5/12/2010 - Artist In Residence publishes book of letters about life in the Black Belt
By Michael J. Brooks
Judson College artist in residence, Dr. Billie Jean Young, has published a 203 page collection of letters from her mother in a volume entitled, "Now, How You Do? A Memoir."
The correspondence of Susie M. Young, now 90, offers insight into the lives of African-Americans in Alabama's Black Belt region a generation ago.
"I planned this book many years ago," Young said. "I always knew what mama had to say was important and her letters were always precious to me."
"My mother wrote everybody-children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren," she said. "Although the book contains only about one-third of my collection, I saved most of my letters."
Billie Jean Young graduated from Judson in 1974 and received the Outstanding Alumna Award in 2002. She later earned her law degree from Samford University's Cumberland School of Law.
Young is the author of two collections of poetry: "Fear Not the Fall" and an audiocassette, "My Name Is Black."
She is perhaps best known for her one-woman play, "Fannie Lou Hamer: This Little Light."
Hamer was a Mississippi civil rights activist who died in 1977.
Young was recognized as a creative writer and received a MacArthur Fellows Award in 1995.
Young said one of her fondest memories is seeing her mother sitting beside her bed at night writing letters.
Author, Billie Jean Young
"She didn't want to lose any of her seven children to the larger world," Young said, "so she wrote to us about everything and encouraged us to write, too."
The elder Young was 36 when her husband died and she had to take on new responsibilities. The letters tell of her struggles in raising her children, handling money, taking care of farm business and seeking proper healthcare.
Billie Jean Young said it was an emotional journey to pull out the letters and type them for publication.
"I never noticed until I began typing that mama didn't use punctuation in her letters," Young said. "She wrote 'stream of consciousness.' She didn't waste time trying to figure out where to put commas and periods! She had these wonderful thoughts to put on paper."
Susie M. Young celebrated her birthday on March 3 in her hometown of Pennington, Ala. The book includes eleven tributes written by her children and grandchildren celebrating her birthday, which was also the day the book was released by Wingate Books of Charlotte, NC.
According to Young, her mother's stellar memory is beginning to fade.
"Sometimes mama is sharp and clear, singing her songs with us, but sometimes we lose her," Young said. "This book preserves her mind and the kind of life she lives. My mother never put on airs; she has always been loving and kind to others."
"Now, How You Do? A Memoir" is available online from Amazon and Barnes and Noble and through local booksellers.
Those interested in scheduling events may contact Young at 334.683.5288 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information is available at the website, www.billiejeanyoung.org.
* Article courtesy of Judson's Public Relations Department.