Back when I was editor of Creative Loafing here, one of our most popular columnists was the delightful and wickedly funny Lauretta Hannon. Then working in PR at Armstrong Atlantic, her acerbic, lively writing hilariously and accurately described both the good and the bad about Savannah life.
Hannon, a Georgia native, shortly moved to Atlanta and became known for her comedic radio commentaries on Georgia Public Broadcasting and National Public Radio. She has compiled a book - including versions of some of those old Creative Loafing columns - entitled Cracker Queen: A Memoir of a Joyous, Jagged Life. Not just a memoir, the book includes a manifesto of how to live life like a true Cracker Queen. An excerpt:
"When the nuclear button is pushed, you want a Cracker Queen in your fallout shelter. If on the battlefield, you won't find a better warrior than the Cracker Queen. And if your car is broken down on the side of the road, pray that one of your passengers is a Cracker Queen. Why? Because no one can touch the resourcefulness of a Cracker Queen. She'll put her ‘Cocola' on the battery terminal and get the car going again. She'll outsmart any foe because she has had so much practice with the government. And she will make the canned goods in the shelter last twice as long. That's easy for someone who figured out how to feed four hungry mouths on less than three dollars a day."
I spoke to Lauretta last week while she was in Oxford, Miss., on the first leg of her book tour.
Lauretta, I've met quite a few crackers in my time, and you don't seem like one. For example, you're not on meth and you still have your driver's license.
Lauretta Hannon: You're not the first one to say that. (laughs). People say "you're too nice" or "you don't look bad." I called the book Cracker Queen because I noticed that the women on my mom's side of the family are strong and resilient and all these other things that Cracker Queens are. They all grew up very poor and went through hard times. For those of us who self-identify as crackers it doesn't mean anything negative. Hell, I'm a cracker. (laughs) I've embraced the cracker within.
We live in a time of increased acceptance of diversity, both racial and cultural. Are crackers included in this new appreciation, or are they still as marginalized as ever?
Lauretta Hannon: They're still very marginalized. Really it's an issue of class, not of race. Poor people are always marginalized. Crackers are just one group of poor folk. There's nothing racial about my book, it's mostly about class.
A lot of times when I'll tell a story so many times it will be the African Americans in the audience who really get it. They'll come up afterward and say, yeah, we had that happen in our family. We had an uncle like your uncle, and stuff like that. If they could break down some of the things that are dividing them they'd see a whole lot of similarities in their situation.
The middle section of your book is about your time in Savannah living in a sketchy neighborhood on East 40th Street. Though you eventually left town, it seemed like a real turning point for you.
Lauretta Hannon: Living in the parts of Savannah where we lived -- they were called transitional neighborhoods, which really just means they had nowhere to go but up - it was seeing so many people simmering and suffering and bringing suffering upon themselves and others, it was the whole environment of living day to day in that part of Savannah that the tourists never ever see. I was starting to grow up a bit, I started looking at things there and a lot of them really reminded me of things I grew up with in my family. I needed to make some sense of it, find some meaning out of it.
Among all the bad stuff going on in those neighborhoods there are also some amazing people. I still miss my neighborhood on East 40th Street. On that block we were tight, we looked out for each other, nothing was ever stolen from anybody. But I'll tell you by the time I left Savannah I was finished being an urban warrior (laughs).
When I moved to the Atlanta suburbs, my God, did I miss Savannah. There was a lot of bad stuff in Savannah but at least stuff was happenin'. The burbs are so bland and so identical to every other suburb. Now we live in Powder Springs, which is a suburb, but what's cool is we live in a house that's' over 100 years old and we're in the old downtown part. There's some charm and some life there still.
You've been working in public relations at Atlanta Technical College. Where do you see this writer thing going?
Lauretta Hannon: I quit my day job two weeks ago. My good state job with benefits! (laughs) In the middle of this recession I quit so that I could be a fulltime writer, so I'm taking a very big leap here. I hope that this book will be the first of more to come. I'll spend the next year promoting the hell out of this one and writing my second one. I know I have several more books in me at least so I really want to pursue that.
But you've already written your "memoir." Where do you go from there?
Lauretta Hannon: Miley Cyrus just wrote hers, Jim. I'm more than twice her age! (laughs) I'm' going to do a followup book to this one with a family like mine the material really is unending. I'm also tinkering with a novel I've had inside my head for years.
Up until this point in my life the writing was always sort of the sideline, the hobby. But it kept nagging at me and I realized to be able to do it properly I'd have to shut the door on my day job so this door would open. And certainly I made a complete shift toward the creative life now. Pretty crazy huh? But that's fine, it's worth it to me. This has really been my dream all along. I was just too scared to make it happen.
Lauretta Hannon: The usual human fears that we have. Fear of becoming a homeless crazy bag lady on the side of the road. (laughs)
But isn't that how to really live the cracker life?
Lauretta Hannon: No, you just have to embrace certain Cracker virtues. It's those characteristics I talk about in the latter part of the book. I definitely live by those and buy into those completely.
It was nice to see me credited in the back of the book, only a few paragraphs away from Van Gogh and T.S. Eliot.
Lauretta Hannon: I put you in your proper place. That's not bad is it?
Your book launch here is at Blowin' Smoke on the first Saturday in May, which you call "Cracker Queen Day." Why that day?
Lauretta Hannon: With the book coming out in mid-April and that being the weekend before Mothers Day, and also because I think this is a real strong mother-daughter story in the book -- I just thought it was an appropriate time.
Everybody in Atlanta is telling me, why the heck aren't you doing your book party up here where we all are? And I just say, "Because it's Savannah."
Cracker Queen Book Party and Signing
Benefits Live Oak Public Libraries.
When: Sat. May 2, 4-6 p.m., reading at 5 p.m.
Where: Blowin' Smoke BBQ (Beer Garden), 514 MLK Blvd.
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