Fannie Flagg Captivates Audience at City Book Event

Over 550 Gather to Hear About Fried Green Tomatoes

Wednesday, May 7, 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

Ringgold’s 1890s Day Jamboree Old Time Fiddle Convention Held On Saturday

Organizers at the 1890s Day Jamboree Old Time Fiddlers Convention welcome over 125 contestants including fiddlers, guitarists, mandolinists, bands, banjo players, and cloggers from states across the south to Ringgold, Ga. May 23, 2015. Instumentalists struck a chord as dancers twirled into the hearts of audiences as they cheered dozens of musicians on to victory to win nearly ... (click for more)

Civil War Historian To Speak At Rugby On June 6

Michael C. Hardy, an authority on the Civil War in the mountains of North Carolina and East Tennessee, will speak at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 6, in the Historic Rugby Visitor Center’s Rebecca Johnson Theater. The author of twenty books, Mr. Hardy was named the 2010 North Carolina Historian of the Year by the North Carolina Society of Historians. He received the 2012 Alice Parker ... (click for more)

Woman, 25, Dies From Wreck On Barton Avenue

A 25-year-old woman has died from injuries received in a head-on accident on Barton Avenue in North Chattanooga on Saturday. The victim was Stephanie Kilburn . At approximately 2:25 p.m. , the Chattanooga Police Department responded to 800 Barton Ave. on an accident with injuries. V ehicle 1 was traveling southbound on Barton Avenue and failed to stop at a stop ... (click for more)

City Seeking Grant To Improve Signals At 32 Intersections

The city is seeking a $2 million federal grant to go along with $500,000 in city funds for a project to improve signals at 32 intersections. There would also be bike and pedestrian improvements. The routes include Brainerd Road, Lee Highway, Shallowford Road, Gunbarrel Road and Hamilton Place Boulevard. The application is for a Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Grant. (click for more)

Memorial Auditorium Flag Disgrace

How can it be that Memorial Auditorium, which was built to honor soldiers and sailors, displays our country’s flag in such a disgraceful manner?  Out of six poles on the front of the building only two battered flags remain.  Additionally, two old banners are attached to the wall that have long ago faded and look like they’ve seen better days. This is not acceptable ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Buy Ping Golf Clubs

As we set the charcoal, ice the drinks and prepare for Memorial Day, the first thing on my mind is to ask any golfers within my reach to consider buying and playing with Ping-brand golf clubs. Pings are made in America but there is a little something else you need to know, as told in an email I received earlier this week. I regret I do not know the author: * * * “On Monday, ... (click for more)