The novel “Bombingham” by Anthony Grooms, award-winning author and professor of creative writing at Kennesaw State University, has been selected as the Humanities Council of Washington D.C.’s common reader for the 2013 program year, which begins in May.
“Bombingham” was selected as part of the Council’s “Live to Read” program, a celebration of literature and city-wide reading in D.C. The book will be widely recommended reading in classrooms, book clubs and libraries across the city and will be the focal point of book discussions, film screenings, exhibits, read-ins, and classroom programs, all related to the book and its themes. It follows the Council’s 2012 selection of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
“I am surprised and greatly humbled that Washington D.C., our nation’s capital, has selected my book, “Bombingham,” for this honor,” said Grooms. “In this 50th anniversary year of the civil rights movement in Birmingham, Ala., which the book depicts, I hope readers will be inspired to engage in conversations about our nation’s continuing struggle to realize equal rights for all.”
That is the D.C. Humanities Council’s goal as well, says Michael Chambers II, the organization’s programs and marketing manager.
“We thought this novel was a good read for the city and a good way for the Humanities Council of Washington, D.C. to publicly commemorate the 50th anniversary of critical civil rights-era events,” Chambers said. “‘Bombingham,’will be a touchstone for conversations about the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, the March on Washington and President John Kennedy’s famous civil rights address in 1963, to name a few — events that changed the course of this country.”
Grooms, who began his career as a poet and short-story writer, won the Lillian Smith Book Award in 2002 for “Bombingham,” his first novel. The book initially was published in 2001 by Free Press and reprinted in 2002 by One World/Ballantine.
“Bombingham” tells the story of Walter Burke, a black American soldier in Vietnam whose effort to compose a letter to the parents of a fallen comrade evokes the memory of his childhood best friend, Lamar Burrell. The two adolescents experienced growing up in Birmingham in the midst of the civil rights movement and the violence that surrounded it.
Using flashbacks, Walter recalls being swept up with his sister in the movement while their mother lay dying of cancer and their father was descending into alcoholism. Following the lead of Lamar and his activist mother, Walter and his sister joined the struggle for civil rights, secretly attending meetings against their parents’ wishes, going to demonstrations led by Martin Luther King Jr., and ultimately facing police dogs and fire hoses. The story juxtaposes the violence and carnage of the Vietnam War with the arbitrary death and violence that occurred during the civil rights movement in Birmingham, including the death of four school-aged girls in a local church.
Prior to the release of “Bombingham,” Grooms published a collection of short stories titled “Trouble No More” in 1995, for which he won his first Lillian Smith Book Award in 1996. A collection titled “Ice Poems” was published in 1988. He also is the recipient of the Sokolov Scholarship from the Breadloaf Writing Conference, the Lamar lectureship from Wesleyan College, an Arts Administration Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a 2006 Fulbright Fellowship for Sweden. Grooms’ second novel, “The Vain Conversation” is forth coming from Texas Review Press in spring 2014.
In 1994, Grooms co-founded the Georgia Writers Association with writer Geri Taran and literary agent Susan L. Graham. The Association is now housed in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Kennesaw State University.