Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A New Book About Fairhope

Paul Gaston at the Organic School Centennial, 2007

Paul Gaston is about so much more than Fairhope that I must introduce him to you. Sure, he was born and raised there, and his grandfather founded the town in 1894, but he went on to become an eminent scholar, professor, and leader of the Civil Rights Movement in the state of Virginia.

It's possible I write too much about Fairhope here, and should leave that to my blog Finding Fair Hope. But I just read Paul's book Coming of Age in Utopia and I can't say enough about it in enough places. I knew his family, (his mother taught me to type in the School of Organic Education), but by then Paul was already off in the larger world, achieving and working to change things in the South. I didn't get to know the man until about eight years ago when he was on one of his visits to Fairhope. I've given parties for him and his wife, heard more and more Fairhope stories from him every time we meet--and enjoyed his company always. He is my favorite lecturer--I've heard him speak a lot of times, and I've read most of his books.

Paul was a teacher of Southern History at the University of Virginia. He's retired now and has been working on his memoir for years. At last it's published, and you can read my review of it on the link provided above (just click on the blue letters that spell "Finding Fair Hope"). It includes a section about growing up in Fairhope, but its best stories are about his work at U Va. It has so many anecdotes, about his high school girl friends, his days at Swarthmore and in the Army, his courtship of the beautiful Mary, his nine-year-old son meeting Martin Luther King, his experience with the first sit-in in Charlottesville, and his commitment to opening the minds of tradition-bound Southerners who attended his classes.

He has lived an admirable life, and he is a man worthy of more books. I have no doubt that he'll produce a few himself. In the meantime, he has written one of the most interesting autobiographical works you'll find.