Over the last eight or nine years, as I have begun to develop a career as a writer, editor, and teacher whose work has focused on Southern studies and tolerance/equality issues, I had the need to develop a term that described my work in total, even those aspects that did not involve writing, editing, or teaching. The term I came up with was “cultural worker” to describe that sometimes I also do work in event organizing and as a field representative for national organizations.
My early work experiences centered on almost three years at a publishing house called NewSouth Books that specializes in Southern culture, mainly Civil Rights. During that time, I had the privilege of experiences, while working as an employee under editor-in-chief Randall Williams, that put me on this path: working on the development for the Lowndes Interpretive Center on the Selma-to-Montgomery National Historic Trail, helping to edit a book of Alabama slave narratives called Weren’t No Good Times, and to acquire the first-ever poetry book, The World According to Whiskey, by poet-singer-songwriter Tom House.
When I became a teacher after leaving NewSouth Books, I carried the mantle of this mission with me. In 2005, during the 50th anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the 40thanniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery March, I was on the organizing committee of the Montgomery Children’s Walk, an event held on December 1 to march thousands of schoolchildren to the state capitol to commemorate Rosa Parks’ arrest; I also procured a Teaching Tolerance grant from the Southern Poverty Law Center to conduct a book project, Taking the Time: Young Writers and Old Stories, whereby my students could interview movement participants and write about the experiences. Also in 2005, my interview with post-Beat, Kentucky poet Ron Whitehead was published in the online Evergreen Review. In subsequent years, I have helped to organize more projects and events, both for the public and for students, and to list them ad nauseum seems a little pointless. If you want to read about all of them, go to www.fosterdickson.com.
Most recently, I have devoted my writing and editing work to projects that are meaningful to me in the way those early projects were: seeking out neglected, untold, and misunderstood stories in the American South. In 2009, three books of mine were published, two that I wrote and one I helped to edit: a biography and retrospective of artist Clark Walker, whose fifty-year career had never been documented; an academic biography and critical defense of “forgotten” writer, poet, sociologist and activist John Beecher, who had largely disappeared from literary culture since his death in 1980; and a curriculum guide on the rich culture of Alabama’s Black Belt region, once one of the nation’s richest places and now one of its poorest. And in 2009 and 2010, I conducted a project called “Patchwork: A Chronicle of Alabama in the New South,” in which I explored the state of Alabama to get a better “sense of place” about life in the state in the 21st century, to see how it contrasts with the stereotypes.
So, this is my cultural work. While I do write and edit books and articles in traditional ways, and while I do teach at a high school, I also do work that I intend to have an effect on our culture, both in the South and in the nation. For instance, I volunteer every year to be on the planning committee of the Alabama Book Festival, because I believe in the way that it brings the state’s culture to its people. And I focus my attention on projects that bring more than just enjoyment to those who encounter them.
This new blog will include more about my past, present and future projects. My current editorial project, Children of the Changing South: Memoirs of Integration and After, is a full-length edited collection that is forthcoming from McFarland & Co., Publisher. More on that as we go along.