tv Book Discussion on Screening Room CSPAN October 31, 2015 3:39pm-4:34pm EDT
change generations because he admitted that had an impact, understood that shared humanity because he had never been exposed to that genius. i am proud to say i am part of that and that is the impact new orleans culture can have on the world and has had on the world. >> please join me in thanking wendell pierce. [applause] >> thank you for supporting the 7 festival of books. [inaudible conversations] >> i know, i am an old man.
>> get started. >> hello, everyone. can you hear me? great. welcome to another session on this gorgeous day at the southern festival of books. i teach at vanderbilt and the is my pleasure to be your host this hour as alan lightman discusses and reads from his new book "screening room: family pictures". i will make two quick announcements before i introduce my speaker, first a word about format. after alan lightman speaks there will be time for questions, ten minutes until the hour, start clearing their room, the conversation can continue while
alan lightman signs books on the plaza and you can purchase his book at the sales arianna and a portion of the proceeds will directly benefit the festival. second quick announcement. the festival depends on individual donations, putting on incredible programs while remaining free to the public. if you want to support these efforts please go to the festival's website or apps or face book page and donate if you prefer a face-to-face interaction, you can walk to the festival tent and donate in person, grateful to make this possible. in of business, i am delighted to introduce our speaker alan lightman. i am keeping my words to about a minute but please note that this is a real challenge because he
has done so much. he is a distinguished astrophysicist, he is an extraordinary essayist about science, currently professor of the practice at mit, the foundation provides education, housing and leadership training to children to women in cambodia and he is the best selling award winning and internationally acclaimed novelist, the diagnosis at national book award finalist, his 1992 novel einstein's dreams is not just beautifully written and alive with ideas but a joy to holding your hands, one of the most pleasurable tactile reading experiences i've ever had. of course most importantly at all, he is a native tennesseeand. he has traveled far in his life, the full of home remain strong.
his new book "screening room: family pictures," i would have to describe it as a rollicking meditation on growing up in a big jewish family in memphis. marvelous reflection on family, place, identity, innocence, experience the passage of time, the magic of the movies, resilience of memory and the gifts and burdens of generations. please join me in welcoming alan lightman. >> thank you, daniel. it began with a death in the family. my uncle ed, the most debonair, popular guests of the gentile social clubs despite being jewish has succumbed to age 95 with johnny walker by his bedside table. i came to memphis for the
funeral. july 12th, midnight, on the screen porch, for the first time in decades, all the uncles and aunts had been rounded home together. only a handful of us remain awake now, doll from the alcohol and the heat, sleeping, staring and sleeping, wander from the porche through the sweltering gardens of the full, the sweet smell of honeysuckle in the air. somewhere in the back room of the house a song softly place. i wipe my moist face with a cocktail napkin, then let my
head group against my chair as i listen to cousin when the old fourth. now in her mid 80s, many first scandalize the family, the 1940s went in the midst of her junior year she ran off to paris with a man. since then, even during her various marriages she occasionally disappeared for weeks at a time. did you know how your grandfather's heart attack happened, smiling slyly. what do you mean? exertion, the best kind, not with your grandmother. 40 years ago, now 50, i escaped
memphis, embarrassed by the widespread be beef southerners were ignorant bigots, slow. i returned only for brief visits. now i am back again and entire month, caught by things seed in me i want to understand. many flights a new cigarette, let fly another cigarette. cousins nudge forward in the reclining chairs, someone loans from the pool, the next generation and many exhales the cloud of blue smoke. so i have written about the south after staying away for many years, mostly staying away, living in the northeast for 50 years and i wanted to come back
to memphis and get back in touch with my roots and the relationships, my father and my grandfather and my grandmother and i wanted to to write about the relationships, music, food, racism, most of it 50 years ago and earlier. i left memphis in 1966. and i have actually a lot of ties to nashville. one of my cousins is sitting here in the front row. my great grandfather joseph lightman came to nashville when he was 16 years old, hungry in
1880. he was uneducated. he became a notary public, the only job available to him. then he became a mattress in national courts and in 1897 he began work in the construction business. he bought a stone quarry and end ed up building a lot of the public buildings in nashville, the post office, the young men hebrew association building, he built the hillsborough theater which still stands, i have a wonderful time there this morning looking at the delacorte theater which kept up beautifully. he died in 1928 and the family moved to memphis.
