02/27/07 — Professor talks about book's Southern roots

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Professor talks about book's Southern roots

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on February 27, 2007 1:48 PM

Although Clyde Edgerton's book, "Walking Across Egypt," is set in Listre, N.C., local residents have enjoyed this year's Wayne County Reads selection because it could have just as easily been set in Goldsboro or Mount Olive, a college professor told residents Monday night.

Dr. Harry Watson, who is the director of the Center for the Study of the American South and teaches history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, joined about 60 residents Monday night to discuss southern culture as portrayed in "Walking Across Egypt."

The book tells the story of 78-year-old Mattie Rigsbee. Mrs. Rigsbee is a woman who is beginning to lose her memory, but who hasn't lost her traditional Southern values and beliefs, which go unnoticed by her feminist daughter. Wanting someone to cook for and to love, Mrs. Rigsbee befriends a juvenile delinquent named Wesley Benfield.

These characters, and many others who converge at the dinner table in the book's climax, represent the same kinds of characters, institutions and situations that eastern North Carolinians see every day, Watson said.

The book also deals with the situation of dedicating oneself to doing the right thing, which can be as hard as "walking across Egypt," Watson said.

And like people in this community, every character in the book also has his or her own flaws, Watson added.

But Watson said he believes that "Walking Across Egypt" is just like one of the many stories that any Wayne County resident could tell about living in the South.

"As Southerners, we have been through a deconstructive, but instructive history. But that history provides us all with many stories to tell. And those are the kind of stories that people can connect to," Watson said.

Due to popular demand, the film based on the book will be shown again on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. in the Gertrude Weil Auditorium at the Wayne County Public Library.

This year's event has already held several book discussions across the county designed for children and adults. Teenagers and all other residents have also been asked to take part in an "I Believe" essay contest detailing their own beliefs or discussing the beliefs of the book's characters.

Winning essays that are selected by the Goldsboro Writers Group will be read on WGBR radio and announced at the Wayne County Reads finale, which will be held next Monday at the Arts Council building on Ash Street.