Published Sunday, January 13, 2013

UNG prof shares insights into writing at Carnegie

By W. WINSTON SKINNER

winston@newnan.com

Leverett Butts, who grew up in Coweta County and is a published author and college instructor, recently shared insights into his writing at the Carnegie Library.

Butts spoke in the upper floor meeting room of the Carnegie on Dec. 7. His talk was followed by a booksigning at Scott’s Bookstore. Later that evening, there was a reading at Espresso Lane.

Butts, who now lives in Temple, teaches American literature at the University of North Georgia in Gainesville. At the Carnegie, he reflected on how his Coweta upbringing has influenced his writing.

“I grew up in Newnan,” he said. “When my parents bought the house my father lives in now, I was in kindergarten.”

When his parents divorced, Butts and a brother lived for a time in Union City with his mother. The opening of Shannon Mall played a role in one of his stories.

Butts remembered the pomp and verbosity of the mall’s opening ceremony. “It was like it was the dawn of a new age,” he reflected.

At 14, Butts decided to live with his father at his home between Moreland and Luthersville. He lived there “until I went off to college,” he said.

Butts read from “Emily’s Stitches: The Confessions of Thomas Calloway and Other Stories.” The central part of the book is a collection of short stories that also form a novel – a work written several years ago.

“There is a storyline that runs all the way through. ... You wouldn’t have to know what came before in order to enjoy the story,” Butts said.

“When I first came up with the idea, I knew I could write short stories,” Butts said. He has since learned of similar efforts by William Faulkner – “Unvanquished” – and Erskine Caldwell – “Georgia Boy.”

Writing and telling stories is in Butts’ blood.

“It’s always been with me. I love to listen to my dad tell stories. He’s the kind of person who can and will tell the same story over and over and over again. It’s just as interesting every time,” Butts said.

“I remember just hanging out with my dad when I was just a little bitty guy,” he said. Butts recalled treks to Johnson’s Hardware in downtown Newnan.

He was fascinated by the huge fish tank – and by “the old people just sitting around talking.”

He said, “I remember sitting there and hearing them talk — and picking up the phrases they used.”

His grandfather also told stories. Butts remembered his grandfather talking about being on the Wasp when it sank in the Pacific during World War II. The older man related he thought he was dead until he heard a comrade — a Jewish sailor — sitting on a floating mattress singing “Deep in the Heart of Texas” on a ukelele.

“Listening to my dad, listening to my granddad, just listening to the old people” had an impact, Butts said. Although Butts said he “was bored to death at the time,” the experience proved valuable.

The author also grew up around books. He read “Centennial” by James Michener as a sixth-grader. Like many budding writers, Butts carried around a notebook.

Butts is working on a novel. “It’s a western that’s a retelling of the King Arthur stories,” he said. “The Mists of Avalon,” a long ago Christmas present, fed his interest in those classics tales.

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