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Secret Life of Bees author to visit Chatham

By Brad Kosiba
Posted Monday, January 5, 2004

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Chatham County readers will meet the woman behind the book when Sue Monk Kidd, author of The Secret Life of Bees, speaks at the Fearrington Barn on Saturday, January 10 at 11 a.m. and signs copies of her first novel that has been the "Community Read" here for four months.

Sue Monk Kidd uses elements from her own Georgia childhood.

The Friends of Pittsboro Memorial Library, the N.C. Humanities Council, McIntyre's Fine Books , and other local business leaders have sponsored many local activities based on the international bestseller. Discussions, art exhibits, school classes, and beekeeping demonstrations, will all peak on the weekend, according to Friends president Marjorie Hudson. On Friday, January 9, from 7:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at the library, there will be an artist's reception and preview of art work by 20 local artists based on the book, in preparation for its silent auction Saturday morning at 10a.m. in the Fearrington Barn. Library patrons will be especially interested in a sculpture created by Northwood High School students led by teacher Leslie Burwell, which represents the "wailing wall" featured in Kidd's novel. The art objects will continue to be shown in Reeves Auditorium during January. Bidding on the art will begin at the Friday reception. All proceeds of the auction will benefit the Friends for library programs and materials.

In a busy book-tour schedule, Kidd herself will be leaving her home on a saltwater marsh near Charleston to visit the state that helped launch her book to national acclaim. A Raleigh book club, whose members will join the celebration here, first praised the book to a major television program. A men's reading group in Charlotte promoted her story of a 13 year old girl in 1964 as "more than a women's read." And Kidd says she has rarely seen the kind of energy and variety of responses that Chatham readers have brought to her story of quest and reward.

Though for years Kidd wrote for "Guideposts," and produced collections of spiritual essays, the memoir that earned her first fame was Dance of the Dissident Daughter, which Karen Ladd will present in upcoming lunchtime sessions on Wednesdays at St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church. Many who read that non-fiction book, says Kidd, believe they can trace its ideas straight to the novel. "But I didn't have an agenda; I was just trying to write a good story."

That story, in which Lily Owens tries to understand her own and her dead mother's secret history, against a backdrop of racial unrest in South Carolina in the 60s, features lively African-American beekeepers and a feminist spirituality symbolized by the Black Madonna. It is soon to be a movie, but Kidd agrees with Pat Conroy that "until you're sitting in the theater, all dressed up in your premier outfit, watching the actual movie, don't count on anything."

Though her novel has won every major prize and stayed almost permanently on the bestseller list, she is surprised by her success. She used elements from her own Georgia childhood-like the real bees that once lived in a wall of her home-- but she was also influenced by a black woman's statue she saw in a Trappist monastery, and by her trip to Crete where she saw dark-skinned icons of the Virgin Mary. She has not forgotten the Klan march through her hometown when she was a girl, nor the reactions of her black neighbors. Characters like August Boatwright and Rosaleen Daise help her honor many queenly black women from her childhood. Like the girl in her book, Kidd actually attended a charm school, and wore her church's "salvation gloves" in case she had unexpected need to convert a Catholic.

Her central metaphor of "bees" is based on ancient beliefs that bees were a symbol of the soul, of death, and birth; as well as early Christian hymns that portrayed the Virgin Mary as the bee hive, and Christ as the honey that flowed from her.

A graduate of Texas Christian University, Kidd majored in nursing and was slow to develop her writing talent. In 1997 she took an early short story and developed it into this popular novel. As a late bloomer, she says, "I think there must be a place inside of us where dreams go and wait their turn." She is presently working on a new novel, The Mermaid's Chair, also set in S.C. but in 1988. It will feature a love story between a middle-aged woman and a monk.,

While in Chatham, Kidd will talk about her fiction and autograph her book. Her 11 a.m. appearance is free and open to the public and is part of support for the Community Read provided by the N.C. Humanities Council, McIntyre's Fine Books, Central Carolina Bank, Progress Energy, Edwards Antiques, First Citizens Bank, Gallery 18, and First Bank.


For more information please call the library at 542-3524 or check the Friends website:

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Secret Life of Bees author to visit Chatham

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