Posts Tagged ‘Springfield’

Sandra Dutton Reads from “Mary Mae and the Gospel Truth”

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

People have asked me why I wrote this story in Appalachian English.   First, I grew up in southern Ohio where many families from Eastern Kentucky lived, and many of them spoke the way Mary Mae speaks.   Her family is from Eastern Kentucky.   It is also the language of many fundamentalist preachers, the ones I heard on the radio, and still hear, when I’m in Southern Ohio or Eastern Kentucky.   

Driftwood at Falls of the Ohio

My choice of language wasn’t something I debated as I worked–it just came–I liked the voice of Mary Mae, and it seemed appropriate for the story.  I enjoyed seeing things through her eyes, especially science.   When her mother insists that the world is only 6000 years old, that the Lord put fossils in the ground as “a test,”  Mary Mae thinks to herself, “But if Mama’s right, the Lord had to mix up a whole lot of dirt all different colors and drop them shells in like nuts in cookie batter.”

I was also influenced by my maternal grandparents, who lived in Springfield, Missouri, and spoke Ozark English, which is similar to Appalachian English.  (For more on this, go to my entry “On Voice.”)

Many people have told me how much they enjoy hearing the story read aloud and have urged me to put an excerpt on my blog, so here it is, a short (one-minute)

Reading from Chapter 7, “Mary Mae and the Gospel Truth”.  

On Voice

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

I was born in Springfield, Missouri, “Gateway to the Ozarks,” where my grandparents called anything they liked a “dandy,” made “throwed biscuits,” and lived down the street from “The Poor Boys Market.”   I loved the way they spoke, with a Missouri twang, and was always aware of the difference between their speech and mine because we left Springfield when I was only two.  I think that’s what made me sensitive to language, able to imitate different kinds of speech and loving the sound.  And probably why I have a Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Composition, because I loved learning all about language.

In “Mary Mae and the Gospel Truth,” Mary Mae speaks Appalachian English, the speech of many of the kids I knew growing up in Norwood, Ohio.  Appalachian speech is a “dialect,” a way of speaking common to a group of people from a certain place or of a certain group and differing from standard English.  Many writers of children’s books use dialect.  Sharon Flake writes stories in black English.  Several characters in Because of Winn Dixie speak non-standard English.  And in  Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski, which I read when I was ten, I remember enjoying the backwoods Florida dialect of the Slater family. 

My own character, Mary Mae, is 10 years old and excited about digging up fossils.  One night she sees a crab swimming around in a restaurant tank:  “There’s this little crab a-setting in the corner all by hisself.  If you ain’t seen a crab, here’s what one looks like.  He’s got a top like a mushroom, only it’s hard, and all these little legs that come sprouting out like a spider’s, and then under his chin, he’s got these two little feelers he’s a-rubbing together like he’s trying to think of what to do next. . . . And I know just by watching that crab that my trilobite was alive, whether Mama thinks so or not.”  Mary Mae’s observations grow out of her voice (not out of my head) and when I was working on this book I would read aloud because the voice could send me further into the story.  

A farovite building in my hometown--it used to be a locksmith's

Often, when I visit my hometown, I carry a notebook and jot down words or phrases I overhear.  Sometimes I drive around with a tape recorder, reading the names of the stores:  My Humble Abode—a second hand furniture store, Gabbie’s Home Cookin’, Riddle’s Tree Service.   I like to soak myself in the language.  It’s what feeds the voices of my characters.