Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Decatur Book Festival, September 2-4: "Rabbit Tales," an opera based on Br'er Rabbit, gets a preview

The Atlanta Opera has commissioned a one-hour children’s opera called Rabbit Tales, based on the famed Br’er Rabbit stories of Georgia author Joel Chandler Harris. Sunday at the Decatur Book Festival there will be a preview of the work-in-progress, which will receive its world premiere in October.

Harris (1845-1908), from Eatonton, Georgia, wrote for the Atlanta Constitution at the request of Henry W. Grady, whose newspaper at the time promoted the idea of "the new South." It was a period in the city's history when ideas of equality and suffrage rights for African-Americans were a growing part of the debate in Atlanta and across the nation.

The Uncle Remus stories, based on tales Harris heard growing up in Eatonton, became a national success and had many admirers, including Mark Twain. Lain Shakespeare, 27, Harris' heir and current out-going executive director of Harris' Atlanta home, The Wrens' Nest, will take part in a discussion of Harris's Br'er Rabbit material in the opera.

A special presentation called “From the Briar Patch to the Big Stage: Adapting Br’er Rabbit for Opera,” will be held Sunday from 2:30-5:30 p.m. The opera's composer Nicole Chamberlain, librettist Madeleine St. Romain, director Park Cofield, and Mr. Shakespeare will discuss the Opera's development and creation from Joel Chandler Harris's literary figures.

In addition to Sunday's presentation the Wren's Nest will be promoting the release of their new bound collection, The Whole Fiasco. It's a book of true family stories written by twenty-three 5th and 6th graders in Atlanta's neighborhoods and features beautiful black and white portraits by photographer Jason Travis.

And if there wasn't enough to add to the bookbag, the Wren's Nest Publishing Co. is a crew of high school students who meet at the Wren's Nest each summer to create a literary journal from scratch. Their new book is called Midnight Consumption.

That collection will be available starting at the Decatur Book Festival. Midnight Consumption features the work of 41 high school students from around Atlanta, and as the Wren's Nest blog reports: on Sunday September 4th we'll host a bunch of them to read from their work at our annual Decatur Book Festival literary salon.

And one more note: the Wren's Nest blog includes a series called "Everything You've Heard About Uncle Remus Is Wrong." Here are Mr. Shakespeare's opening remarks, written in 2010, but which recently brought echoes in American politics when conservative media figures referred to the summer's debt debate as President Obama's "tar baby":

Uncle Remus the Trickster

Uncle Remus, as illustrated by Fredrick S. Church

Recently in the media you might have heard a thing or two about the tar baby story or about Br'er Rabbit. But what's the deal with Uncle Remus, the character who narrates the Br'er Rabbit stories? You'll be surprised to find that everything you've heard about Uncle Remus may very well be wrong.

Remus is a fictional character crafted by Joel Chandler Harris to narrate African American folk tales to a little white boy. But in the process, Remus gives the kid an unusual education. He says things like:

"Your dad's an idiot."

"I'm dating your mom."

"The stories in the Bible aren't true."

"When civilization started, everyone used to be black."

These ideas aren't exactly what you'd expect to hear in children's stories from 19th century Georgia. Discover the whole story about Remus in five easy-reading parts.

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