One of the things that always gets my back up is when public figures disparage wide swaths of the country and the people who reside there. It angers me when Glenn Beck says that the Californians that lose their homes to wildfires "hate America", and it gets me riled when someone like Sarah Palin espouses the belief that there are limits to the regions in America that are "pro-America."
Unfortunately, it's fashionable to say things like this, so nobody ever faces any consequences for doing so, save for the occasional criticism by Jon Stewart.
Unfortunately, these sorts of prejudices cut both ways and it's just as anger-inducing when the people who are painted as prejudiced elites demonstrate their elitist prejudice. On that score, British author and graphic novelist Neil Gaiman ("Coraline", "American Gods", the Sandman series) has an interesting post up on his blog, detailing his first-ever trip to Alabama, in which Gaiman confronts and questions these attitudes.
The strange thing is that, as an author, there are places publishers never send you, and the American South (if you don't count Atlanta) is one of those places. When I'd ask, I'd be told it was because people didn't really buy books there, or there wasn't a demand, or something.
And all I know is, the first batch of tickets for my reading in Alabama were gone in 120 seconds. (Literally. We thought the website had crashed.) The few leftovers, released later in the week, went at the same speed. A 1078 seat theatre sold out in minutes, and they could have filled it twice or three times over. People had driven 4 hours to get there and more. Everybody there seemed hungry for words and stories and literature.
Yes. Maybe it's a dirty little secret, but just as there are fervent pro-America patriots in the East Village, there are people in Tuscaloosa who like to read. To Gaiman's credit, he doesn't shy away from wagging a finger at himself:
And I'm going on about this at greater length than I normally would because I don't get it. On the one hand you have a terrific university and a population that really seems to read and is hungry to interact with authors and to come to events like this. On the other hand, you have authors, who really like to go places where people like us. So why has it taken me 22 years of signing my way across America to get to Alabama? And why don't publishers send authors there?
Well, it's because book publishers, too, have a concept of "good America" and "bad America" that really should be challenged more often. For my part, I hate to break it to New York City, but if you gave me $1000 and told me I could either spend it at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival or on the Great White Way, I would be off to Montgomery.