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SUNDAY, APRIL 22, 2007
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Author to speak about Southern life, family values

By Patrice Stewart
pstewart@decaturdaily.com · 340-2446

Author Clifton Taulbert is a Southerner with a story — plenty of stories — and he will talk about them Monday and Tuesday at the sixth annual Writers’ Conference sponsored by Calhoun Community College.

In “Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored,” his 1989 book that was made into a movie, he talks about the many strong aunts, uncles, grandparents and extended family members from his childhood in Glen Allan in the Mississippi Delta.

“They are the reason I want today’s world to remember an era that in our haste we might have mistakenly forget — that era when we were called colored,” he writes. Taulbert left Mississippi for St. Louis, Mo., at age 17 to seek a better life. But the only job he could get there was dishwasher, which was lower than the work he did in Mississippi, he said in a telephone interview.

“I had a youthful expectation of a total change of society and a new way of life, but I didn’t find things too different from Mississippi,” he said.

St. Louis was in the midst of social revolution and civil rights movement, with a bank’s failure to have any African-American employees on the news every night.

He applied for a lot of jobs. Finally, “a young Jewish man at an employment agency went through the files for me after hours” and told him about a banking job. He ended up as a liaison between the bank and the Federal Reserve System and later attended banking school and made his career in the field. Except for his four years in the Air Force in the 1960s, Taulbert never lived anywhere except Mississippi, St. Louis and Tulsa, Okla., where he eventually settled and went into banking after graduating from Oral Roberts University.

Today he writes books, including some for children and some historical fiction, and runs the foundation he created, Building Community Institute, from Tulsa. One of his favorite experiences was addressing the U.S. Supreme Court at the invitation of Justice Sandra O’Connor.

In his 1997 book, “Eight Habits of the Heart,” (and its 2006 sequel for educators, plus workshops he taught at Harvard and elsewhere), he emphasizes the values that build strong families and communities: a nurturing attitude, dependability, responsibility, friendship, brotherhood, high expectations, courage and hope.

He will talk about these traits in his Decatur presentations, along with “Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored” and “Journey Home,” his 2005 book about taking his son to Mississippi to discover the family background.

“That’s a story, but it’s very much centered around discovering — about family, the continuity of relationships and accountability — that your life is attached to more than just yourself. I wanted my son to see that and take some of the things from my world with him into his life,” Taulbert said.

Looking back, he acknowledges that the South and the Mississippi Delta, in particular, have made important leaps forward. “America has changed, and the people in America continue to mature,” he said.

He will talk with those at the conference about the past and present “and look to the future.”

The author said, “I look at myself as an ambassador of the South, and I have to take the good with the bad, because all of that has made me who I am.”

Randy Cross, English instructor at Calhoun, said he and the Writers Conference Committee, including Sheila Byrd and Jill Chadwick, decided they would like to invite Taulbert after hearing him at a conference several years ago.

“We thought he was a most engaging speaker,” said Cross, and they had featured poets, fiction writers and short story writers but never a nonfiction writer.

“My two favorite passages of ‘Once Upon a Time’ are the first paragraph and the last paragraph of the book,” said Cross. “They make wonderful parentheses for the book and are rather lyrical, but the last one is also very touching and moving and drives home the point he wanted to make.

“At the end, he’s leaving the South to seek his fortune above the Mason-Dixon line, but he has doubts about what awaits him there,” Cross said of the author, who was barely 17 when he left home. “He doesn’t try to embellish his writing; he just writes his story in a clean, clear, easy style.

If you go

What: Sixth annual Writers’ Conference

When, where: Monday, 7 p.m., at the Princess Theatre Center for the Performing Arts, as part of its lecture series, and Tuesday, at 9 a.m. in the Aerospace Training Center at Calhoun Community College

Admission: At the Princess, $10 for the public, $5 for K-12 students and teachers and free for Calhoun students, faculty and staff; the program at Calhoun is free and open to the public. Call 306-2713 for information.

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