the family which consisted of my grandfather, my grandmother and my father, my grandfather, started a movie business in the south. he was a great figure and i will tell you a little bit about him. he was trained as an engineer at vanderbilt and in 1915 he was in alabama working on at dam project and heat saw there were a lot of people lined dam projet and heat saw there were a lot of people lined up in front of us for, they were lining up to see a movie. it was silent movies in those days. in those days movie theaters were not what they are today.
they were just stores with a lot of seats set up and a projector in the back. so lightman at age 24 decided he wanted to get into that business even though he was a trained engineer. he bought his first theater, the liberty fear -- theater in alabama, he then began buying and building other theaters and eventually create movie theater empire including theaters not only in alabama but tennessee and arkansas, mississippi, louisiana, he was a good-looking guy, powerful, friendly with
movie stars, and became president of the national motion picture association, he was a world-class -- one of the top bridge players, when he was in college she was a wrestler, he would go into a room and ask the biggest man in the room to lie down on the floor and left him up by his belt. that was the person i wanted to be. i changed my mind and later on. the way i started between book projects, a terrible situation between books, you feel you are lost at sea, lost your identity, don't know what you are doing, i
decided i would start writing anything that came to my mind. i wrote about memories i had going into the projection booth, my grandfather's movie theaters which from age 8 to age 12, and in those days the light that shines from the film, celluloid film, was made by two pieces of carbon that are brought very close together and an electric current is passed through them and it creates an intense light so intense you can't look at it. it makes a lot a heat. the celluloid for film would catch on fire and the moviegoers
would have to sit patiently while but projectionist spliced film together and they would get very impatient of course so i remember when i began writing, stuck between books, memories of me and the projection booth, with the projectionist who usually was a man that use a lot of four letter words, very friendly with keys banging on his belt, and felt the projection booth was a magical place, he was a glass wall, the lab made light. and the projection booth, the
magical world of movies. and in the wizard of oz, the curtain. the projectionist would bring their girlfriends into the booth so got a little bit of an education. and the movie theater summers, one of the summers, police mr. shane the cars, the drive in theater back in the 1960s, what goes on in the cars at drive-in theaters. they only showed g rated movies,
or x rated activity in the cars because children in other cars eating hamburgers, you got the idea. i was 16 years old, it was a flashlight. my job was to walk down the aisles in the cars. and the flashlight. the behavior taking place, i was mortified with this job. i was seeing friends in those cars. i was afraid to look in any of the cars. i looked at the ground, and clean up the litter on the ground so the drive in feeder
got very clean. i did shine my light into one of the cars. and saw what i was afraid i was going to see and the couple was so upset when they had paid money to do by going to the theater to do was not being done, they asked for a refund. i also met elvis in the year 1960s. as many of you know, elvis was born in mississippi but he moved to memphis and 1953, he walked into sun studios and played for sam phillips. he was around 16 at that time.
working as an usher at a theater in memphis called the lows palace. that was not far from one of the theaters my grandfather owned and during his lunch break ellis would walk over and hang out and be offended people in the venture will be the friend did my father who at that point was running the movie theater business, taken over for my grandfather. elvis in the late 50s began making his own movies and he wanted to see them but not in public because he would be mob so he began watching his own movies in my grandfather's little screening room. that is where the title of the book comes from. my grandfather built a screening room attached to his house that seated 25 people and there was a
couch in front that seated two or three people and the seats behind it. my grandfather at screening room elvis watched his own films in the privacy of the screening room. i went there one time when elvis walked in. this was about 1960, the movie with g i -- i was 12 years old at the time. i didn't know very much about elvis, i didn't know he was this international celebrity but i did notice that he had the young woman on both arms, came in with two girl friends, even though i didn't know much about elvis i was beginning at that age to get a whiff of the mysteries of the opposite sex and i was very impressed the guy had two girls with him.
