Remembering John Egerton

Today we feature a blog post written by Randall Williams, publisher of NewSouth Books in Montgomery, AL, in remembrance of John Egerton.


johnegertonThe South (and the nation, too, though he was a true Southerner in the best sense) was diminished today with the sudden death by heart attack of Nashville-based writer John Egerton. We at NewSouth were privileged to know John and work with him for several decades, first through the Southern Regional Council and later as the publisher of two insightful collections of essays (Where We Stand, 2004, and American Crisis, Southern Solutions, 2008) to which he contributed and his wickedly satiric comic-novel takedown of George W. Bush (Ali Dubya and the Forty Thieves, 2006).

Those were only three of his many books about the South, not to mention the thousands of articles and reports he produced about the region over a long career of fearless and inspired writing about civil rights, education, politics, the courts, and history and culture. In his later career, he became especially known as a writer on food and was a primary inspiration for the group of Southern cooks, writers, and filmmakers who coalesced around the Southern Foodways organization.

One who knew John even better than we did was another NewSouth author, Steve Suitts (Hugo Black of Alabama, 2005), the longtime executive director of the Southern Regional Council and current vice president of the Southern Education Foundation. On learning of John’s death, Steve remembered his old friend and colleague with these words:

Anyone who wants to know about the struggles for school desegregation and racial justice in the South in the 1960s and 1970s will come across at least one of the many essays, articles and reports that John Egerton authored. He was never a reporter for any of the major national newspapers but was perhaps the last full time, freelance journalist who covered the civil rights movement of that era. He wrote reports and essays for the Southern Education Foundation and the Southern Regional Council, as well as articles in national magazines, that brought statistical patterns and data to life and exposed the mendacity, insanity, and cruelty of Southern segregation and racism. He was a lone voice among the white writers who lived, traveled, and worked in the South without the institutional support and protection of a national magazine or newspaper. But John always appreciated that white Southerners had within them the capacity to change themselves and the region for the better. As was said of the freelance Southern writer Lillian Smith in her era, John Egerton in his era loved the South so much he wanted to make it better.

John is known in many circles. He has a bevy of books and articles about the white people of Appalachia. He wrote an amazing fictional story for NewSouth Books. He was the author of the notion of the Dixiefication of America. He is an icon among those who write seriously about Southern food. He was the go-to man who for almost two decades brought together the Southern journalists who covered the South during the decades of struggles for civil rights as the “Popham Seminar,” named for his old friend, Johnny Popham (known to many as “Pop”). John took all the time in the world driving “Pop” around the South in his later years and tending to the needs of others, including his dear old friend, the legendary Rev. Will Campbell. Amid his incredible productive years of writing, John never sought a spotlight, never failed to give more credit to others than to himself, and never was too busy to be a good husband, good father, and good friend to many.

One of John’s lasting contributions to understanding the South was his book, Speak Now Against the Day: The Generation Before the Civil Rights Movement in the South, published in 1994. More than any other of his many works, this title, taken from William Faulkner, was the one John really cherished. For it capture John’s own motto of life and his enduring hope for the region he loved — to have everyone in the South ready with the courage, persistence, and devotion to speak truth to and about those who are powerful, hateful, or in the moment’s ruling majority on behalf of those human values that always placed John and his voice on the right side of Southern history and now places him among the angels.

John Egerton was 78. His was a long and extraordinarily productive life, but today it seems far too short considering the contributions he still would have made to the rest of us and to his region and country. He was a really decent man, and the greatest undiscovered — in a mass-market sense — writer and reporter of his generation.


Egerton was also remembered by Garden & Gun for his role as co-founder of the Southern Foodways Alliance. Listen to Egerton discuss his work is the audio file below.

Celebrate Small Business Saturday with Blair’s Big Book Sale

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As part of Small Business Saturday Blair will be holding a book sale on November 30 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Stop by the Blair offices at 1406 Plaza Drive, Winston-Salem, NC, for 30% off all titles, including the perfect gifts for everyone on your holiday checklist.

Christmas_Website Holiday Gift Guide

We are also excited to announce that The Great Escape Food Truck will be joining us from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.


Buy local and get 30% off all books. We look forward to seeing you!

150th Anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address


Today, November 19th, marks the 150th Anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Gettysburg Address. This anniversary is being honored by a Dedication Day Ceremony in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg National Military Park in Gettysburg, PA.

You can watch a live stream of the ceremony here. The wreath laying begins at 10 a.m. and opening remarks at 10:15 a.m.

Gettysburg National Military Park will be hosting numerous events throughout the weekend in honor of the Dedication Day anniversary. A full list of these events can be found here.

James and Suzanne Gindlesperger, authors of So You Think You Know Gettysburg?   will also be on hand for the festivities, with a book talk and signing Saturday, November 23, from 3 to 5 p.m. at the American Civil War Museum and Gift Center.

Remembering Len Bias on His Birthday

Blair’s office manager Artie Sparrow remembers one of his favorite moments in ACC basketball history.


lenbiascelticsLen Bias was born 50 years ago today. One of the great sports tragedies of our time is that he didn’t live to see his 23rd birthday. Today, I’m thinking back to one of the most important nights in his too-brief career.

