12 October 2021
Listening to Lowcountry narratives in Marion Square, photo by Jordan Fields
Beginning a discussion on literature following the touring of McLeod Plantation and Drayton Hall necessitated and prompted an interesting discussion. I began taking the class to Marion Square Park in the heart of downtown King Street. We walked into the center of the grassy green of the park and this seemingly empty space quickly became a backdrop to our classroom, my presentation the centerpiece. Our circle formed and I passed out the images of 5 faces familiar to some, but all sharing the same theme of being distinctly different. I opened the readings I had chosen and looked for volunteers to read. The first reading was titled “Charleston” by Henry Timrod and his poem outlines in very emotional details the men after the bombardment of Fort Sumter. The next piece was from a section of Edgar Allen Poe’s book The Gold Bug. The section I’d chosen came from the beginning of his book describing Sullivan’s Island and the plain landscape.
I then transitioned into the book of poems titled The Yemassee Lands: Poems of Beatrice Ravenel by Beatrice Ravenel. I read two poems to the class. First, I read one titled “White Azaleas in Magnolia Gardens”. A poem about southern gardens and magnolia blossoms. Next, I read “House” which discussed every aspect of a house from the wood to the smells, and even the texture of painting. The two poems were meant to exemplify a Charleston writer who wrote a very beautiful and potentially romanticized poem of the lowcountry. Next, I read two passages from author Pat Conroy’s novel The Water is Wide. The passages describing the isolation of Beaufort and the Gullah Geechee people he encountered while teaching there. The final piece titled “Grace in the Holy City: An Essay on Charleston” by Brad Willis, was an essay written after the Emanual AME Church shooting in 2016. This extremely graphic and difficult essay discussing the shooting from a grief chaplain’s perspective. The final form of literature linking a series of passages together across forms of poetry, essays, and novels.
Street in Charleston, photo by Joshua Fuqua
From there, I pivoted back to the faces we had seen and connected the author’s faces to their works. Each face represented in a different narrative about the Lowcountry. These faces indicative of the melting pot that forms Charleston. I explained that the faces were all different, but they all were Lowcountry residents at some point. What was the point of coming to the loud, bustling, park full of homeless people; cars passing by nearly every moment? The point was chaos that creates beauty in the absence of conformity. The beauty found in the faces of different races, ethnicities, religions, and people all congealing in the passing crowds.
As we have discussed in the course, the idea of memory being so closely attached to place oftentimes is important in our understanding of where we are or even who we are as a placed person. Since I am from Charleston, this conversation of literature and the way residents of the Lowcountry remember their time in Charleston resonated very closely with me. My intent of the conversation, which was achieved, was to demonstrate that while we oftentimes consider the narrative of the Lowcountry as black or white, there is a multitude of perspectives and narratives coming in to form a beautiful community of individuals.
I learned a lot from this presentation and the discussion of literature in the lowcountry. I learned that I love teaching as much as I do research. I learned that the preparation of material is 10 times harder than the preparation of delivering your research. Finally, I learned that oftentimes the most important conversations are the hardest to have.