Thanks to Tonne Goodman, all the folks at Vogue, and Jessica Alba for this lovely piece about Alabama Chanin and style ethics in the July 2009 issue.
Each time I speak publicly, I am invariably asked about the process of publishing or our Alabama Studio Book Series.
After poking around on the internet I was surprised to discover that while writers are often interviewed about their books, there are very few interviews with the editors. Our editor, Melanie – whose desk is pictured above - is a force to be reckoned with. She has an unerring eye, commitment to quality, and an extreme attention to detail. These characteristics make her a very, very good editor and a dear friend. I am extremely grateful for her belief, support and patience over the years. It is important to choose an editor carefully as you will spend a lot of time with that person. For example, we started working on Alabama Stitch Book in 2004 and held a printed copy in January of 2008. While it is unusual to spend that much time on a book, it can happen. Here are some of the questions that I have fielded for Melanie over the years with a few additions of my own:
The lyrical Esther spins her tales in watermelon sugar.
Although the travels of the last months have been truly wonderful, there is nothing quite like coming home. My garden survived the neglect and the tomato plants are now at shoulder height with green pearls of delight starting to form. And while I have been a bit lax in keeping up with reading and writing, I have saved a few articles over the last months that I look forward to sharing.
I was surprised and delighted to find Preserving Time in a Bottle in the New York Times and see it truly as a sign of changing times. I am looking forward to savoring my time at home, eating in my own kitchen, keeping my suitcase packed away, devouring fresh tomatoes with Maggie, trying out new recipes, “putting up” our garden and letting the summer arrive slowly, slowly…
Photo: Evan Sung for The New York Times
Back from the wilds of southern Alabama and the Panhandle of Florida… The trip was too short – as always. Although the weather was not so great, the beaches are white as snow, the Apalachicola River soothing and the shrimp melt in your mouth. There is something about watching rain from a screened veranda that makes me sing.
BUT this trip, my memory and thought are for the longleaf. Driving through the Apalachicola National Forest you get a small inkling of how these majestic giants must have stood in beautiful splendor before the true rape of the south when approximately 140,000 square miles of virgin forests were slaughtered.
Butch believes that the young growth trees we were driving through are about 50 years old but the longleaf begins to reach its splendor at about 200 – 300 years and can live for 500+ years. There are 191 species of plants associated with the old-growth longleaf and approximately 122 of them are endangered.
And Ecology of a Cracker Childhood by Janisse Ray is just about as good as it gets.
Her love and understanding for the longleaf takes my breath away: “I drink old-growth forest in like water. This is the homeland that built us. Here I walk shoulder to shoulder with history – my history. I am in the presence of something ancient and venerable, perhaps of time itself, its unhurried passing marked by immensity and stolidity, each year purged by fire, cinched by a ring. Here mortality’s roving hands grapple with air. I can see my place as human in a natural order more grand, whole, and functional than I’ve ever witnessed, and I am humbled, not frightened by it. It is as if a round table springs up in the cathedral of pines and God graciously pulls out a chair for me, and I no longer have to worry about what happens to souls.”
*Photo by Andrew Kornylak for Garden & Gun
I think that the first love of my life was a book. I am obsessed by books and once worked at Rizzoli in New York City just that I could get a discount and use my part-time paycheck to buy books.
My daughter Maggie started young. Since her birth, she has been obsessed by touching, licking and eating books. You could try to give her toys, pacifiers, food; nothing satisfied like a book. All of our board books have edges that have been rubbed raw by gums sprouting teeth. While I was distraught with thoughts of poisons in printing inks, the contents of paper, etc, etc, every time I turned my head, there she was with a book in her mouth. As she has grown, the only thing that has changed is that she does not eat them. She will surround herself in the bed with piles of books and has memorized many of them that she can then read aloud to her babies. The ones that she has not memorized, she reads in her own language that sounds like a mixture of German, Russian, and Greek with a southern drawl. (Maggie can say “yes” in four syllables!) I catch her rocking in the chair with one of her babies and reading in her secret language from a book that we just got at the library. She will look up at me gently and say, “Mama, go away, I am reading to my baby right now.” It is this private connection between person, word, and image that makes me passionate about books.
I am often asked for a reading list; however, here you have my top ten (well eleven) favorite story books – in no particular order – the list can go on and on and might very well be different tomorrow:
A few years ago, my friend Sara helped me work on organizing my collection of books into a (very loose) library format. The tomes were divided by a “genre” that I determined by somewhat random method but that made sense to me. Books on textiles got a red sticker on the spine and books on design a white sticker with little ### symbols, etc. I did this as a way to make the search for a particular book easier, re-shelving mindless and to create a system to loan books without continually losing them. What shocked me when the library was finished was that the largest category of books was not fashion design or textiles or craft but photography.
Thinking back, this should not have been a shock as I started collecting photography books as design student. Over the years, these books are continually the ones I search out over and over and over again. Writing about Richard Avedon yesterday made me nostalgic for other heroes who have story telling at the heart of their work. When I look at Avedon’s pictures, I dream that I have an audio file from The Kitchen Sisters telling the story with the dual voice of photographer and subject. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men comes about as close to telling the story with the imagery as you can get; however, the book does not satisfy my hunger. I want the photographs of Dorothea Lange to come to life and sit down with me on the porch. As that is not possible, I take one of my books of Dorothea’s photographs, listen to Studs Terkel and dream that I am an oral historian.
One of my all time favorite books of photography was created by Richard Avedon: In the American West. This genre of photography as story teller has been an inspiration to me since the day I first started working. They are images that make me want to HEAR the stories too.
Visit The Richard Avedon Foundation for more.
P.S.: I literally ran into Avedon in a book store in Montauk, New York, some years ago. Backed right into him. As I turned around, I lost all calm and stumbled right out the door.