Literary Event at Athens State: Dr. Randy Cross [Nov. 1]
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Sent: Fri, 7 Oct 2005 09:35:59 -0500
Subject: Literary Events: Friends of the Library Present Dr. Randy Cross
Friends of the Athens State University Library Present:
Dr. Randy Cross
Southern Author and Humorist
Author: Laughing Stock: The Autobiography of T.S. Stribling and
Introductions for three of Stribling's novels, The Forge, The Store, and
Unfinished Cathedral, all reprinted by the University of Alabama Press.
Tuesday, November 1, 2005
Emmanuel Baptist Church
Christian Life Center
Hwy. 72 West Athens, Alabama
You are encouraged to bring a brown bag lunch. Beverage and dessert
will be provided.
For additional information about this event call:
Office of External Affairs
Athens State University
All proceeds from this event will benefit the Athens State University
Event Chair, Penne J. Laubenthal, Emeritus Professor of English.
Modus Operandi: An Interview with Professor Randy Cross
By Bebe Gish Shaw
Bebe Gish Shaw, Ph.D., is an Assistant Prof essor of English at Athens
September 28th was a crisp autumn day, the smell of cotton
defoliant thick in the air. Lib Brett, president of Friends of Athens
State University Library, was to introduce me to Calhoun English
professor Randy Cross, whom I'd never met, even though he has been
sending English students to me at Athens State University for 10 years.
His reputation preceded him, and, quite frankly, I was excited. The
purpose of this meeting was so that I could interview Dr. Cross, who is
to be the guest speaker at the library's fundraising luncheon on
Cross began, "Over the past 2 or 3 or 4 years, I've been doing a
good bit of speaking, but not to scholarly groups, just to groups, and
my goal is to make them laugh. I'm not a storyteller in the traditional
sense. I don't d! o that. But what I envision is laughter.
"So I tell funny stories. I talk about my travels. I tell a lot
of stories about my mother. And I just sort of do observations because
I have a happy spirit, and isn't the world a funny place if you just
look around and observe?
"And in these little talks that I've been doing lately, a lot of
the material I get at Lucky Supermarket there in Decatur, my favorite
place to shop. It is rather my continuing education.
"And I was telling a group of northerners about going into Lucky's,
and that I had my buggy, and they just fell into an uproar. They were
laughing and laughing.
"And a woman asked, 'You had a what?'
"And I said, 'a buggy.'
"And I asked, 'What do you have?'
"And she said, 'a cart.'
"And I explained, 'the problem is?you can look it up?a cart has 2
wheels. A buggy has 4 wheels.'
"They thought that was the funniest thing, but that's cultural.
"The point is, and I'm trying to give you a sense of it, is I'm
just going to tell some stories. I try to make people laugh."
And so began the interview.
Shaw: Okay, are you ready for this?
Shaw: Who is your favorite author and why? I know it's tough?.
Cross: No. It's easy. Mark Twain, for all the reasons that all of us
know, because he was so good at it, and he could always use the right
word in the right place and say so much in so few words.
Shaw: One of my favorite Twain quotes is, "The difference between the
right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning
and the lightning bug."
Cross: I know that quote, and he went on to say after that, "When
you're writing, always use the right word." Nobody could do that better
than he could.
Shaw: What is your favorite novel and why?
Cross: The most moving novel I've ever read is How! Green Was My Valley
by Richard Llewellyn. I know I'm always supposed to say Huckleberry
Finn, but today I say How Green Was My Valley.
Shaw: Short story?
Cross: Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory."
Shaw: Oh, wow, I love that story.
Cross: If that story doesn't get to you, you can't get "got."
Shaw: What is your favorite poem?
Cross: "Fern Hill" by Dylan Thomas. But, you know, all you can do is
give today's answer.
Shaw: Sure. Now you tell me what my next question will be?. What is
your favorite play?
Cross: Boy. Well, it's easy to say what my favorite Shakespeare play
is: ! ;Othello.
And if it is your favorite Shakespeare play, it has to be your favorite
play because nobody did it better. But I do love Tennessee Williams.
Shaw: Yes. I adore Streetcar.
Cross: I do, too. But again, I'd have to say Othello because he just
showed out in that play. But if I couldn't say that, I would have to
agree: A Streetcar Named Desire. It was just so sad. There is nothing
more moving to me, so sad, as Blanche's depending on "the kindness of
strangers." And, speaking of which, right after Katrina hit, I sent an
e-mail to my friend who lives in Gulfport, Mississippi. Anyway, he
replied weeks later that he went out to one of the supply ports in
search of a desperately needed bag of ice. And there on the truck were
bags of ice ! sent from Providence, Rhode Island. That was so moving to
him. & nbsp;They didn't send money. They sent the ice! And I was
thinking, "Yes, there's 'the kindness of strangers' that touches your
Shaw: So what's your favorite genre?
Shaw: That surprises me. I like fiction. I enjoy reading novels, but
I prefer teaching short stories.
Cross: Me too.
Shaw: They're so encapsulated.
Cross: I had a professor when I was an undergraduate, and he was
talking about the short story: "A short story is like a mother cat
moving the kittens from one nest to the other." It is so immediate.
The action is right there. But the best part of any short story always
comes after the ! end. Even with "A Christmas Memory," remember the
beautiful line at the end about "a lost pair of kites hurrying toward
heaven?" And your heart breaks for that boy. What is he going to do
Shaw: Well, you know, an interviewer once said to Eudora Welty, "I
worried so much about Phoenix Jackson in 'A Worn Path.'" And Welty
replied, "I still do."
