Memphis' historic Elmwood Cemetery, the 80-acre site and final resting place for more than 75,000 individuals, has had photographers-in-residence for several years now. But Richard Alley is Elmwood's first writer-in-residence, and he's honored to be so named. The announcement appeared January 7th on Elmwood's Facebook page, but according to Alley, there'd been talk of a writer-in-residence for a while.
"Kimberly McCollum, the cemetery's executive director, and I started talking about it a year ago — just the idea," Alley said.
"On one occasion, we were standing inside the cemetery's visitor center, Phillips Cottage — me and Kimberly, Elmwood historian Dale Schaefer, and the cemetery's board president Dan Conaway — and they were talking about the monuments you can see from the windows of the cottage. They were telling stories of the lives marked by those monuments. Then we just started talking about how somebody should collect the stories of those buried in Elmwood and put those stories in narrative form — put their lives into context, the period they lived in, what they did, and how they died.
"Kimberly got in touch with me the other day and asked if that's something I'd be interested in doing. And I said 'certainly.' It pays nothing, but I jumped on it."
Elmwood had its first official writer-in-residence.
But there's talk of putting Alley's pieces on the cemetery's website as blog posts, followed possibly by an end-of-the-year collection in book form — with images by Elmwood's photographer-in-residence, Susan Clement — which would sell in the cemetery's gift shop.
"It's fascinating: The history of Memphis gives you insight into what's going on now in Memphis. But I've been surprised, talking to local people, how many have never been to Elmwood. When I was a kid, we'd go as a family, just walk around for an afternoon.
"The cemetery's website and blog posts get quite a few hits from people all over the world," Alley added. "People interested in Memphis and its history. And to learn that history, Elmwood is a good place to start — or to end." •
Elmwood Cemetery, 824 S. Dudley (774-3212), elmwoodcemetery.org, facebook.com/ElmwoodCemetery
Correction: An earlier version of this blog post mistook the name of Elmwood's current photographer-in-residence. She is Susan Clement.