Fannie Flagg Captivates Audience at City Book Event

Over 550 Gather to Hear About Fried Green Tomatoes

Wednesday, May 07, 2003 - by Irby Park
Actress and author Fannie Flagg signs autographs as fans line up at the Choo Choo to greet her following her talk to a packed house in the Centennial Theater. Click on photo to enlarge.
Actress and author Fannie Flagg signs autographs as fans line up at the Choo Choo to greet her following her talk to a packed house in the Centennial Theater. Click on photo to enlarge.
- photo by Irby Park

Fannie Flagg, actress. screenwriter, director, comedienne and author of the Chattanooga book selection, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Café, kept an audience of more than 550 entertained and amused for more than two hours and spent another hour here Tuesday evening autographing books for her fans.

It was the climax of Chattanooga’s “A Tale for One City” program in which the entire city was encouraged to read a single book, Ms. Flagg’s book about “an old woman in a nursing home and two ladies who operated a café” just outside Birmingham, Ala., Ms. Flagg’s home.

After arriving here Saturday, speaking at the UTC commencement and visiting several other schools, she addressed the packed house at the Choo Choo Centennial Theater, declaring, “This is the most beautiful town I have ever seen” and added, “When I drove in I had the most wonderful feeling I had been here before.”

In trying to determine what about Chattanooga has “absolutely captured my heart,” she said she has “never been anyplace with so much enthusiasm. Everybody is excited about something.”

Answering the question , “Why is it I write?” she said, “I write to stop time.” :Life seems to be passing so fast, she continued, “I want to stop it, to hold it for a while,” and writing captures a piece of life and preserves it.

She said she had always wanted to be a writer, but had problems with dyslexia, couldn’t spell and couldn’t do math. She said she barely got out of high school.

But she said when she was talking to a publisher about writing a novel, she told him she couldn’t spell and he responded, “That’s what we have copy readers for.”

She talked about competing unsuccessfully for the Miss Alabama title and about being a weather girl on a Birmingham TV station although she knew nothing about weather. After a while, she said, “I was sort of, well, I was fired.”

She said she wasn’t equipped to be a waitress because she could not write down the orders correctly so she tried writing comedy, sold some and performed. She appeared on Candid Camera, was the voice of Lady Bird Johnson on an album and appeared on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, talk shows and game shows. She appeared in a successful Broadway play but “I was not happy. Something was missing.”

So she quit working as an actress and started writing and realized “this is where I should have been all along.” She told of going to a writers’ conference in California and writing a short story “as a little girl” because she thought that would be a clever way to get around the spelling problem.

The short story then was expanded into her first book, but when she was asked to write another, “I didn’t have a thing to write,” she said.
After the death of her parents, she returned to Birmingham where she set out to visit every house in which she had lived, ate foods she had enjoyed in past years and visited a little café near the railroad tracks at Irondale, Ala., where the café operator had fed the town during the depression.

Visiting the café, a nearby house that was empty and boarded up and receiving a shoe box of mementos an aunt had left her created a desire to “take the things from the shoe box and recreate her life” and take the community back to the café as it was.

She said she sent an outline to the publisher, but he said no one would be interested in a story about an old woman sitting and talking to another woman and about two women operating a café. “But I couldn’t stop writing it,” she said.

She told how the characters in the book developed. She said she used Irondale as the location and the café and quipped, “I just don’t think that man was barbecued, but I’m not sure,” a reference to part of the storyline of the book.

She said she was just “pleased it got published” and then she received a call that resulted in the book being made into a movie. The movie was filmed in Juliette, Ga.

Both the book and the movie have been highly acclaimed over the years.

She said there were things she wanted to say because the South and Birmingham had gotten some bad press. There are some good race relations, some kind people, those who love one another, stories that haven’t been told.

She said because of the book, some from other areas of the country have said, “If there are people like that there, I believe I will come visit.”

Ms. Flagg concluded that “being here (in Chattanooga) has been the highlight of my life and has made sitting in that dark room writing worth it.”

Fannie Flagg pauses at the "Whistle Stop Cafe" display at the Choo Choo where she spoke to more than 550 who gathered for the Tale for One City event Tuesday evening. Click on photo to enlarge.
Fannie Flagg pauses at the "Whistle Stop Cafe" display at the Choo Choo where she spoke to more than 550 who gathered for the Tale for One City event Tuesday evening. Click on photo to enlarge.
- Photo2 by Irby Park

Chattanooga Police Department Officers Deliver Donations To Help Baby Left Behind

Chattanooga Police Department officers delivered donations Friday collected for Journee Akins and her family. Jasmine Akins , 19, lost her life on Sept. 7 in the 1700 block of Market St., and 7 month old Journee Akins lost her mother.    Lt. Eddy Chamberlin has been closely working with the family since the incident and also organized a drive to help meet some of ... (click for more)

Heritage Dinner With John Edge To Benefit Southern Lit Alliance In April

Southern Lit Alliance presents a Heritage Dinner with John T. Edge of the Southern Foodways Alliance at Easy Bistro on Saturday, April 18 during the Celebration of Southern Literature. The evening will feature drinks, snacks, and a 4-course seasonal dinner prepared by Chef Erik Niel.   Tickets are $150/per person and will benefit the Southern Lit Alliance. This dinner ... (click for more)

2 Suspects Sought In Armed Robbery At Highway 153 Long John Silver's

Police are searching for two suspects in an armed robbery that happened Friday morning. At approximately  8:10  a.m. the Chattanooga Police Department responded to 5317 Highway 153 for a robbery at the Long John Silver's.  Officers discovered that two black men, wearing hoodies and masks, entered the Long John Silver's and forced the assistant manager ... (click for more)

Pair Charged With Beating Man With Stick, Taking His Wallet

Two men are charged with beating a man with a large stick while he slept on the steps of a downtown church, then taking his wallet. Jerry Quincy Allen, 45, and James Leo Boas, 40, both of 727 E. 11th St., are charged with aggravated robbery. In the incident on Wednesday, Bradley Casehart said he and a friend were asleep at Tompkin Chapel Church on Palmetto Street. He ... (click for more)

Please Don't Close The Piccadilly Cafeteria At Hamilton Place - And Response

Oh, no. The Piccadilly Cafeteria at Hamilton Place is closing.  Its last day is Christmas Eve.  I will miss the great food they have there but most of all I will miss their servers, cashiers and waitresses.  They are all so friendly and accommodating.  They make it like it’s a home-style restaurant. I sure wish there was some way that Hamilton Place and ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: ‘Scrooge’ Of The Year

As we move into the last weekend before Christmas, the “Scrooge of the Year” has just appeared in Aurora, Ill. Actually Connie Ley has just died. She passed away on Nov. 25, but in her wake left the worst will many around the country have ever heard – her last wishes included that her nine-year-old dog should be put to death, cremated, and buried with her. Bela, a beautiful German ... (click for more)