Cross: I love that. I'll use that.
Shaw: Okay. This is a fun one. If you could have a dinner party and
invite any living author, whom would you invite?
Cross: Oh, that's a good question. You know, the name that won't quit
coming is Rick Bragg. I think he writes such wonderful sentences. I
know he didn't have much training. Nor did Mark Twain, William!
Faulkner. But Rick Bragg, you know, was supposed to go to work down at
the sawmill. Think about it. I also think he's really funny. I'd
really like to be around him.
Shaw: You know he's teaching a course at Tuscaloosa this semester. But
back to part two of that question: if you could have a dinner party and
invite any dead authors?and of course I don't mean zombies?who would
Cross: T.S. Stribling, Mark Twain, Richard Llewellyn, William Faulkner.
Shaw: Aren't you going to invite any women to this party?
Cross: Oh, yes, Emily Dickinson.
Shaw: If you could get her out of the house! Anyway, if you could be
any author, who would you be?
Cross: I don't know if I'd want the lives of any ! of those people.
They pay so dearly, you know.
Shaw: How they do.
Cross: I guess if I could have the life, Mark Twain because he was so
brilliant, and he got to talk. He also got to lecture and travel and
curse and smoke and drink and tell funny stories. You know, these are
really hard questions, Bebe.
Shaw: Well, as with James Joyce, this is not THE Portrait of the Artist
as a Young Man. This is A portrait. Okay, next question. You know how
Nathaniel Hawthorne liked to write standing. And Charlotte Bronte liked
to write with her eyes closed. And Ernest Hemingway said that he always
wrote better when he was in love.
Cross: Twain liked to write in bed, as you know.
S! haw: So what is your modus operandi, pun intended?
Cross: I like to be in bed when I write and when I'm in love.
Shaw: But seriously, what is your mode of operation?
Cross: What little I write, I write in long hand with a pencil. I like
to hear the sound of the lead on the paper. I do like that sound.
Nothing can replicate it.
Shaw: So who is your favorite character in literature?
Cross: Huckleberry Finn.
Shaw: Because he does the right thing?
Cross: Because he is unwashed and unfettered and unlettered, not
required to go to school or to church, and he is the envy of every boy
in town. He does the right thing. He does more than the right! thing.
Shaw: He bucks conventional morality, and that takes courage.
Cross: When Huck says, "I'll go to hell anyway" for refusing to turn in
escaped slave Jim, he doesn't mean a metaphorical hell. He means a fire
and brimstone hell. And the Bible says, "Greater love hath no man than
this, that a man may lay down his life for his friends." Well, Twain
takes that and kicks it up a notch and has that boy lay down his SOUL.
Shaw: And your favorite line in literature?
Cross: The last line of How Green Was My Valley: "How green was my
Valley, then, and the Valley of them that have gone." [At this point
Cross's eyes had begun to fill with tears.] I don't know why I'm so
emotional. It just kills me. Did you hear A P! rairie Home Companion
on NPR last week? Garrison Keil lor did this wonderful skit about a
professional organization of English majors, and someone asked, "What do
English majors do?" And Keillor said, "We just walk around waiting for
something beautiful to move us."
Shaw: That's good.
Cross: Like the piece I did for public radio, "Looking for Richard
Llewellyn," after his death. My wife and I went to Wales, rented a car,
got the flowers, had the book on the back seat, and drove on every
little sheep trail for five days, but no one knew where his grave was,
not even the academics. And I said, "Professor, you come to America and
we'll take you to William Faulkner's grave or Mark Twain's grave or
Emily Dickinson's grave. We keep up with our dead writers." And the
next day she said, "Professor Cross, after we spoke, I found out that,
yes, indeed Richard Llewellyn died in New York, and his body was !
brought here, and he was cremated, and his ashes were strewn throughout
the mining district of Wales. You've driven through him several times."
That's what she said! So we went to an old mine and pulled over on the
side of the road, took those wilted flowers out of the back seat, lay
them on the side of the road, and read that last line. And we said,
"God bless you Richard Llewellyn."
Shaw: Would you care to try to articulate why it is that you teach?
Cross: Because I hate a job. I've had jobs in the past. I've driven a
truck, been in the army, worked in a mobile home plant. Teaching allows
me to be on stage every day. When I am up there, and I have the people
out there, I just love that. And I say to my students, "Choose a job
that you love."
Shaw: Obviousl! y, you have.
Here is his Dr. Cross' biography:
Dr. Randy Cross holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of
Mississippi. He is the co-editor of Laughing Stock: The Autobiography
of T.S. Stribling and the author of Introductions for three of
Stribling's novels, The Forge, The Store, and Unfinished Cathedral, all
reprinted by the University of Alabama Press. In addition, he has
published scholarly articles and reviews in professional journals
including American Literature, The South Atlantic Review, Resources for
American Literary Biography, and The Mark Twain Journal. He has served
as a scholar for the Alabama Shakespeare Festival and delivered over 200
programs on Southern literature and history for Auburn University's Arts
and Humanities Center. In 1986 he was named a Fulbright Scholar and
taught American literature at ! the University of Rio de Janeiro,
Brazil. In 1990-91, he taught American literature as a Senior Fulbright
Scholar at the University of Lisbon, Portugal. A retired lieutenant
colonel from the Tennessee Army National Guard, Dr. Cross currently
teaches English at Calhoun community College in Decatur.