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Gather Up Our Voices: Selected Writings from the Recipients of the Harper Lee Award for Alabama’s Distinguished Writer 1998-2007

By: Jeanie Thompson, editor
Reviewed by: Anita Garner
The Alabama Writers’ Forum, 2008
$30, Paperback

You will instantly want this book the minute you see it with its impeccable selections from an all-star list of our state’s very best writers. But you will also immediately think of all the ways you will want to use this book after you greedily read it. Teachers will plot ways to use it in their classrooms. Book groups will include this in their line up, knowing it will re-introduce beloved writers to newer members, writers whose works they will want to further explore. My first reaction was that I started counting in my head the number of copies I would need: personal reading copy, lending copy, copies for family members and copies for gifts.

Just a list of the diverse Harper Lee winners included here will have you searching for your credit card: Albert Murray, Madison Jones, Helen Norris, Sena Jeter Naslund, Mary Ward Brown, Rodney Jones, Sonia Sanchez, Andrew Hudgins, Wayne Greenhaw, and William Cobb. Wayne Sides’s stunning Alabama photographs, used on the cover and throughout, are not illustrations of the literary works but rather lend a further sense of authenticity and, in some cases, even nostalgia.

For people moving into the state, this book should be required reading, something they have to pass a test on before they’re allowed to get driver’s licenses. And they should read it—to borrow a line from Rodney Jones’s poem “Sweep” from Salvation Blues, included in the collection—“Slowly, the way things work down here.” Perhaps then will they begin to understand there is no such creature as the “typical Alabama writer.”

Anita Garner writes and teaches creative writing in Florence, Alabama.

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