I attended UNC in the mid-1980s. Although I had a great time there, I have a few regrets: being too shy to ask Laurie Dhue for a date, missing concerts by the Talking Heads and Stevie Ray Vaughan, leaving Cat’s Cradle about 20 minutes before Michael Stipe sang a few songs with a local band. Close to the top of my list is the night I didn’t bother walking across the parking lot to see one of the greatest performances in ACC basketball history: the game Len Bias almost single-handedly wrecked the Tar Heels’ perfect record in the Dean Dome.

I don’t remember why I didn’t go to that game in February of my freshman year. I suspect it had to do with how students got tickets back then. We had to camp out and then get tickets in a random section, usually in the upper deck. I could enjoy a better view watching games on TV and spare myself having to sleep outside on cold winter nights. Also, the 1986 Tar Heel team wasn’t particularly entertaining. It won a lot but was rather predictable about it.

I watched the game on TV with my suitemates. Carolina was cruising to another win when Len Bias changed the script. He kept Maryland in the game until overtime, and then it happened: a steal, a reverse dunk, a block. He basically imposed his will on the game and refused to let Maryland lose. It was the sort of thing Michael Jordan was famous for—which was why his poster was in half the dorm rooms on campus at the time. Twenty-seven years later, fans still remember Bias’s performance—even fans who can’t remember what they did last week. After the game, we were stunned. Bias had instantly gone from being a really good player to, well, the best basketball player on the planet at that moment.

ACCBasketballBookFameI really enjoyed reading about Bias and all the other ACC greats and learning tidbits about what they were like off the court, but I don’t rank players based on their cumulative achievements. I guess that’s my one quibble with Dan Collins’s highly entertaining ACC Basketball Book of Fame. To me, the beauty of basketball is its moments of greatness. Bias had the most memorable moment of all the basketball I’ve watched over the years, even if it came at the expense of my school.


Have your own opinions about ACC’s best players or the way Dan Collins’ ranks them in his Basketball Book of Fame? Collins wants to hear about it! Let the discussion begin.

Blair Takes on Halloween

Blair staffers had a blast celebrating Halloween last week. Check out the pictures of our awesome costumes below.


Sister Artie is ready to law down the law.


Debbie classes up the joint as Holly Golightly.


Oatmeal shows off her Halloween romper.


Margaret is ready to hit the ice.


Carolyn honors Blair’s passion for mountain life.


Don’t worry, Blair wasn’t burglarized. But Steve’s scary getup did give us quite a fright.


I’ll admit it, my attempt is pretty lame, but the hat IS awesome.


We found Wald-ina!


And her feline mother.


Watson and Heath take in the interesting outfits.

We hope you all had an amazing Halloween!

History in the Voices of the Voiceless

The new film 12 Years a Slave is based on the autobiography of Solomon Northrup about his time as a slave in Louisiana from 1841 to 1853.

12 years a slaveOn October 17, 2013, the film’s director, Steve McQueen, and star, Chiwetel Ejiofor, were interviewed by NPR’s Renee Montagne. You can listen to the full interview at “12 Years a Slave: 160 Years Later, A Memoir Becomes a Movie.

During the interview McQueen noted that he “was really upset with [himself] that [he] did not know about this book.” The story of Solomon Northrup is remarkable for the particulars of the man’s experiences as a free man tricked into being enslaved who then finds his way back to freedom. 12 Years a Slave, however, is not the only opportunity that we have to hear about the peculiar institution from slaves themselves.

MyFolksDuring the Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt employed jobless writers and researchers to capture thousands of voices of former slaves spread throughout the United States. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) eventually collected more than two thousand narratives from seventeen states, cataloging them in the Library of Congress as Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the U.S. from Interviews with Former Slaves. Though the WPA performed a major service by collecting these narratives, the stories languished in the Library of Congress for several decades until the 1970s when George Rawick put the narratives into a form that was more accessible to the public, entitled The American Slave: A Composite Biography.

FarMoreTerribleBelinda Hurmence was among the first to realize that many readers were still intimidated by the multivolume sets of slave narratives made available by Rawick. Culling the narratives collected by the WPA and others, she edited her first concise volume of slave narratives, My Folks Don’t Want Me To Talk About Slavery, providing insight into the lives of former slaves in North Carolina. Following the positive reaction she received from the public, she published two more volumes of slave narratives from South Carolina and Virginia. Her books have proved perennial bestsellers for John F. Blair, Publisher and launched our “Real Voices, Real History” series.

Voices_Cherokee_WomenWe have continued to expand our line of slave narratives, and to expand the idea of history told by the individuals who personally experienced it. Since then, we have published 12 total volumes of slave narratives, three volumes from the Cherokees, and four other Real Voices, Real History collections. One Real Voices, Real History author described her collection of first person accounts as an opportunity to “give voice to the voiceless.”

Chained_to_theLandThe most recent title added to this collection is Voices of Cherokee Women, edited by Carolyn Ross Johnston, published in fall 2013. We will also be publishing Chained to the Land: Voices from Cotton & Cane Plantation, edited by Lynette Ater Tanner, in spring of 2014.