1962 so i was about 40 years old. and i got a bus to go downtown. i'm sure it was the same way it national. the buses had a front section for the whites that back in the black the theaters were segregated aged in memphis the lights went to the zoo one day and that blacks had to go on another day. everything was segregated. so this section that was all full there were no empty seats there were plenty of seats in the back of the bus so i went to to take a seat
bed after bed it the bus pulls over to the side and stops to the white vehicle of a bus driver, got up to walk to the back of the bus interested in front of me and said you were in the cupboards section. -- colored section. i was frightened i said there are no empty seats in the front of the bus. the bus driver says you are in the colored section. again in just stood there item 84 what to have been. it wasn't in the unfriendly manner just a factual comment. every bette just sat there and nothing was happening the bus was not moving in and after about a minute
witches and incredibly long time in a situation like that, one of the white passengers in the front of the bus got up to sats in the lap of another white passenger to create a seat. that was one of my most vivid experiences with racism my father played a very substantial role in desegregating of this. he was extremely modest the flagship movie theater there was a colored entrance into
white insurance the colored sat of stairs that is not the word that we use now but it was used that and the whites that the more desirable seats downstairs. and a couple of people from the congress of racial equality came to the box office in the downstairs section of the theater he immediately called my father did he realized it was time to integrate his theater. and 1852 there is of the one business establishment that was integrated.
my father very quietly with a man named smith who was head of a biracial committee in memphis the husband of maxine smith a great leader of the civil-rights movement. and my father met with him to devise a plan waiting until the house was dark they brought one black couple in to use it that in the white section while the house was dark. with the lights went on they saw there was a black couple but it was only one couple. the next week they brought in two black couples and is that the the white section
during the middle of the movie when it was dark. they did that each week for four weeks until after four weeks as the black couples wanted could come into the theater. my father didn't want any publicity to happen while this experiment was going on. there are other businesses so your father that with us today and fire police commissioner so asked to the newspaper to keep this quiet he did not want this to the newspaper. my father and the police commissioner kept this secret from the mayor of memphis because he was a staunch racist and
segregationist and would have killed all the whole thing. it is the civil-rights action without telling the mayor of memphis bin after it was integrated other movie theaters in the shade and other businesses in the south. when i went back to memphis for by a ogles funeral -- i got reacquainted with the heat of the south side want to read you a passage of the heat the you all know about very well. i am alone in the house i grew up bid read the air-conditioner went haywire this morning my father
departed for cooler location but i read. the truth flesh of the south. but the bidders and the patience for gotten heat is motion and speed at the molecular level. but did he manage your especially southern unity as a courtesy. i wanted to taste at with this what you're paid down her chest a and legs with the ice cube with melted three but it's in the air has a thickness. it is unimaginable people
could work in this heat and add just a few summers ago eight people perished from the heat in of this. it could be argued that the b kirkland dash character of noplace for you is not the man or the woman from the restaurant i even used to tell the family stories of the attempted romantic ventures of the scorching summers of the '40's before going out to stroll along riverside drive to procure a a big block of vice it would press the melting pieces
against their sweaty cheeks and arms. it took the 20-pound block to get rid evening. when to couples and share the same car each pair would require thereof cache of ice. on the sunday window closed couples would by coca-cola's and hold the cold bottle against their forehead. some summer evenings people went swimming in their underwear now populated by the engines. to see other the other similarly clad couples the
young women swooned in the heat to be overcome by i love. >> i went to a public high-school into this -- in memphis called white station and we had a beloved teacher there and we also taught speech glasses. -- classism remembered first class he did nothing but tea chests to pronounce the words as a northerner. you will never make it to this stage talking like a southern redneck.
bid to replace it with the united states of america. what he would provide our time with this soft tissues of the popsicle stick to show was which parts of the oral a battery to affect the corrected sounds. the southern i is with a slack jaw with no movement of the town or no effort at all. oh bills like unconscious i or a tidy gasp turnover in your sleep. but with the i of the
norther it is a lower jot in town to be jerked back wall eric is somehow reversed along the bottom of the mouth deflected against the throat and to launch for word those on this gentle movements of the south. been to keep it more than 40 years to come forth to the northern i. there is not a lot of meat in the book is more family and in the south. and to with the passage from
the early age i discovered i was interested in the arts and sciences. so i write poetry but i do experiments and there were disastrous. and to read you a little bit about that. >> since the launch of sputnik i was entranced with the idea to build a rocket of my own. with the graceful arc through:by 30 days started
to mix my on rocket fuel a fuel that burned to fast would explode like a bomb or to slow would smolder wake of barbeque grill. the body of the rocket built held of the aluminum tube for the ignition system i use a flash bulb of a camera embedded in the dual chamber. >> the high flash would ignite the fuel it would be set off to a habitable feet away.
