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Monday, December 20, 2010

Persnickety Penman: Where're you'all from?

            Robert Young Drake was a professor of English at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville from 1965 until 1999.  A noted English scholar and author, Robert Drake was most associated with his homespun stories about the fictional West Tennessee town of Woodville.  Drake was well known for his story-telling skills in the rich dulcet tones of an aristocratic southern gentleman.  After suffering a stroke in 1999, he was forced to leave his beloved teaching position, returning to his hometown of Milan, Tennessee where he died on June 30, 2001.




               I was fortunate to have had Dr. Drake as my professor of creative writing for two classes when I attended the University of Tennessee in Knoxville in the early 1970s.  One of the corrections he made to my thinking had to do with roots and what we think of as home.

              In the first class we were given the assignment to write about ourselves so that Dr. Drake could get to know his students a little better. This was to be a brief autobiography that included where we were from.  My story was the example that he always looked for to teach one of the first lessons about being a writer.

             Since I had moved around a lot in my life I wrote that I wasn't really from anywhere.  My hippie philosophy at that time tended more toward existentialism.   I tried to portray myself as the rootless wanderer in life who was searching for self and purpose.  That was the cue for Dr. Drake's lecture on roots.

             "Everybody's from somewhere," he enunciated in his rich southern accent.  He went on to give examples of writers like his favorite, Flannery O'Connor, who was from Georgia.  Writing, he explained, is an extension of who we are and an expression of our experiences and our heritage, all of which has roots in particular place and time.

               It was in that class that I began to appreciate my Tennessee home.  Even though I hadn't been born there and hadn't grown up there, it was the place the felt most like home and the place with which I could most identify myself. 

               When we think about writers, we frequently associate them with place.  With Hemingway it might be Key West or Steinbeck is central California coast.    Many of us think about Hannibal, Missouri when we think of Mark Twain even though he did most of his writing elsewhere--but it was that place that shaped and influenced much of who he was and what he wrote.

                 As Dorothy Gale from the Wizard of Oz was to find out in her fantastical visit, there's no place like home.  A writer can take us anywhere imagination can contrive, but the story has to come from somewhere and that somewhere is inside of each of us.

                 Where are you from?  What do you consider to be home?  How does it influence your writing? 





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26 comments:

  1. Have to really think about that. I'm a military brat, so I've never considered any one place home.

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  2. This is very interesting Arlee and so true. I have been living in Southern Illinois for twenty years now and while I did live here and there in California as a child, I did most of my growing up in Chicago. I still consider Chicago my home town. Even though it is a big one. I grew up during tough times and have been around many rough people in bad neighborhoods. That tough girl is still in there even though I am older and wiser now. I am known as a very kind person. But I can only be pushed so far until the city girl comes out. Oh and by the way, I would rather walk down a dark ally in a bad neighborhood than through the woods with wild animals!!!! I don't know how this influences my writing. Love Di ♥

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  3. I was born in a place called RedHill in Surrey UK as my mother was there at the time....lol.
    I was brought up in her own city of Bristol in the west country but moved to the south coast in 1979 until 2003 when I moved to N. Ireland. I then went to Spain for a few years then moved back to the UK. I loved Spain and would dearly love top go back there to live. There is so much to write about and the pace of life is so different from the hussle and bustle of the UK.

    Enjoyed your post Lee.
    Have a good day.
    Yvonne.

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  4. lovely post, Arlee!
    I think I share your hippie philosophy of being from nowhere :) Since my homecountry of Vojvodina is multi-ethnic (we have more than 25 different nationalities living here together) I've never really had a sense of national belonging to just one place or culture. I always felt like a citizen of Earth :)

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  5. A Kentucky hillbilly, born and bred to turn anything into a tale! But home to me is where one feels comfortable and safe.

    Nice post and Happy Holidays!
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

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  6. Hmmm... Home... I haven't a clue. Nice post though. It gives me something to ponder.

    :-)

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  7. Texas! Loud and clear. But I'm a military wife who has always brought a little taste of Texas to wherever we've lived.

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  8. Of course he's right, we're all from somewhere. I admire those who are proud of their roots & enjoy reading their stories. Really love Flannery O'Connor & Eudora Welty, both fine Southern writers.

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  9. I am 'from' Oregon, which will always be considered home. But now that I live in the South, and have for several years, that has influenced my writing more. I even used the South as the setting for my YA series.

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  10. I was born in Hefei, which I've always considered a part of me, despite the fact I don't remember it and I haven't been there since I was a baby. Chinese culture fascinates me, and I love learning more about the country.

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  11. Southern California (for the most part). It is extremely diverse here on so many levels. So much so, that it creeps into everything...

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  12. I love that word 'persnickety'.

    I grew up in Buffalo, but consider Oregon home. It calls to me. Many of my stories are set here. Must be home then?

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  13. I never thought about connecting my writing to a place. My father was in the Navy, so as a child I moved around quite a bit and then I married someone with a job that took me all around the world. I’ve never felt connected to one spot.

    My first novel was about a woman who had never left her home area, so maybe having no home base has influenced my writing in subtle ways.

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  14. I'm very much a combo of the places I've lived. I find my Pacific Northwest mentality seeps into everything, as it was my heart both before and after I lived in Oregon, but my small Idaho town roots filter in, as does the academic politics and setting of Ann Arbor. it is interesting though, the easiest place for me to write remains Portland--I lived there a dozen years, but it was those adult, no-kids years, so I spent more of my time out and about than I have since becoming a parent--I think that is how you sort of know a city heartbeat.

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  15. Although I gripe about the weather all...the...time, Missouri is my roots. Covering them (the roots) would be killing who I am. I like being rural and country.

    Teresa

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  16. Alex -- That's the way I felt since I had also moved around a lot. And that's what Dr. Drake was trying to get at-- that we actually do have some kind of roots in the heart of us.

    Diana -- And you are the type of example that Dr. Drake was giving as a person who resorts to her roots.

    Yvonne -- I don't know if Dr. Drake would have related his theory to writing poetry or not.

    Dezmond -- I think that the concept of being a citizen of the world is a more modern concept, but I still think you must have a roots anawer for someone who asks--right?

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  17. Jules -- I believe Dr. Drake would consider "home" not necessarily the same as where you are from. You're a Kentuckian at heart.

    Misha -- Since you are about the same age as I was when I was taking Dr. Drake's class you may have a similar outlook as I did then.

    Carol-- Good example of letting where you are from influence where you are.

    Lisa-- Flannery is a big favorite with me after have been introduced to her work by Dr. Drake.

    L. Diane -- I know kind of how you feel, but ultimately you come up with the final answer.

    Golden Eagle -- I think there may be a lot of people in the U.S. who are in your situation.

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  18. Pat-- SoCal is definitely diverse and keeps getting moreso. We may be having an indentity crisis eventually.

    M Pax-- I guess it's home and where you're from now.

    Jane -- Maybe your moving around had a reverse effect on your writing.

    Hart -- Getting around can't help but have an influence on your outlook on things, I know it has me. But I'll still just say I'm from Tennessee just to have a specific sense of place.

    Teresa -- I kind of like the country as well, but like being close to conveniences of the city.
    I spent the night in Springfield, MO last night and it was pretty cold, but not as much as the last time I was there 3 years ago. Someday I'll have to visit MO. and not just pass thru.

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  19. Great post; Sounds like a wonderful professor!

    Maine is home, no matter where I have roamed, there is no place like it~ I have found beauty everywhere I have lived, here Adak, Alaska. There is always good n' bad, you just have to make the best of where you hang your hat. I still have a New England accent, been in the south for 8 yrs.

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  20. Lee-

    After twenty years living in the Southwest, I'm living proof that youse kin take de yewt outta Philly but youse can't take the Philly outta da yewt!

    Larry

    Who am I kidding-I was a suburb dweller! But I still consider the Philadelphia area home.

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  21. Hi Lee .. I'd say Cornwall, very west of England .. I gravitate there .. but like you I've moved around a lot & I'd include South Africa .. but home is home and where the heart is .. where Iam and now where my mother is ..

    Have a great time on your Christmas travels and fun with family and friends .. Hilary

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  22. Ellen -- You are what Dr. Drake was talking about.

    Larry --You are also a good example. Suburbs are a place too.

    Hilary -- Home is indeed where the heart is.

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  23. I was born in Salem, Ohio. Spent some time in San Jose, CA, Los Angeles, CA, and Reno, NV

    I now call Longview, WA home!

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  24. Gosh Lee, I grew up in Chicago, but have lived in so many places. Each one has always felt like "home."

    Because I write primarily non-fiction (with exception for some soap work years ago) my writing generally reflects the location I'm living in.

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  25. Gregg-- You got around a lot like I did. I can call Pico Rivera my current home but I usually say I'm from Tennessee though technically I guess I'm not.

    Paula-- I know what you're saying since I'm in a similar situation.

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  26. What a wonderful treat to run across this blog. I was one of Dr. Drake's students and was in class the day he was overcome by a stroke-like episode. He had a profound impact on my life. I can still hear his honeysuckle sweet Southern voice. I can still see him looking at me over the rim of the glasses forever perched halfway down his nose. Dr. Drake wrote so well about Ripley, Tenn., its people, and his life there. He made me love my hometown of Knoxville and not be in such a fuss to escape it. I only wish I could pick up the phone and call him. He was one-of-a-kind. Thank you for the post.

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