• "Out of Whole Cloth" book signing by Alabama author Joyce Cauthen

    Posted: February 05, 2014

    Author: Gena Robbins

     The University of West Alabama's Center for the Study of the Black Belt will host a book signing and discussion with Alabama author Joyce H. Cauthen on her newly released work, Out of Whole Cloth: The Life of Bettye Kimbrell. The event is at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 25 at UWA’s Campbell Environmental Education Center.

    From years of recorded interviews with Bettye Kimbrell, an acclaimed Alabama quilter, Cauthen shaped an absorbing narrative of a woman--abandoned by her mother when she was 8 years old, married when she was 13, a mother at 14—whose sole aim in life was to create “out of whole cloth” a good life for the five children she had with her charming, but unfaithful husband. Bettye, born in 1936, describes in vivid detail her life on tenant farms in rural Fayette County and her move as a young mother to Mt. Olive, near Birmingham, where she focused on creating a secure home for her children. In the second half of the book, she recounts her development into a quilter of the highest order.

    Quilt authority Mary Elizabeth Johnson Huff writes, “Although the story itself is heartbreaking in many passages, the text is highly readable and flows so smoothly that the reader doesn’t want to put the book down. It is a welcome addition to the literature of women’s lives in the mid-twentieth to early twenty-first century. Unfortunately, Bettye’s early childhood and troubled marriage are not unique: what is unique is that she found redemption through art.”

    Some additional works of Cauthen include the book “With Fiddle and Well-Rosined Bow: The History of Old-Time Fiddling in Alabama,” and a related recording, “Possum Up a Gum Stump: Home, Field, and Commercial Recordings of Alabama Fiddlers.” Other CDs of Alabama-based music she produced include “Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb: John Alexander’s Sterling Jubilee Singers of Bessemer” and “Bullfrog Jumped: Children’s Folksongs from the Byron Arnold Collection.” Cauthen lives in Birmingham, Ala., with her fiddle-playing husband Jim Cauthen. In their spare time they play in two old-time string bands, Red Mountain and Flying Jenny.

    Book Reviews
    —This splendid book displays the fabric of a wonderful creative collaboration. Bettye Kimbrell told Cauthen her life story, and Joyce shaped it for us in book form – but still told in Bettye’s own voice. Bettye’s story provides a broad portrait of life in rural West Alabama. The characters flashing by make for a variegated kaleidoscope: self-destructive and damaging folly and irresponsibility mix unpredictably with creative resourcefulness in making do and generosity toward kin and neighbors. The net result is often painful, often inspiring, but always true to life as Bettye Kimbrell sees it.
    Alan Jabbour, Former Director (Retired), American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, Washington DC and author (with Karen Singer Jabbour) of Decoration Day in the Mountains: Traditions of Cemetery Decoration in the Southern Appalachians.
    —Joyce Cauthen did oral interviews and from them crafted Out of Whole Cloth to record the life of Alabama quilter and National Heritage Fellow Bettye Kimbrell. But you won’t have to be interested in quilting to find this a gripping book: I read all 200 pages in two sittings and begrudged the time between. . . Joyce for her part has always had time for people; she listens more deeply than most of the rest of us. The narrative she made from the oral histories is as seamless as one of Bettye Kimbrell’s whole top quilts, and the scholarship behind it so transparent you don’t even see it. . . All in all, it’s a labor of love from a folklore scholar at the height of her powers.
    Jim Brown, Professor of History, Samford University, author of Up Before Daylight: Life Histories from the Alabama Writers’ Project, 1938-1939.
    —By some perfect magic of empathetic listening, Cauthen has managed to capture Kimbrell’s inimitable voice, showcasing her spirit and her wisdom so clearly that a treasured and vitally important world comes vividly to life within these pages. Not surprisingly, Kimbrell’s storytelling mimics her quilting style. Her meticulous eye for detail operates within a graceful, creative and compassionate world view to enrich and inspire all of us.
    Margaret Wrinkle, author of the acclaimed novel Wash.
    —A brave, unflinchingly honest, and, finally, triumphant story of faith, determination, and unflagging spirit. Compelling and inspiring!
    Dolores Hydock, Alabama storyteller
    —If the sign of a good book is that it stops the reader in her tracks, then this is an excellent book! I never expected to be so blown away. Bettye Kimbrell’s story is fascinating, and Joyce Cauthen has done a fine, fine job of shaping it into an engrossing reading experience.
    Mary Elizabeth Johnson Huff, author, Star Quilts, Mississippi Quilts and the upcoming Alabama Quilts.

    For more information, contact The Center for the Study of the Black Belt at (205) 652-3828, email centerforblackbelt@uwa.edu or visit www.centerforblackbelt.org.

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