to have eight coca-cola crate filled with concrete move the v shaped tilted skyward of 45 degrees. somehow it had gotten into my head i needed a passage. so i built a capsule to be housed in the upper fuselage as my astronaut but i ate consent made a parachute out of silk figure just to wrap around the capsule a small charge ignited by a birch trees which a triple a battery in a high resistance fighter would reject the capsule we bought them a
sealed glass vial with into context that one end and we are kerry at the other the rocket went to its highest point that it started to go down the mercury would slide down the tube fall between the two wires to create electrical circuit with a flash with a gun powder to reject the capsule the parachute would unfold and it would flow back to earth. that was the play of. [laughter] but as the designs of preparations unfold over a few weeks might three yonder brothers lived on for aberration.
on the night whole my brothers are all in attendance but the launch went flawlessly. and the fuel ignited and it shocked the launching pad. the capsule ejected just as plant and came floating gracefully back to earth. we all went over to explore that capsule and the lizard i am not sure of you expecting to fall read but what we did is a lizard is aimed to be okay except his tail was burned off only a
black stomp we made at the base of the spine. apparently the tail had honed down into the field chamber which is a detail that i had neglected in my calculations. but to the gathered spectators, this outcome of the bert tail was more than india other aspect of the launch. [laughter] i will stop there we have about 10 minutes for questions or comments. >> did you keep the lizard? my daughter is the veterinarian. >> i immediately took him to the idb in society.
[laughter] -- begin made society. >> please go to do the microphone. >> i am a historian and most of the people that i write about our long dead. the right thing about the parents, how did that process work for you? >> my mother passed away before read father was alive and i was worried how he would receive the book.
and every dash draft of the book and i was -- and he was very upset reading the book as a child i had a low opinion of my father i thought he was weak compared to my grandfather who was larger than life as i grew older i had more respect and that whole evolution of the opinion was in the book i went to live by nine to say i am going to be more research is you differently but he was still very upset. at this point i have a
contract for the book already paid its various by the publisher of a publication date and very reluctantly decided not to publish the book. this was five years ago. my literary agent thought i was making a huge mistake and said literature is not just a family matter. my editors sympathize completely to say don't worry put it on the shelf. my father passed away four years later that i worked on the books for another year then published. in terms of my cousins in is a good question to ask so to
alienate his family so it is a danger that you need to be aware of. good question. >> as a follow-up talk about the year of continuing if you have reflections of your father. >> i thought i would just tacked on a final chapter about life other passing away but i realized i had changed my perspective of a
number of things so i went back to rework the whole book and to my editors said something very funny to me. that almost every reduce script could be improved if it just sat on the shelf three years after the ryder finishes it but nobody has that much self discipline or that small of the ego to let the books it on the shelf for three years. i was forced to do dash it and i think it was a much better book. >> also i imagine the fear.
if i let it set then i have to come back, oh my gosh gosh, which work well i have to do? >> i thought it would be a small amount. but i realized the thing about writing a book it takes place over a long period of time. but one of the challenges that poses to the artist that you yourself changeover the extended period of time. and the author himself it
changes over that period of time. you're not the same person as you were in the first year so much about the author whether it is the autobiography of a lot. because it comes tape from within the soul of the life experiences of the writer. with you have changed you have a problem to find a a consistent voice in a perspective that isn't really changing much. that is why i spent a whole year on the book not just
adding a final chapter. >> the relationship between your father a huge you is a big part of the book a complicated relationship. and and i was wondering if you felt if it is utter owed ambitions for life if you go so far from home to live your life? so anybody with a grandfather like that, he was head of about every organization and of this that had a big account.
and one of the ways but they were interested to help people less fortunate than themselves so looking as a result of the work of my great-grandfather and my grandfather did. to see my grandfather and a father those that were less fortunate to have that impact on the. but as i said earlier i cannot go into the complexities of the relationship and what
happened to me as a person is my loyalties reversed i had felt the great loyalty to my father and the aberration and almost an embarrassment about my father who was trampled god and crashed by my grandfather. as i got an older realized something that he desegregated is something he never talked about. i found out by reading it in a book. with the relationships over time with that realization