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Lisa Warren with Rosemary Daniell at a recent Zona Rosa meeting - photo by Robin Wright Gunn

Desire: Women Write About Wanting

Edited by Lisa Solod Warren (Seal Press)

When Virginia-based author and editor Lisa Solod Warren asked 22 writers for essays exploring desire, their responses covered a far-reaching spectrum of physical, spiritual, personal, and universal wants.

The authors who responded ranged in age from 31 to 78. While most live in the United States, at least one is Canadian. They are married, unmarried, partnered, unpartnered, straight, gay. Some essays are intimate, emotional recollections. Others are more detached, some even with footnotes. The common trait among them is that all of the writers are women.

Warren collected these essays and one of her own into Desire: Women Write About Wanting, an anthology published this month by Seal Press. Two Savannah writers, Rosemary Daniell and K.W. Oxnard, are among the authors whose essays appear in the book.

Earlier this month, Warren participated in a reading from Desire at Daniell’s Zona Rosa writing group in Savannah. Joining her were Daniell, Oxnard and Connie Baechler, an Atlanta writer with an essay in the collection.

“Being in an anthology with people is a great way to make friends,” said Daniell to the gathering of 25 women in her Eastside living room.

“Many years ago I read a book called Fatal Flowers,” said Warren, referring to Daniell’s 1978 memoir of her sexual self discovery in the South. Warren called Daniell “one of the iconic writers” that impacted her during her early writing career.

“It’s funny to make that journey from reading Rosemary as a young woman to sitting beside her here on this couch,” said Warren.

Daniell is not the only iconic writer included in the collection. Erica Jong and Joyce Maynard are among the contributors.

Daniell’s early work explores her emotional awakening while in several marriages and even more sexual liaisons. “The Ring,” Daniell’s essay in Desire, pulls back the curtain on a less well known side of this pioneer in the sexual revolution, exposing personal details of the ebb and flow of tenderness, romance, and strong physical attraction she’s shared with her husband in their decades-long marriage.

“I read this essay to my husband a few weeks ago and he did not flinch,” said Daniell at the Zona Rosa event.

Most of the essays in Desire reveal wants experienced by both women and men, yet informed by each writer’s womanhood. One exception is Oxnard’s “BabyQuest,” exploring the emergence of her desire for pregnancy and mothering a baby--a yearning that, although not shared by all women, is uniquely female.

“It took a long time for that desire to emerge in me and then to let it out,” said Oxnard. Now in her early 40s, the essay ends with Oxnard “fat with this urge to procreate...wondering if and when the new life will emerge, or if I will have to reach in and take matters into my own hands.”

Baechler’s introductory remarks at Zona Rosa were brief: “The only preface I have is I want to thank Lisa for giving me page 69,” she said, before reading her graphic essay. “Two Cups Orgasm, A Measure of Taboo” describing her longing for a sex life that mirrors her spicy fantasies, despite a committed “meat and potatoes” relationship that’s satisfying but sexually flavorless.

“Every woman that wrote for this book wrote about something different,” said Warren. “I think that every woman will find something here that resonates.”

-- (Robin Wright Gunn)

Mary Telfair to Mary Few: Selected Letters 1802-1844

Edited by Betty Wood, (University of Georgia Press)

You might not think reading a bunch of letters one rich woman wrote to another rich woman in the 1800s would be interesting, but Mary Telfair to Mary Few will disabuse you of that notion.

The twist here is the Odd Couple nature of the two longtime pen pals: Mary Telfair, arts patron, pillar of Savannah society, and member of one of the largest slaveholding families in the South, and Mary Few, her lifelong friend from childhood whose family moved north because of their strong feelings against slavery.

(If you’re wondering why Few never wrote back, the answer is that she did, but sadly none of those letters has been discovered to date. What a find that would be!)

Telfair is a thoroughly engaging writer. Her almost girlishly mischievous sensibility shines in many of her missives, including this one about the much ballyhooed visit to Savannah by the great Marquis de Lafayette, part of his national tour of 1824-25:

The La Fayette Mania has not seized me so far as to pay my devoirs to the Hero. I am glad to see the enthusiasm of 76 rekindled and I feel a tender interest for his health for I am sure he will be feted to death. Here they mean to outshine New York by a general illumination and (what a farce) they are practicing six cream Horses (with sweeping tails) in order to have him drawn in a Coach & six this is aping royalty...

