Call it "compulsive." William Ferris does to describe his drive to document and preserve every scrap of Southern culture. He's been documenting and preserving that culture, for the past four decades, as a writer, teacher, photographer, folklorist, record producer, documentary filmmaker, and radio-show host. He's also served as co-founder (with Judy Peiser) of the Center for Southern Folklore in downtown Memphis, as founding director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, as co-editor of The Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, and, on an even bigger basis, as chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Where is Ferris, though, in the pages of his latest book (and accompanying CD and DVD), The Storied South: Voices of Writers and Artists (The University of North Carolina Press)?
He's right in there posing the questions, but he's just off the printed page — the better to leave the talking to his more than two dozen interview subjects. Those subjects, in their own words and in the photographs by Ferris himself, include writers, scholars, musicians, photographers, and painters — among them, Eudora Welty, Ernest Gaines, Robert Penn Warren, Alice Walker, and Alex Haley; Cleanth Brooks, John Blassingame, and C. Vann Woodward; Bobby Rush and Pete Seeger; Walker Evans, William Christenberry, and William Eggleston; and Carroll Cloar.
Call these interviews "dramatic monologues." Ferris does in the introduction to The Storied South. The South's rich storytelling tradition, he'll also have you know: It's the tie that binds.
William Ferris discussing and signing "The Storied South," The Cotton Museum inside the Memphis Cotton Exchange (65 Union), Thursday, August 22nd, 6 p.m. For more information, call 531-7826 or go to memphiscottonmuseum.org.