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Volume 24, Number 9 — September 2017

One-Woman Show performed at library in Abingdon

Brenda Bynum presents a one-woman show based on author, Lillian Smith.
Brenda Bynum presents a one-woman show based on author, Lillian Smith.

July 01, 2015

The Friends of the Washington County Public Library present a one-woman show of the life and work of Georgia author Lillian Smith Sunday, July 19 at 3 p.m., in the conference room of the library in Abingdon, Virginia. Smith is brought to life by Emory University theater professor emeritus Brenda Bynum.

Bynum put together "Jordan Is So Chilly: An Encounter with Lillian Smith" based on writings by the author of "Strange Fruit" (1944), the story of an interracial love affair, and "Killers of the Dream" (1949), a book about the detrimental effects of segregation.

Smith (1897-1966) was one of the first prominent white southerners to speak out publicly in the 1930s and 1940s against racial segregation and Jim Crow laws. She was already known as a human rights activist when she wrote "Strange Fruit." Her book was banned in some Northern cities and suppressed throughout the South; and while many people who grew up in the South during and after that time know who Smith is, they haven't read the book.

"Her book was banned in Boston, and a lot of the play is about how and why that happened, but that just made her famous," Bynum says. "Her book was not banned in the South, but it was suppressed bookstores wouldn't sell it, newspapers wouldn't write about it. Very few people in the South have read it or even heard of it."

Bynum became interested in presenting Smith's story when she was asked a few years ago by the Lillian E. Smith Center for Creative Arts in Clayton, Georgia, to put together a reading of some of Smith's letters as an event for the Southern Literary Trail, an informal tour of Georgia writers' homes. Bynum's program draws from Smith's unpublished autobiographical writing as well as a few passages from her books.

"Jordan is so chilly," a line from an African American spiritual about crossing the Jordan into the promised land, was the original title of Smith's controversial novel. She agreed to change it to "Strange Fruit" at the request of her publisher, Bynum says.

The performance is free and open to the public. There will be a reception afterwards.

Topics: Theatre