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Demopolis will be stop on book trail

The Alabama Humanities Foundation is funding the Southern Literary Trail, a historic linking of Southern communities, towns, and landmarks, for a month-long festival honoring some of the South’s greatest authors. Commemorating 20th-century Southern writers and playwrights, Alabama will join Georgia and Mississippi in the first tri-state trail of its kind.

Demopolis and writer Lillian Hellman will be the lone representative from the Black Belt.

Hellman’s Alabama family settled in Demopolis where her great grandfather Isaac Marx, a European immigrant arriving in 1844, built a business dynasty for his sons. The Marxes remained gracious contributors to the Demopolis community well into the 20th Century.

Hellman was a childhood visitor to the scenic town cradled in the fork of two rivers. She remembered local landmarks for her dramatic settings in both Foxes and Forest. Mansions Lyon Hall and Bluff Hall inspired the play’s Lionnet. Still occupying a major corner of downtown Demopolis, her great grandfather’s Marx Bank is the actual setting for the greedy family machinations within Foxes.

With stops along eighteen Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi towns between Natchez and Savannah, events will take place at various libraries, museums, and courthouses during the entire month of March 2009. Trail towns will present tours, plays, films, readings and discussion panels celebrating Southern literature and its hometown authors, with special emphasis on the settings that influenced their works.

Margaret Tallichet, the descendant of another enterprising immigrant family of early Demopolis, married William Wyler. Lillian Hellman and the Wylers were lifelong friends and colleagues in Hollywood. Demopolis celebrated its connections to Hellman and the Wylers with the Hellman Wyler Festival in 2007 (hellmanwyler.com). A primary sponsor of the Southern Literary Trail, the Marengo County Historical Society (334.289.0282) and its dedicated members preserve history with projects and activities that keep the region’s rich heritage vibrant and contemporary for historians and the public alike. The Society has preserved Lyon Hall, as it was left by its last occupants and descendants of the Lyon Family. It has also restored Bluff Hall to reflect its storied antebellum origins. Both mansions are opened for tours and serve as hosts for memorable cultural programs.

The trail will play a part in Eudora Welty’s centennial celebration in Jackson, Miss., and will touch on the stories behind stories, such as the Montgomery, Ala., romance of Zelda Sayre and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Margaret Mitchell’s fascination with Civil War stories.

“The South’s literary heritage and the fortunes of good geography have presented the unique opportunity to unite Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi for a celebration of the region’s fiction writers from the 20th century with enduring significance. No other triumvirate of adjoining states can claim writers so dramatically influenced by place and home,” says William Gantt of Birmingham, Ala., the trail’s project director. The Southern Literary Trail will “present programs led by humanities scholars and supplement the scholarly dialogue with plays and tours, which will take participants on a full journey into the places that laid the foundations for major American literature.”

The Center for the Book in each state along with state humanities councils will sponsor the festival as a whole. For more information on event times and locations, and writers and their works, visit the trail’s website, at southernliterarytrail.org.