, and the royal splendor of London.

I thought what I said about missing out on the marvels of landscape due to racial conditioning was profound enough to elicit some kind of validating or challenging response from my friend. Instead, he continued with, "Anyways, I'm surprised you've never noticed how exceptional the architecture here is."

I didn't have to look long in his eyes to see that he really was surprised.

by Aberjhani

aberjhani's picture

It seems strange for a person to travel 4,483 miles to learn something particularly significant about his own hometown. But that’s exactly what happened to me when I was stationed as a U.S. Air Force journalist at Eielson AFB in Alaska years ago. It was there that I discovered in an old copy of National Geographic that my hometown of Savannah, Georgia, was one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Having grown up there in a project called Hitch Village and in other parts of the city, I could not understand why.

Then I returned years later amidst all the fanfare surrounding Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (the movie as well as the book), the phenomenal growth of the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), and the election of the city’s first African-American mayor. I learned a lot about the Historic District’s celebrated architecture and how fortunate Savannah had been that General Sherman had refrained from burning the city down during the Civil War.

Once out of the Air Force, it was my intention to visit family and friends only for a few weeks. Fate, however, had different plans for my life and a few weeks turned into a full year with one piling up after another. As I gained some notice as a writer, friends and readers sometimes asked when I planned to write my “Savannah book” since everyone else, including many who were not native to the city, seemed to have done so. Without realizing that I in fact had already started writing my Savannah book I usually answered that I didn’t believe I ever would because I usually thought and wrote more in world literary terms than regional. But then guess what?

Remaining in Savannah led me to do two things: 1) I spent a decade as my mother’s caregiver prior to her passing and therefore came to interact with my family on levels I never had before. 2) I met some of my hometown’s most extraordinary citizens and enjoyed the great honor of writing about them. Some, like celebrated photographer Jack Leigh, have since passed. Others, like Dr. Abigail Jordan, founder of Savannah’s African-American Monument and the national Consortium of Doctors, are still blessedly with us.

Suddenly, with a unique combination of stories examining my personal journey as a caregiver and writer, set in contrast to profiles of remarkable individuals and families, The American Poet Who Went Home Again seemed to breathe itself to life. Adding even more depth and substance to that life were several writers with whom I’d connected on AuthorsDen and who allowed me to include writings by them that further defined my ongoing journey. All lent their voices to the creation of my “Savannah book” and astonished this author by making its pages sing with a literary harmony uniquely its own.

Aberjhani

About Aberjhani

A native of Savannah, Georgia (USA) Aberjhani is a winner of the Thomas Jefferson Award for his journalism, the Choice Academic Title and Best History Book Awards for his historical writings, the Creative Loafing Critic’s Pick Best Savannah Author Award for general...

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Published Reviews

Mar.16.2009

“And then this gift arrives, this grand and pleasingly heavy book. Unwrapping, I knew this would not be the kind of read that one zips through on a spare weekend hour. Elemental: The Power of Illuminated...

Mar.16.2009

"The writing is superb. The passages are about 1-4 pages each, and they confront the reader with the snap, crackle and pop of concise, crisp journalistic prose."

 

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