The world in Eve Hoffman’s autobiographical poems is beautiful and frightening.
We see the barefoot girl treading a dusty road on the family farm in the bend of the Chattahoochee River, and we see the grown woman walking through the “No Sanctuary” exhibit of lynching postcards, horrified and thunderstruck.
The title of the book of poems she’ll read from at the AJC Decatur Book Festival is “Memory & Complicity,” and that includes the complicity of a white society that sold tickets to a lynching as if it were a county fair. And her own complicity, when she sold the farm to become a subdivision.
Hoffman is 75, and didn’t begin writing poems until she was 60, but in the meantime, she lived a life that seemed to brush against Atlanta milestones in a manner worthy of a Southern Zelig.
She sees the transformation of the metro area from rural to urban, as her farm becomes Peachtree Corners.
She pictures herself as a young girl, swanning about The Temple in a brand-new yellow dress, hours before it was bombed by anti-Semitic terrorists.
She portrays her grandfather, Frank Neely, who became president of Rich’s department store, and chairman of Atlanta’s Federal Reserve Bank, and was at the center of battles over integration.
Some of those salvos were launched by Hoffman’s mother, Neely’s daughter Rachel, who was angry about the store’s whites-only restrooms on the fifth floor, and resolved to do her shopping elsewhere. “My mother was incensed that someone could buy a fur coat and had to go downstairs to pee,” said Hoffman. “The gossip was that the board was always worried that Rachel would show up on the (protest) line” outside the store.
Hoffman said she has many more poems to write, but what she wants most of all is to live up to the challenge voiced by Robert Franklin, president emeritus of Morehouse College, who wrote of her book: “I hope that you will peer into this unsettling mirror, invited by her lyrical gifts, and begin the process of reflection, dialogue and action to repair a broken world.”
Hoffman will give a free reading from “Memory & Complicity” 1:15-2 p.m. Sunday at the Historic DeKalb Courthouse, 101 E. Court Square, as part of the AJC Decatur Book Festival.
AJC Decatur Book Festival. Aug. 31-Sept. 2. Free. Various venues. decaturbookfestival.com.
Keynote: Kenny Leon. 8 p.m. Aug. 31. Sold out. Schwartz Center at Emory University, 1700 N. Decatur Road, Atlanta.
Kidnote: Harry Potter celebration. 5 p.m. Aug. 31. Free but ticket required. Decatur High School Performing Arts Center, 310 N. McDonough St., Decatur.
Street Festival: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sept. 1, noon-6 p.m. Sept. 2, downtown Decatur.
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