Thursday, June 23, 2011

"A Collection Large and Full of Treasures"

This is how freelancing works in this town:

I was working with photographer Justin Fox Burks on a job for the Memphis Flyer last January and he suggested I contact Rhodes College because they use freelancers for their magazine. I contacted my friend Stephanie Chockley who works at Rhodes and gave me the contact for Martha Shepard, who edits the magazine, and she said she'd be delighted to work with me. The first assignment offered was one on the college's acquisition of the Shelby Foote collection of papers, memorabilia, manuscripts, etc. This was perfect. I'm a Foote fan and, as I've written before, I used to sell him his pipe tobacco years ago. Martha put me in touch with C. Stuart Chapman, Rhodes alumnus and biographer of Foote, for a sidebar and as an invaluable resource himself.

And then yesterday that article went online and can be read right here.
As moves go, it wasn′t such a great distance. Only a little over two miles to be exact, from the study of a turreted, fairy-tale-like house on East Parkway to the Gothic, shady campus on North Parkway. Nevertheless, the acquisition by Rhodes College of the Shelby Foote Collection of writings, papers, hand-drawn maps, photos and memorabilia is such that it will take researchers and students on a journey through decades worth of history, stories and lessons.

It was a memorable experience to go to the Paul Barret Jr. library on the Rhodes campus and be able to hold a first edition of Faulkner's As I Lay Dying and the hand-written manuscript for September September. The hand-drawn maps of Civil War battles and troop advancements were something I hadn't expected, and a treasure to see, a real insight into the way Foote worked. The same goes for the spiral notebook that held some notes and, for lack of a better word, doodles.

For anyone who appreciates literature and what goes into writing a novel (not to mention a 1.2-million word narrative trilogy), to stand in the hushed, paneled room of a library and hold such items is nothing less than spiritual. It was very much like being in church.

It was a pleasure to work on this story and with those at the college, and I wish to thank Martha Shepard, Justin Burks, Elizabeth Gates, Stephanie Chockley, Tim Huebner, Marshall Boswell, Ken Woodmansee and Stuart Chapman.