New book highlights Alabama

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 10, 2001

A new book by Kathryn Tucker Windham, the Selma, Alabama, writer and story-teller, and Chip Cooper, director of photography at The University of Alabama, is earning praise from reviewers and readers.

The book, "Common Threads: photographs and stories from the South," is a collaborative effort between Mrs.

Windham, and Cooper. The Jackson, Mississippi Clarion-Ledger said the book is "their homage to regional identity; a tribute to their and the South's storied pasts." The Anniston, AL. Star, said the book shows

Email newsletter signup

"a South that is so real, it's taken for granted. It's not just the South of memories waxed with magnolia blossoms, but also the one of gritty determination, quirks and natural beauty."

The book stems from an idea that came from Tuscaloosa attorney and entrepreneur Robert Monfore, a long-time Windham fan, and Cooper. Monfore and Cooper have worked together in the past.

"I have been a fan of Kathryn's for many years and I heard her one day on the radio and I could just visualize what she was talking about," Monfore said. "I suggested four or five years ago to Chip that he should try to do a project with Kathryn. He said he had thought about that, but nothing ever happened. Then the idea came up again a couple of years ago. So Chip went down to talk to her and they decided to work together on this book."

And what a book it is. The full-color "coffee table " book is filled with 15 original stories by Windham, and accompanied by dozens of stunning photographs by Cooper.

"Chip approached me about two years ago," Windham, 82, said. "I thought it was a wonderful possibility, but I just didn't know if it would come to fruition."

But summer before last, Windham began writing the stories. "I would go up to Paul Grist State Park, take a picnic lunch and write. It is so beautiful and peaceful up there."

None of the stories have been published before.

"I kept them in my head," she said, and transferred them to a yellow legal pad with a pencil.

"I am just overwhelmed by the beauty of the book," Windham said. "Chip's photography is just breathtaking, it is just so beautiful."

The two artists have become "goooooood friends," Windham said. "I admire him tremendously and enjoy him. We talk every now and then."

The feeling is mutual. "Kathryn is wonderful," Cooper said. "Just being around her is an inspiration. She is fiesty, yet compassionate. She is curious and sees stories and photographs everywhere. Very little gets past her.

"Working with Kathryn has been one of my long time dreams. I can't begin to tell you how much I have learned from her about the South, people, the world. It has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

The book's introduction is by John Shelton Reed. "Kathryn Tucker Windham and Chip Cooper might at first seem to be unlikely friends," writes Reed. "One is a lady from the Black Belt, the other a boy from the Hill Country. One was a child in the 1920s, the other in the 1950s. And of course, one is best known as a writer, the other as a photographer.

"But both tell great stories, one with words, the other with a camera. Most of Windham's stories are charming recollections of the small town South between World Wars, as seen through the eyes of a happy child. Cooper, on the other hand, documents the presence of an older South, with photos of spider lilies, flowering trees, churches, cemeteries and front porches."

The book contains 145 photographs that cover the South from Louisiana to North Carolina, from Kentucky to Florida. Windham's stories range from remembrances of her mother's flower bulbs to a delightful recalling of the family cook, Thurza.

"Everybody in my family was a good cook," Windham writes, "but Thurza was the best cook of all. Technically, I suppose, Thurza was not a real member of our family but we all thought she was. So did she.

"Thurza was not a fancy cook, and every recipe she used came out of her head. She used to say she cooked by smell, look, and taste. She did plain cooking, did it so masterfully that gourmet cooks, their shelves lined with cookbooks and their files crammed with recipes, pined for her skill….

"So we who remember her skill still talk longingly of Thurza's cornbread and Thurza's fried chicken and Thurza's vegetable soup and Thurza's peach cobbler and Thurza's snap beans. The list is endless, all simple foods prepared Thurza's way. Even tomatoes, fresh from the garden, tasted better when Thurza sliced them."

Reactions to the

book has been overwhelmingly positive.

"Finally, a marvelous book about the South.

A refreshing body of photographs without the cliched images that are all too familiar. A new and fascinating viewpoint which will delight all," wrote Robert Stevens, associate photo editor at Time.

Jamie Ellin Forbes, Fine Arts Magazine, said, "Common Threads casts a light on changes in the soul of the South. Almost imperceptible to the casual observer the metamorphous is seen through the ingenious eyes of Chip Cooper and set to tales all can relate to by Katherine Tucker Windham. We are able to share the universal air of transition, like a rusting over time.

As if looking through a common family photo album we are invited to step into the photographs and the human stories regardless of

where our memories are rooted and participate in the joy of the experience."

And Alabamian William Christenberry, the nationally known artist, photographer and

writer, said, "Common Threads" is a natural – the coming together of two distinctly Southern visions, Kathryn Tucker Windham and Chip Cooper."

Windham grew up in Thomasville, Alabama, and that is where several of her stories take place. She was the youngest child in a large family of storytellers. She began her writing career reviewing movies for her cousin's weekly newspaper, in exchange for a pass to the local theater.

After graduating from Huntingdon College, she became a staff writer for The Alabama Journal in Montgomery and for The Birmingham News. Following the death of her husband, Amasa Benjamin Windham and after their three children were all in school, she joined the staff of The Selma Times-Journal.

Windham lives in Selma where she writes, collects folklore, and shoots photographs. She is a nationally recognized storyteller and has been a frequent commentator on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered."

Cooper is an award-winning photographer with three published photography books: Hunting: A Southern Tradition; Alabama Memories; and Silent in the Land. He has shown his work in exhibitions from France to Costa Rica to Washington, D.C. He is a past recipient of an art fellowship from the Alabama State Council on the Arts. He is an instructor in The University of Alabama art department and director of photography at UA.

To order the book, please call CKM Press, PO Box 020530, Tuscaloosa, Alabama 35402, at

1-866-256-7737. Cost $45.00, plus $6 shipping per book, $3.60 tax, $54.60 total. Check, money order, VISA, MasterCard accepted.