My wife (Nancy) and I spent the weekend exploring the Okefenokee Swamp in southern Georgia. As some of you know, Nancy is writing a series of novels set in and around the Okefenokee Swamp. This was not our first visit to the swamp, but until this trip we had never seen the swamp during the winter months. On this trip, we focused on the western side of the swamp. The western side is harder to get to than the eastern side, but it is well worth the effort. During the 1920s, many of the ancient cypress trees on the eastern side were cut down and sold for lumber, but the logging company did not harvest nearly as many of the cypress trees on the western side. The famous Suwanee River starts on the western side of the Okefenokee Swamp, and Nancy and I spent many hours exploring the headwaters of this notable river.
The entrance to the western side of the swamp is through the Stephen C. Foster State Park. Stephen Foster was America’s first prominent song writer, and the Suwanee River figures in one of his best known songs. Sometimes called “Old Folks at Home,” and sometimes called “Swanee River,” the song opens with the line, “Way down upon the Swanee River, far, far away.” This line kept running through my head this weekend, and it prompted me to think about other American songs that celebrate rivers. One of my favorites is Paul Robeson’s version of “Ol’ Man River.” Another is Pete Seeger’s “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy.”
Pete Seeger, as you likely know, died last week. He wrote and recorded many lasting songs, and I listened to these songs for hours during my college days. In addition to “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” he wrote “If I Had a Hammer,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” and “Turn, Turn, Turn.” To me, these are more than songs; they read like poetry. With the death of Seeger, I feel that we have lost a great American poet. However, as Seeger put it in “Turn, Turn, Turn,” life and death flow together. Even as we mark Seeger’s passing, we should remember, to quote Seeger himself, that there is “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”
Kudos— As you know, I like to use my Monday Missives to share news about recent accomplishments by members of our department. Here is the latest news:
Kirk Melnikoff received a contract from the Arden Early Modern Drama Guide series for Edward II: A Critical Reader. The edited collection of essays is due out in late 2015.
Stars of the Stage — Angie Williams, Janaka Lewis, and Tiffany Morin all participated in the UNC Charlotte Faculty and Staff reading of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues to benefit Safe Alliance on this past weekend. They raised much needed funds for a worthy cause, and they showed that our department is a hotbed of theatrical talent. I have attached a photograph of the cast. I should point out that some years ago Sandy Govan and Susan Gardner played roles in an earlier staging of this play.
Quirky Quiz Question — Now that I have been recalling Pete Seeger’s songs, I remember that he was a member of a famous musical group that performed extensively during the 1950s. What is the name of this group?