LABEL: 'Seven Laurels'
By Kathryn Alfisi ~ Southeast Missourian
Linda Busby Parker was a professor at the University of South Alabama, teaching mass media classes, when she woke up one morning in 1997 and decided she was going to change her life.
"I knew I didn't want to do it anymore," Busby Parker said from her home in Mobile, Ala. "I just knew I wanted to make a change."
She decided to become a writer.
Now, Busby Parker will be reading from and signing copies of her first novel, "Seven Laurels," when she comes to the university's Glenn Auditorium on Thursday.
When she decided to change her life, her university career was fine. Two textbooks she authored were published, and she had recently attained tenure. But she realized that her longtime dream of becoming a creative writer would remain just a dream if she did not pursue it sooner rather than later.
Realizing, even at the time, that leaving a tenured professor position was just not something you do, Busby Parker was not expecting the chairman of the department to tell her he was jealous when she told him of her plans.
"I think there's a lot of people who want to make changes in their career but don't know how," she said.
After leaving the university, Busby Parker dived right into writing a novel, even though her only creative writing experience had been as what she describes as "a closet writer, writing short stories and tucking them away."
That novel eventually became "Seven Laurels," published by Southeast Missouri State University Press.
However, a lot of work remained to be done between the time Busby Parker started the book and when she sent it off to the publishers.
She soon discovered summer writing programs like Bread Loaf and Sewanee Writers Conferences and then enrolled in a low-residency program at Spalding University in Louisville, Ky., where she went on to earn her master's of fine arts in creative writing.
Through the two-year program, she was able to stay in Mobile with her husband and three daughters while she worked with her appointed mentor/instructor by mailing packets of work and essays each semester. There was also 10 days of on-campus activity that included workshops, lectures and panels.
"I just learned so much in that program," Busby Parker said.
"Seven Laurels" tells the story of Brewster McAtee and his journey through the civil rights movement in rural Alabama. It is a story that almost did not get told.
Busby Parker had at first envisioned writing a novel about a young Southern woman acquiring land, but after going nowhere with that idea she decided to write about a character who was not so close to herself, and so she decided to write about a young black man.
Although she distanced herself from being too personally connected to the protagonist, Busby Parker said a lot of what is in "Seven Laurels" is taken from her own life experiences growing up in Alabama.
Busby Parker also extensively researched the civil rights movement to make the novel as historically accurate as possible.
Before she attempted to publish "Seven Laurels," Busby Parker entered it in the James Jones First Novel Fellowship Contest, where it came in first out of 665 submissions.
"Lots of good things started to happen after that," she said.
Such as finding a publisher in Southeast Missouri State University Press and getting the word out about the novel by doing book signings at colleges, festivals and conferences.
"I am 100 percent living the writer's lifestyle," Busby Parker said. "I couldn't imagine not doing it."
335-6611, extension 182
WANT TO GO?
What: Reading and book signing by Linda Busby Parker
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Glenn Auditorium in Dempster Hall, Southeast Missouri State University
Info: Dr. Susan Swartwout at (573) 651-2641