I grew up a in a working class, ethnic, mostly Catholic neighborhood on Detroit’s east side at a time when young girls were not expected to question their elders or have dreams beyond marriage. I quickly identified with the struggles of the heroine in Gloria Nixon-John’s new novel (also named Gloria), Learning from Lady Chatterly. If you really want to experience Detroit in the 50s, this is a priceless ticket.
The novel’s Gloria is the teenage daughter of Italian immigrants in a Wonder Bread neighborhood. As the book’s cover explains, “what sets Gloria apart is the fact that she pays attention, enough attention to discover that the neighborhood local war hero is a pedophile, that her best friend’s mother is a Nazi. What makes her different is what she learns from her father when the first black family moves into the neighborhood on Detroit’s east side, and what she learns about her own , sometimes dark heart when the home of the affluent kids are literally picked up and moved to make way for the I-94 Expressway.”
Gloria also has a crush on the neighborhood bad-boy and sneaks books out of the adult sections of the public library – books about love, sex and sorrow. In short, Learning from Lady Chatterly is a story that is both distinct about a certain time and place – and universal in its tale about the pain of growing up and being different.
I met the author, Gloria Nixon-John when I took a writing workshop at the Warren Public Library-Civic Center in the Summer of 2013 and admired her published poetry, essays and fiction, especially her previous novel, The Killing Jar, about one of the youngest Americans to have served on death row, published in June 2012 by Neverland Publishing. Learning from Lady Chatterly is available in paperback on Amazon.
Fanny Flagg’s famous southern novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe came out in 1987, the year I married an Alabama native from the same home town area of Birmingham as Flagg. I instantly felt at home with her and loved her story of a hometown café run by a woman (her grandmother’s youngest sister).
Now Fanny Flagg has a new book out, The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion and she takes her readers back to the Café for a story about the last of a group of courageous women I’ll bet most of us have never heard about. As Flagg relates in an interview with the Daily South, she only learned about them by accident when she called the new owner of the Whistle Stop Café in 1999 out of the blue from her home in California and, just before they hung up, had the following exchange with her:
Mrs. McMichael: Oh, by the way, we have quite an interesting group coming in for lunch today. They are the last living members of the WASPs who are in town for a reunion.”
Intrigued, Flagg asked, “Who are the WASPs?”
“It’s a bunch of gals that used to fly military planes during the Second World War.”
Flagg had never heard of the WASPs before, but being a white knuckle flyer, she explains that she was very impressed and decided to buy the gals lunch. They earned it!
In the interview, Flagg then recounts how she had completely forgotten all about it until a year later when she was sent a book about the WASPs written by Nancy Batson Crews. Nancy had been at the reunion lunch at the café that previous year. It was almost 12 years later before Flagg had time enough to actually do more than just flip through the book and admire the photos. Once she did, Flagg knew it had to be her next project. http://thedailysouth.southernliving.com/2013/10/24/writing-the-all-girl-filling-stations-last-reunion/
I haven’t had time to even order Flagg’s new book yet, but I did look up the history of the WASPs on the internet and learned about a piece of American history that had regrettably eluded me. I recommend that you take a moment to read about these remarkable women at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_Airforce_Service_Pilots, http://wingsacrossamerica.us/wasp/, and http://waspmuseum.org/.
And don’t forget Flagg’s new book: Thanks, Fanny Flagg for bringing their memories alive again!