To Fannie, with love
by Jennifer Cohron
Nov 28, 2010 | 1913 views | 0 0 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jennifer Cohron
Jennifer Cohron
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My favorite Alabama author is not Rick Bragg, Harper Lee or Kathryn Tucker Windham. Bless their hearts, they’re no Fannie Flagg.

Most people know Flagg as the author of “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe.”

As much as I like the 1991 movie that was based on the book, “Fried Green Tomatoes” is my least favorite of Flagg’s seven novels.

I personally feel much more at home in Elmwood Springs, the friendly little town in Missouri that is “about as near perfect as you can get without having to get downright sentimental about it or making up a bunch of lies.”

The residents of Elmwood Springs aren’t sophisticated or extremely educated, but they are sincere, kind and hilarious.

Those adjectives also describe Fannie Flagg.

Zac and I went to “An Evening with Fannie Flagg” at the Virginia Samford Theatre in Birmingham last weekend.

Zac was a good sport, even though he had no idea who Flagg was before I asked to go see her as part of his Christmas present to me. He ended up enjoying the show almost as much as I did.

Flagg captivated everyone in the room with stories about her life.

The main character in her new book is a former Miss Alabama. Flagg entered the pageant six times but said she always ruined her shot at the crown by doing something stupid in the bathing suit competition. One year, she walked out with “See Rock City” stamped on her backside.

She also talked about her dyslexia, an odd disorder for an author to have.

Flagg wasn’t diagnosed until she was in her 30s. She said she didn’t worry about spelling or grammar when submitting her first successful short story at the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference in 1978. It was written from the perspective of an 11-year-old girl, so she knew the judges would assume that she had made the errors on purpose.

When a publishing company asked her to turn the story into a novel, Flagg told them she could never write a book because of her problem.

A boss at the company unknowingly launched Flagg’s career when he said, “Honey, why do you think we have copy editors?”

Her new book, “I Still Dream About You,” has been called a love letter to her hometown of Birmingham. The Magic City actually sounded magical when Flagg talked about it last Saturday night.

Flagg seemed to have very special memories of the Virginia Samford Theatre, where she worked the spotlight as a teenager.

One of my favorite moments was when she talked about how she used to leave a bathroom window unlocked in the theater so that she could sneak in on restless nights.

“The kids at my school really didn’t get me,” she said. The comment brought a laugh, but it also made me sad to think of a lonely, young girl acting to an audience of empty chairs.

I think many artistic people have thoughts and feelings that only they understand. We writers make sense of it all, as someone once said, by opening a vein on a blank page. Apparently Fannie Flagg and I have the same blood type.

What I admire most about Flagg is her pride in being from Alabama.

Flagg said she always made a point to say that she was from Birmingham after she became a star. People who had only seen Alabama on the evening news said, “Birmingham! You couldn’t pay me to live there.” Flagg said she often replied with a sweet but sarcastic, “Well, thank you. We appreciate that.”

Southerners know best how hurtful stereotypes can be. One of the best things we can do for the hometowns we love is to show the world a different side of Dixie.

I think Flagg genuinely wants to be a good ambassador for the state.

She lives here part-time. She has used Alabama as the setting for three of her books and mentions it in most of the others. She is also insisting that the movie based on her holiday novel “A Redbird Christmas” be filmed in Alabama.

I don’t think Alabama can do much better than having Fannie Flagg handle our public relations.