By Sam Burnham, Curator
We've discussed small towns across Georgia in at least one previous article. I've also spent some time discussing how these are the towns that we need to aim incentives at in order to foster true and widespread economic growth in the state. But let's talk about some positives here.
There are a lot of thriving historic downtowns in The South. I want to talk about some of them. There are also some that still hold a lot of potential but still need a shot in the arm. The trick is to do this without ruining the charm that is there or the culture than can thrive there. The trick is leaving these places charming.
It is easy to talk about places being "in the sticks" or "the middle of nowhere." But they aren't in the middle of nowhere. This is where people live and work. These places are where their slice of the American Dream is unfolding. This is their home. it just doesn't look like the idea of the American Dream that we are being sold today in popular media.
Decades ago these towns were built for a reason. There were businesses there that had a customer base to support them. There were also parks, theaters, dance halls. These places had live music, acting troupes, they hosted travelling entertainment acts. These towns offered opera, symphony, early country music acts, some even hosted the performers on the Chitlin Circuit.
New life could mean a cultural revival. Many of the old theaters and dance halls can still be found in these towns. This could offer opportunity for local talent to get in front of audiences,to make a name for themselves. Many of these towns have healthy community theatre or music. A healthy economy could bring bigger audiences, bigger budgets. Rather than being another playbill in a huge metropolis, these acts could have a chance to shine a little brighter.
Let's talk about a book.
This one is a bit newer than our usual book reviews. I just finished The River of Kings by Taylor Brown (St. Martin's Press, 2017)
Let me start by saying this was my first Taylor Brown book. But I don't think it will be my last. In this book he weaves three stories together three stories. Two of the stories are from recent history, about 15-20 years apart while the third is from the 16th century. The stories have their heroes and villains. There are kings and peasants - both literal and metaphorical. But at the heart of all three stories you find the true stars of the stories - the Altamaha River and the prehistoric beat that legend say roams the depths, The Altamaha-ha.
The stories are excellent. Brown's narrative puts you on the river. You get the ripples from the bow of a kayak, the smell of an outboard engine, the din of violent conflict. At times you'll find yourself blowing the gnats from your face. The plots are interesting and believable. It was nice to see the way one plot would veer into the other story, giving you a detail, some background. The history is well researched even if Brown took license to tell the stories.
The characters are real. I'm not saying they are all true people, I'm saying you are getting an authentic cast. Even when the plots get grotesque it isn't gratuitous. You see the morbid reality of our world and how experiences made the characters who they are and in turn how their existence contributed to the morbid reality of our world. You see the good and evil in them, some get a bigger share of one than they do the other. If you've lived in rural Georgia longer than a week, you've met folks like these. You might even see yourself in a few places.
This is a man's kind of story. I'm not saying that ladies shouldn't read it or that they won't like it. I'm saying men will enjoy it. It's gritty. It's harsh. But it's real. And it's good. There's nothing Pollyanna about it but it's also uplifting and encouraging. It is a tale of people living in a harsh world.
That is about as far as I can take this without getting into plot spoilers. So take my word for it. It's good.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire