The modern publishing scene has brought yet another type of literary tourist to Asheville: the writer on a book tour. Xpress approached a couple of these authors to ask what memory defined Asheville for them. Here are their e-mailed replies.
Eggers read in Asheville in October 2002. His friend Amanda Davis was killed with her parents in a plane crash outside Asheville on March 14, 2003, after reading at Malaprop’s from her novel, Wonder When You’ll Miss Me. Eggers’ novel, You Shall Know Our Velocity!, recently came out in paperback.
“For the time being, Asheville makes me think of Amanda Davis, my friend who had her last reading there, before her plane went down in the mountains. I’d been to Malaprop’s a few months before her, and had been amazed by Asheville.
“As a kid and even more as an adult, I’ve done a lot of driving around the country, especially east of the Mississippi, and was pretty shocked that Asheville was Asheville, but I’d never been there, and didn’t even know anyone from Asheville. I know tons of people from Raleigh-Durham and Charlotte, but none from Asheville.
“I remember driving in with my wife; we were both astounded by how pretty it was, how much character the town had — you know what I mean — how like a Berkeley-in-NC it seemed. (Sorry for the reference; it’s all we know, these comparisons.) The people who came out to my reading were great, and I met lots of very warm people in Asheville, and told everyone I know who writes to make sure that they stop at Malaprop’s on any book tour.
“Not that Amanda went there on my advice — she knew NC better than I ever could — but again, for the time being, I always picture Asheville’s warm embrace holding Amanda, for the last time.”
Jill Conner Browne, a.k.a. The Sweet Potato Queen
When Ms. Browne comes to town, she doesn’t offer a reading so much as an event. This is an author who gives good parade. Her most recent book is The Sweet Potato Queens’ Big-Ass Cookbook and Financial Planner.
“The defining moment of Asheville for me came on my first visit, for God Save the Sweet Potato Queens. When, in Full Costume, I stepped my tiny, little majorette-booted foot out of the hotel across the street from Malaprop’s, I was greeted by a deafening roar put up by the thousands of fully bedecked Queens lining the streets and packing the store.
“As I crossed the street, two very tall, very lovely Queens of the Drag Persuasion — who had been very instrumental in whipping up the crowd fervor by dancing wildly and banging on pots with wooden spoons — broke free from the crowd and literally prostrated themselves before me on the warm, damp asphalt of the very street itself.
“Needless to say, I was deeply touched — a feeling that was to grow in all directions when, as I was seated inside Malaprop’s (the Only Bookstore I Ever REALLY Loved), signing books — and one of the aforementioned persons felt an overpowering need to kiss my boots — and fondle my loins, as it were — and there are photos, I believe, of us united in this act — him on hands and knees, pert posterior protruding from underneath the table skirt, and me, grinning like a mule eating briars.
“Ahhhh, yes — Asheville!”