Coastal Georgia Originals 2022
July 2022 Issue
photography by Benjamin Galland
Current Residence: St. Simons Island
Family: 4 adult children, 13 grandchildren and 1 great-grandson
How did you discover your talent?
I had planned to be an artist until I married a very talented artist, who convinced me that my talent lay in writing. I loved telling made-up stories to our four young children, which convinced my husband I could write children’s books and he could illustrate them. We were successful at selling illustrated stories, poems and articles to children’s magazines such as Jack and Jill, Children’s Playmate, and other national and regional publications. I wrote a book in verse that featured a little boy who wanted a menagerie of exotic stuffed animals to replace his old teddy bear. The illustrations my husband did were fantastic, but we never sold the book. From there I moved on to write adult poetry and later became a journalist, writing for newspapers and magazines. I worked as a reporter and later, an editor, for the Atlanta Journal Constitution until I retired in 2006. I have since written three non-fiction books, all published by the University of Georgia Press. The most recent, Following the Tabby Trail, just came out in June.
People always think creative people are messy and chaotic. What works for you?
I’m an indifferent housekeeper but have always been an organized researcher and writer. Anything I’m working on is kept in an active file, and anything I might work on someday is tucked away in a file marked future maybe. Material on anything I’ve completed is filed as finally finished. Of course, there are sub-categories. No doubt there are more efficient ways to store material, but the system works for me.
What artist, living or deceased, would you love to spend a day with?
Tell us your vision of the day. My late mother, Jean Elizabeth Langston, was a fine musician. She majored in music in college, had a lovely soprano voice, and played classical piano on a concert level. She won a scholarship to study music at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria, when she was in college. She wanted me to play the piano, and I took lessons (reluctantly) for five years. I hated practicing and never learned to read music. It just wasn’t my talent. Mother taught in a one-room rural school near Hendersonville, N. C. the year she graduated from college. There was an old upright piano in the schoolroom. As the children arrived the first day, Mother played a lively tune to welcome them to the classroom. Several children stopped at the door, turned and ran away. They returned a short time later with their parents. They wanted them to see “a lady who could play the piano with both hands.” I’d love to hear more of Mother’s stories about her long career in music; many of which I’ve forgotten.
If you were given a one-minute ad slot during the Super Bowl, what would you fill it with?
I’d like to commission an ad that would persuade Congress to enact laws banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. I’d like to see Congress tighten gun laws in general. No other country in the world allows its citizens such easy access to firearms, and no other country has close to the number of gun deaths that we do in the United States. No elected official should be allowed to accept funding from organizations such as the National Rifle Association that advocate unlimited access to guns.
In addition to writing, what’s your next best talent?
I studied art as a young teenager at the Ringling School in Sarasota, Fla., and later with Bill Hendrix, the late maestro of the Island Art School on St. Simons. I studied Zapotec pottery-making for a month when I was in Oaxaca, Mexico, taking Spanish. I loved doing artsy-craftsy projects with the children and still like to mess around with paint and such. I have a modest modicum of natural talent but never put in the work required to develop it and become an artist.
What’s something unique in your house that more than likely no one else has?
When my son was in graduate school, he traveled around the southeast doing research. I collect unusual wooden signs, and he found the best one ever in rural Alabama. Hand-painted in black on rough whitewashed plywood, the sign says: Church of the All Seeing Eyes, followed by a child-like drawing of two eyes looking heavenward. I donated funds to the church in return for the sign, which now hangs in my living room.