bynumLillian Smith focus of play at UGA Russell Library

A one-woman play about northeast Georgia author Lillian E. Smith will be presented Saturday, Feb. 22, at the University of Georgia's Richard B. Russell Library in Athens.

Co-sponsored by the UGA Libraries, the Georgia Humanities Council, and Piedmont College, the event is free and open to the public. Parking is available in the adjacent Hull Street parking deck.

Atlanta actress and playwright Brenda Bynum will perform "Jordan is So Chilly: An Encounter with Lillian Smith," at 6 p.m. in the auditorium of the Russell Building Special Collections Libraries, located at 300 South Hull Street. A reception will follow.

Drawn largely from unpublished autobiographical writings by Smith, the title of the play is from an African-American spiritual, "Jordan is So Chilly," which was Smith's original title for "Strange Fruit," her best-selling novel about the horrors of lynching. This year marks the 70th anniversary of its publication.

"The title calls up for me the image of the difficult times faced by anyone in crossing over to the 'promised land,'" Bynum said. "Lillian Smith faced so many trials and tribulations in her life and her work, it seemed quite appropriate to me." In addition to unpublished writings, Bynum drew on  books, letters, and a television interview Smith did in the 1960s in writing the play.

"It is an intimate conversation with the audience and is intended to be deeply personal and reveal the woman and the artist behind the icon," Bynum said. "For me, it has been a true labor of love to bring her back to life in this way, and I have been extremely gratified by the responses to her story, particularly from the many people who are hearing her story for the first time. What I want is for her name to be as familiar to any reading Georgian (and beyond) as the names of Flannery O'Connor, Carson McCullers, Alice Walker, and even Margaret Mitchell. A Lillian Smith renaissance is far overdue."

From her home in Clayton in the 1940s, Smith championed social justice, drawing fame and renunciation, long before the Civil Rights Movement took shape. "No Southerner was more outspoken in expressing moral indignation about the region's injustices and inequities during the pre-civil rights era than Lillian Smith," said UGA history professor John Inscoe, an expert on the 19th century South and winner of the 2012 Lillian Smith Book Award, presented by the UGA Libraries and the Southern Regional Council.

The Hargrett Library, housed in the UGA Special Collections Libraries, holds Smith's personal papers, which are available for research. Piedmont College owns the Lillian E. Smith Center for Creative Arts in Clayton, where Smith lived until her death in 1966.

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