Tuesday, June 13, 2006

'Blood Done Sign My Name'

If anyone's wondered why I haven't penned anything too in-depth as of late, place the blame squarely on Timothy B. Tyson. For more than a week the native North Carolinian's masterwork, 'Blood Done Sign My Name' has captivated my imagination, ripped open my soul and made me laugh out loud at more than one Guilford County stoplight. That in itself is a testament to the author's skill, as his source material is far from humorous. When Tyson was but a boy, a white merchant in his adopted hometown of Oxford, N.C. gunned down a young black war veteran in the harsh daylight hours of May 11, 1970. A lackadaisical investigation followed, as did Klan Rallies and Civil Rights marches. Before it was over, several white-owned businesses burned to the ground at the hands of apoplectic African-Americans. Oxford survived the ensuing uproar and the townsfolk quickly went about the business of burying the details of their unpleasant past, (Sound familiar, Greensboro?)

But Tim Tyson didn't forget. Rather, the ugly truth of Henry Marrow's undignified demise forever altered the son of a preacher's 11 year old mind. For years it festered there until, like any good narrative, it became too much for the writer too keep to himself. So, cursed with a book he was born to write, Tyson did the only honorable thing ... he shone the light of truth on every crevice of a complicated tale. When those rays spilled over and illuminated the darker parts of his own family's history, he did not flinch. Instead, he examined the shortcomings of his own enlightened parents and told how even a liberal minister is guilty of the pacifying paternalism many White Southerners still regard as the foundation for proper race relations. Amid all this grisly deconstruction, Tyson does something else unexpected: he entertains, employing a born-raconteur style that this humble blogger can only dream of one day possessing.

Needless to say, I identify heavily with Timothy B. Tyson. Seven years my senior, this fellow outcast of the 'New South' witnessed his destiny in an Eastern North Carolina town barely a hundred miles from the one I begrudgingly grew up in. Though his childhood was far more dramatic (and tragic) than mine, I recognized many of the Southern-fried archetypes he describes: winking, bigoted authority figures that for the longest time made me ashamed to be a white guy from the sticks. Tyson, however, does my breed of thinker proud, by refusing to gloss over the many ways we all fall short of the glory. By doing so, he rights some of the wrongs of our forefathers while making even the most sanctimonious of us re-think opinions we didn't even know we had. Tyson's landmark work is haunting in another way as well. It makes me ashamed that I'm wasting this strange writing compulsion on something as patently vapid, as instantly disposable, as achingly empty as TV News.'Blood Done Sign My Name' is more than a painful chapter of my own region's past. It is a challenge for all would-be writers to dig deeper, until they find a subject matter that sufficiently hurts.

Challenge accepted...


Lex said...

Indeed, a helluva book. I'm a year older than Tyson and remember hearing about that stuff going on at the time.

As for writing subjects, a writer whose work I greatly admire has a two-step process for identifying what you most need to be writing about:

1) What are you most afraid of?
2) Go there, and don't leave 'til you're done.

herb said...

I've heard so much about it that I've started it and sneak in a few pages here and there between the times I'm kneee deep in text books.

By the way, Tyson attended UNCG (go Spartans!), but finished up somehwere else.

Rob said...

A challenge accepted I guess this means a book in the offing?

Anonymous said...

A review of the book by a native of Oxford, N.C. at Wikipedia is worth reading. It is at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_Done_Sign_My_Name on the "Discussion" tab.