I dread poor Savannah for the southrons are famous for overdoing matters. -- (Jim Morekis)

The Savannah

by Thomas L. Stokes (Cherokee Publishing)

Ken Boyd at Cherokee Publishing up in Marietta has been doing a great job respectfully reissuing classic old Southern books. His big coup was putting out the 1939 gem The Damned Don’t Cry, by Harry Hervey, a marvelously over-the-top potboiler about life in Savannah’s Depression-era underclass, which Boyd is still printing and which I highly recommend.

Now Cherokee’s come out with a reissue of The Savannah, 1951 popular history of the river written by native Georgian Thomas L. Stokes. As with most of Boyd’s reissues, he has kept the original cover design and illustrations, in this case some interesting impressionist sketches by Lamar Dodd, namesake of the UGA School of Art.

Stokes’s text is fascinating, learned, and very readable (this was originally part of a massive “Rivers of America” series by Rinehart Books), focusing not only the human history of the river near Savannah, but on the vast and mostly underreported goings-on upstream.

The Savannah was written in a time of great American writing, long before the current confines of political correctness. This style especially shows in Stokes’s heartfelt prelude, when he writes about the river’s change in character below Augusta:

Here and there wharves project from the ends of roads through the wilderness that you are sure lead back to civilization, with strange names—Blue House, Robinson Round, Poor Robin, Hog’s Nose Round, Frying Pan, Flat Dish, Cut Finger Cut, Wild Cat, Saucy Boy, Ring Jaw, Devil’s Elbow—a wild jumble conjured up by rivermen for two hundred years, with humor, with anxiety, with fear.

Then, toward the city of Savannah, there are the pine barrens where the “poor whites” eternally scratch for a living through the years.

Then there is the city, which was settled over two hundred years ago. Then there is the sea, which is timeless like the river.

-- (J.M.)

Civil War Tours of the Low Country

by David D’arcy (Schiffer)

Local realtor, writer, and historian David D’Arcy has followed up his Civil War Walking Tours of Savannah with a new work expanding that idea to the Lowcountry of South Carolina, with maps and over 140 photos by Ben Mammina.

With a mix of driving and walking tours, D’Arcy takes you to Bluffton and Beaufort, (twin cradles of the Secession movement), Hilton Head, where a massive Union fleet landed soon after war’s beginning, and Daufuskie Island, swarming with Union troops during the war but left to its longtime inhabitants, the Gullah, at war’s end. -- (J.M.)

Chronicles of the Savannah River Dolphins

by Muriel Lindsey (Star Publish)

Why is it that seeing dolphins from the beach or from a boat is such a thrilling experience time after time? What runs through our minds when we see them? Is the dolphin a reflection of what we want to be, but for many reasons can’t? And the big question; What do they know that we don’t?

Letting these questions swirl around your head for a minute or two was not enough for Muriel Lindsey. She moved to Tybee and bought a kayak so that she could get to know and study the dolphins in our area. We all get to benefit from her experiences through her book, Chronicles of the Savannah River Dolphins.

Targeted to the young adult market, Chronicles covers three seasons of her experiences observing, communicating, and playing with the dolphins. (Dolphins are close to shore during the warmer months of the year).

Her method wasn’t a results-driven scientific study. It was along the lines of the Jane Goodall approach — gradually introducing herself into their community, and allowing the dolphins the opportunity to be curious about her.

During her early visits to dolphins in her yellow kayak, she was greeted with “chuffing” sounds and tail slaps on the water. This was, according to Lindsey, the dolphins quickly letting her know proper manners — “not so close,” they were saying. So she backed off.

The dolphins taught her to be patient and quietly observant. They unequivocally defined the terms of the relationship, and they eventually let her share some of their experiences.

Writing Chronicles as a young adult’s book allows Lindsey to be contemplative yet uncomplicated, to draw conclusions based on an intuitive sense and not so much on deductive reasoning, and to fully realize the playfulness of the dolphins off our coast.

-- (Sonja Wallen)