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‘Revival’ brings relief for South

Tamara Sellman and Bill Branley will present “Southern Revival” June 29. - Julie Busch photo
Tamara Sellman and Bill Branley will present “Southern Revival” June 29.
— image credit: Julie Busch photo

A local anthology will raise funds for storm-ravaged areas.

Bill Branley’s roots are buried beneath the rubble and renewal of hurricane-ravaged New Orleans.

He grew up there, with six brothers and sisters, before a career in the army sent him to all corners of the country including Bainbridge Island, where he parked his rucksack two years ago.

“When you relocate, regardless of where you go, there’s always a part of you that’s still living in the place you came from,” Branley said. “You can never forget your roots.”

Now, Branley and fellow islander Tamara Sellman are doing what they can to restore the roots that were torn away so violently, and for so many, by last years hurricanes.

Branley is the lone islander whose work is included in “Southern Revival: Deep Magic for Hurricane Relief,” a 40-page, locally produced anthology of poetry and short fiction about the south by contributors from across the country.

All proceeds from the anthology, created and published by Sellman, go to First Book’s Book Relief, a non-profit effort to restore libraries destroyed by the disasters.

“Southern Revival” is available at Eagle Harbor Book Company and online for a suggested $10 donation, though Sellman said many people are offering more.

For every dollar donated, Book Relief will distribute two books to schools and libraries in the gulf region.

“The South has had such a strong influence on the national identity,” Sellman said. “Food, music, literature – all aspects of southern culture – are an important part of our history. But so many of the libraries were washed away, which is such a huge cultural loss. This seemed like a good way to help.”

Sellman has a background in journalism and has been in the publishing industry since the mid 1980s. She moved to Bainbridge Island seven years ago and created “Periphery: A Magical Realist Zine,” an annual anthology of magical realism writing, four years ago.

After becoming deeply concerned by what she saw of the hurricane devastation, Sellman wanted to help and called on her literary brethren for assistance.

She published 200 copies of “Southern Revival” this month as a special edition of Periphery, all of which have sold. She plans to print at least 200 more, but because all copies are produced by a small staff at her own expense, only a limited number of will be available. It takes a week to produce 75 copies.

Through a combination of sales and donations, the project has so far raised $1,800. Sellman’s hopes the project will earn enough money to supply 8,000 new books, the equivalent of a small library collection, and will reach that goal if all 400 copies sell.

Sellman is overwhelmed by the support the project has received.

“There were several people involved in making this happen,” she said. “A lot of people were really receptive to the idea.”

That includes consulting editors Susan Deefholts and Carol O’Dell, as well as production editor Shira Richman.

One goal was to incorporate themes of magic already ingrained in the south.

“There’s such a magical, eclectic, superstitious aura about the region,” she said. “We really hoped to capture that essence.”

While capturing the south was important, they took care to avoid perpetuating stereotypes and false perceptions.

O’Dell had connections in the region that helped them weed out inaccuracies, lending additional credibility to the project.

As a Bainbridge author who grew up in the south, Branley was also a helpful resource. He wrote a short story “Shopping at Maison Blanche,” specifically for Southern Revival because he liked the idea and felt inspired.

In addition to helping heal a battered region, the project closed personal wounds for Branley.

“It was a healing thing for me as well,” he said. “It helped me put things in perspective and reflect on some of the things we might lose there if the cultural elements continue to disperse.”

The personal losses he associates with Hurricane Katrina are several fold. His mother passed away in New Orleans four days before the storm.

Branley said his whole family had congregated in the city prior to her death, but were forced to evacuate to his sister’s home in Georgia before they could hold funeral services.

She was finally laid to rest last month.

Going back home for the service, Branley, whose family first arrived in New Orleans in the 1720s, was again reminded of the depth of southern roots.

“Few people move away,” he said. “I looked at a junior high school yearbook and all of the kids today have the same last names of the people I went to school with as a kid. It’s something so powerful that I don’t completely understand. But I’m worried that some of that may change as a result of this.”

Which is why Branley, Sellman and the staff and contributors of Southern Revival, are hoping to reinvigorate the cultural soil.

“It’s such a diverse part of the country,” Sellman said. “There’s so much to borrow from. We want this to be a positive rendering of the magic of the south and a celebration and tribute to the reconstruction efforts.”

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Revival and relief

Bill Branley and others will read from “Southern Revival” at 7:30 p.m. June 29 at Eagle Harbor Book Co. To purchase a copy email admin@magical-realism.com or call (206) 855-1072

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