WORDS Caroline Rosen
Birmingham author and lawyer Chervis Isom will be at the Alabama Book Festival this weekend at Old Alabama Town talking about and signing his book, The Newspaper Boy. Isom wrote this memoir partly out of nostalgia and partly out of a need to figure out what his life was all about. Isom explained that once he reached "retirement age" he started to think about what was his life all about. According to Isom, "life after retirement ought not be a rocker on the porch. That’s the time to look at the bigger picture, to see what’s important, to pitch in and do something for his community."
Isom's book is really about the Norwood Community, an area of Birmingham devastated first by white flight, then by the flight of anyone who had the money to leave, without regard to the consequences to the community. Delivering newspapers in Norwood gave Isom a front row seat to the changes taking place in his community and in greater Birmingham, as the headlines of the day were imprinted on him morning after morning for years. Although Isom initially sided with the bigoted and intolerant, over time -- and much like many others who grew up poor and white in Alabama in the 1950's -- he rose above his prejudiced past.
"I wanted to leave tracks for my grandchildren," Isom said, "to let them know how it used to be in the South, and how far we've come—and I wanted to challenge them to go farther and farther toward a better society—one based on justice and love. I wanted to focus on the importance of community in our lives." Isom believes society's emphasis on individual fulfillment has made it difficult for people to see the bigger picture, and his book asks the reader to re-evaluate their priorities, to think about the community and not just the individual.
Teaching the next generation through the lessons learned in his own life was not the only reason Isom wrote the The Newspaper Boy. "I had always secretly wanted to write, but never thought I had anything to write about," Isom said. "My life has been pretty bland, no great adventures, no athletic accomplishments, no courthouse theatrics." But when Isom read what William Faulkner said when he accepted the Nobel Prize for literature in 1950, Isom was inspired. According to Isom, "Faulkner said the only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself," and "I know something about that. I lived with conflicts in my heart during my adolescence." Although Isom didn't know if he had the talent to write, he knew he was ready to try.
Learn more about Chervis Isom and The Newspaper Boy tomorrow from 1:00-1:45 in the Log Cabin Tent at Old Alabama Town.