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

Lane Closures Downtown Announced For Sign Installations

The northbound curb lane of the 500 block of Market Street and the southbound curb lane of the 600 block of Broad Street will be closed for the installation of signage on the east and west sides of the Market Court Building.    This project will begin at 6 p.m. on Thursday, with an estimated completion time of 10 p.m. These are single lane closures and should ... (click for more)

Special Event Street Closures Announced For The Weekend

Riverfront Pkwy. between Aquarium Way and Power Alley, the Veterans Bridge ramp to Riverfront Pkwy., Chestnut St. between Aquarium Way and Riverfront Pkwy., and Power Alley from the parking lot to Riverfront Pkwy. will be closed from 1 p.m. on Thursday until 8 p.m. on Sunday for the Southern Brewer’s Festival. ML King Blvd. between Broad St. and Georgia Ave. and Market St. between ... (click for more)

Severe Storms With Possibility Of Tornadoes Moving North Of Chattanooga

Severe storms with the possibility of tornadoes were moving north of Chattanooga on Wednesday night. The affected area included the northern tip of Hamilton County as well as Marion, Sequatchie, Meigs and Bradley counties. Here is the latest warning: ...A SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 615 PM EDT/515 PM CDT/ FOR MARION...SOUTHWESTERN MCMINN...SOUTHERN ... (click for more)

Man Robbed, Stabbed At Hixson Pike Bus Stop

A man was robbed and stabbed at a bus stop on Hixson Pike on Tuesday night. At approximately 9:30 p.m., officers were called concerning a robbery at 3800 Hixson Pike. Phani Tangirala, 22, was transported to a local hospital by HCEMS for treatment of a stab wound to the abdomen. Medical personnel stated that Mr. Tangirala appeared to have a non-life threatening wound to ... (click for more)

Black Creek TIF Decision-Who Guards The Hen House?

Citizens of Chattanooga were invited to give public comment before their own Industrial Development Board Aug. 15. They arrived to find foxes guarding their hen house.  Many thought the meeting was their opportunity to seek redress in the ill-conceived Black Creek Tax Increment Financing plan. However, they learned it was a sham orchestrated by both the past and present ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Chief Delmore: ‘You Blew It!”

Far more than 50,000 people, most police officers and law enforcement authorities, have gone to a website, “LawOfficer.com” to read a scathing letter that first appeared on Sunday. Veteran lawman Ed Delmore, who became the Police Chief in Gulf Shores, Ala., after a brilliant career as the “Top Cop” in St. Louis (which he still loves), has written what was entitled, “An Open Letter ... (click for more)